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Professor Deborah Ascher Barnstone


Professor Deborah Ascher Barnstone is an international architectural historian who has held positions at universities in Europe and the US. She is principal of Ascher Barnstone Architects.

Her primary research interests are 20th and 21st century German and Dutch art and architecture and classical modernism. Deborah’s work interrogates the origins of classical modernism and explores the relationships between art, architecture, and culture more broadly. A particular interest is in dismantling historical myths by re-examining received histories in order to uncover alternate interpretations of the past. 

Much of her work is focused on transparency in architecture, based on her observation of glass architecture in Germany during the post-World War II era. She has published on the history of the environmental movement in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Her new book, Beyond the Bauhaus: Cultural Debates in Breslau, 1918–1933 is forthcoming with University of Michigan Press in 2015.

In 2015 Deborah is working with Professor Anthony Burke of UTS on the funded research and design project ‘Master Planning and Visioning for International Grammar School in Sydney’.


German Studies Association

German Visual Culture Network, Co-chair

German Visual Culture Series Peter Lang, Co-commissioning editor

Image of Deborah Ascher Barnstone
Professor, School of Architecture
Associate Head of School, School of Architecture
Master of Architect, Ph D Architect
+61 2 9514 8111

Research Interests

German and Dutch Architectural History
First Generation Modernism
Sustainable Design

Can supervise: Yes
Yes, Cat 1

Architectural History
Architectural Design


Barnstone, D. 2017, The Break with the Past? Avant-garde Architecture in Germany, 1910-1925, 1st, Routledge, London.
Barnstone, D. 2016, Beyond the Bauhaus: Cultural Modernity in Breslau, 1918-1933, 1st, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
The connection between Weimar Germany and cultural modernity has been axiomatic since Walter Laqueur, Peter Gay, and, more recently, scholars like Detlev Peukert and Eric Weitz penned their seminal studies. Despite a recent explosion of scholarship on Weimar cultural history, however, much remains to be explored. What were the different paths to 'cultural modernity? How did modern German cultural expression vary? Was that variety consistent throughout Germany, or were there differences between Berlin, the capital, and regional cities like Breslau? What was the relationship between Berlin and other German cities in the realm of cultural production? To answer these questions and more, this study explores the polyvalent and contradictory nature of cultural production in Breslau, in order to expand the cultural and geographic scope of Weimar history.
Barnstone, D. 2005, The Transparent State: Architecture and politics in postwar Germany, First, Routledge, London and New York.
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This book examines the transformation of transparency as a metaphor in West German political thought to an analogy for democratic architecture, questioning the prevailing assumption in German architectural circles that transparency in governmental buildings can be equated with openness, accessibility, and greater democracy. The Transparent State: Architecture and politics in postwar Germany traces the development of transparency in German political and architectural culture, tying this lineage to the relationship between culture and national identity, a connection that began before unification of the German state in the eighteenth century and continues today. The Weimar Republic and Third Reich periods are examined although this book focuses on the postwar period, looking at the use of transparency in the three projects for a national parliament: the 1949 Bundestag project by Hans Schwippert, the 1992 Bundestag building by Gunter Behnisch, and the 1999 Reichstag renovation by Foster and Partners.


Barnstone, D. 2017, 'Max Liebermann's Kriegszeit Lithographs: Pro-War or Anti-War?' in The Art of War in German Visual Culture, Peter Lang, London, pp. 26-52.
Barnstone, D. 2017, 'Real Utopian or Utopian Realist? Erich Mendelsohn's Multiple Passages of Exile and the Academie European Mediteranee.' in Otto, E. & Dogramaci, B. (eds), Passages of Exile.
Barnstone, D. 2016, 'Seeing Double: The Doppelgänger in two interpretations of the ballet classic, The Nutcracker by John Neumeier and Marco Goecke' in Barnstone, D. (ed), German Visual Culture Series: The Doppelgänger, Peter Lang, England, pp. 93-118.
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The essays in German Visual Culture: The Doppelgänger explore the phenomenon of the double in multiple aspects of German visual culture. The Doppelgänger, or double, is an ancient and universal theme that can be traced at least as far back as Greek and Roman mythology but is particularly strong in German literature and culture since the Romantic Movement in the 18th century. Literally the 'double walker or 'double goer, the Doppelgänger is an exact duplicate of the living person, indistinguishable from the original. It can be a true double, twin, mirror image, portrait, split personality, alter ego, mechanical doll, or ghostly shadow. The double historically represented evil, misfortune, and death, presaged them, or forecast supernatural phenomena but also represented the dual nature of human beings and human society as well as the split between reality and fantasy contained in every artwork. Since the advent of modern psychology, artists, writers and filmmakers increasingly use the double to symbolize mental and spiritual trauma and struggles with identity and the ego.
Barnstone, D. 2016, 'The Overlooked Trope of the Doppelgänger' in Barnstone, D. (ed), The Doppelgänger, German Visual Culture Series, Peter Lang, Oxford, England, pp. 1-11.
The Doppelgänger has been a motif in myth, literature, and psychology through the ages but it has never been examined in visual culture before.
Barnstone, D. 2015, 'Spectacular Architecture: Transparency in Postwar West German Parliaments' in Haakenson, T.O. & Creech, J. (eds), Spectacle, Peter Lang, Bern, pp. 217-241.
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Barnstone, D. 2015, 'Bruno Taut and the First World War' in Alifragkis, S. & Patricios, N. (eds), Architects, Design and Education, Atiner, Athens, Greece, pp. 17-34.
Barnstone, D. 2014, 'Transnational Dimensions of German Anti-Modern Modernism: Ernst May in Breslau' in Diefendorf, J. & Ward, J. (eds), Transnationalism and the German City, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp. 89-104.
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The internationally acclaimed architect and urban designer Ernst May (1886-1970) is generally considered an exemplary modernist, yet from 1919 to1925 he practiced an anti-moderm modernism in Silesia that calls into question conventional classifications of early modern architecture and has local, national and transnational implications.
Barnstone, D. 2013, 'The 1929 Breslau Werkbund Exhibition: Constructing German Identity in Architecture and Urban Design' in Barnstone, D.A. & Haakenson, T.O. (eds), Representations of German Identity, Peter Lang, Oxford, pp. 129-152.
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The architecture of the 1929 Breslau Werkbund's Wohnung und Werkraum Ausstellung ["Live and Work Space exhibition"] (WuWA) offers a picture of 1920s Silesian German cultural identity, and by extension German national identity, as a complex and nuanced interplay between cultural traditionalism and modernism.
Barnstone, D. 2012, 'An der Oder: River Romance in Breslau' in Cusack, T. (ed), Art and Identity at the water's edge, Ashgate, Farnham, pp. 193-207.
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Barnstone, D. 2010, 'Transparency in Divided Berlin: The Palace of the Republic' in Broadbent, P. & Hake, S. (eds), Berlin Divided City, 1945-1989, Berghahn, New York, Oxford, pp. 100-111.
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The use of transparency ideology to explain the glass facades and open spatial planning at the GDR's Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) underscores the complex double history of the division of Germany after 1945. Konrad J arausch describes this history as replete with "surprising parallels, multiple interactions, and mutual projections" U arausch 1999: 10; Lemke 2006). The parallels belie Cold War- era propaganda from both East and West about a radical difference between the two poli tical systems and societies (Butter and Hartung 2004; Ladd 2002: 91 - 92; Strobel 1994: 25). In the limited realm of state architecture , the debates over the appropriate architectural styles and urban planning strategies for the postwar period, the stylistic and aesthetic choices made for state buildings, and the pUblic rhetoric supporting these choices were often astonishingly alike in spite of the very different political systems the architecture was designed to represent.
Barnstone, D. 2008, 'The Prehistory of Environmentalism: Schlesischer Bund für Heimatschutz' in Bekkering, H.E.A. (ed), The Architecture Annual 2006-2007 Delft University of Technology, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, pp. 64-69.
Barnstone, D. 2003, 'From the Zero Hour: Transparency, Gender and Architecture in Post-War Germany' in Cusack, T. & Bhreathnach-Lynch, S. (eds), Art, Nation and Gender: Ethnic Landscapes, Myths and Mother-Figures, Ashgate, Aldershot, pp. 79-92.


Barnstone, D. 2017, 'Style debates in 1920s Germany', Society of Architectural Historians International, Glasgow, Scotland.
Barnstone, D. 2016, 'The Color of Innovation: Bruno Taut's Fantasy Drawings and Painted Architecture', Ar (t) chitecture, Ar (t) chitecture, Technion Israel, Technion Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, pp. 4-12.
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Studies of the intersection between art and architecture.
Barnstone, D. 2016, 'Inverted Cubism or the Spatial Painting: Adolf Rading's House Dr. Rabe in Zwenkau', German Studies Association, San Diego, California.
Barnstone, D. 2016, 'Erich Mendelsohn's Passagen of Exile and the Academie European Mediteranee', Passages of Exile, Technical University Munich.
Barnstone, D. 2015, 'Oskar Schlemmer's Explorations of Body, Space and Image', Art Association of Australia and New Zealand, Brisbane.
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German artist Oskar Schlemmer had a lifelong obsession with the intersection between the human body, space, and the image. Best known for his explorations of the altered body in space in the Triadic Ballets, Schlemmer inverted the space/body/image relationship in his less known metal installation at Adolf Rading's Haus Rabe (1930) in Zwenkau, Germany. The Triadic Ballets probe the dimensions and limitations of the human physical body by encasing it in oddly inhibiting costumes that simultaneously exaggerate features of body parts while constricting movement. At the same time, the ballets test the costumed body's relationship to, and its ability to occupy and move through space. As Schlemmer said, the ballet tests 'both the laws of the body and the laws of space. The images presented to the audience are frontal theatrical views framed by the stage's proscenium. In contrast, Schlemmer's installation for Haus Rabe consists of figurative wall installations and abstract geometric paintings on all six surfaces of the room. He made several metal pieces - an enormous copper profile looking towards a diagonally arranged, doll-like wire figure holding an even smaller plate metal figure in its left hand, that are hung on the walls of the main living space. Schlemmer was fascinated by the doll, which he saw as an abstraction of the human figure and he was experimenting with ways to use the image of the body to animate space. Parts of the floor are bright red, cobalt blue, and black rectangles; the ceiling is beige bisected by two white lines of differing widths; a section of the wall over the alcove features a semicircle that is part white stripes and part black situated off centre between two black rectangles suspended just above; inside the most private part of the room one wall is bright red while a rounded red form oozes across the ceiling. It is as if Schlemmer had folded pieces of an abstract painting inward in order to contain space. Schlemmer aimed to 'reach a...
Barnstone, D. 2014, 'The Breslau Jewish Museum and the Construction of German Identity', German Studies Association Australia 2014, University of Sydney, University of Sydney.
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Barnstone, D. 2013, 'Say it isn't Faux! Fakes, Forgeries, Copies and Art Authorship', SEAM, SEAM, Sydney, Australia.
Barnstone, D. 2013, 'Hans Scharoun and the First World War', Association of Art Historians Conference Proceedings, 39th Annual AAH Conference, Association of Art Historians, Reading, England.
Barnstone, D. 2013, 'German Modernism in Weimar', Modernism after Cultural Studies, German Studies Association Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado, pp. 1-32.
Part of the three day presentations and discussions on modernism.

Journal articles

Barnstone, D. 2016, 'Between the Walls: The Berlin No-Man's Land Reconsidered', Journal of Urban Design, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 287-301.
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Barnstone, D. 2016, 'Reaction to the First World War: Max Liebermann and the Kriegszeit Lithographs', AAANZ Journal of Art, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 71-91.
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Between August 1914 and December 1916, the German painter Max Liebermann created a series of lithographs for Paul Cassirer's Die Kriegszeit (The War Time)thatdo more than document aspects of the First World War; they make a subtle commentary on war and the people who wage it. At first glance, as most Liebermann scholars assert, the lithographs seem like patriotic expressions typical of the general sentiment at that moment in Germany. But on closer examination, their content contradicts most Liebermann scholarship by offering a far more nuanced reaction to the war. Max Liebermann is an acknowledged pioneer who paved the way for German modernism ^ his work is praised for its technique, in particular his use of colour, light and motion, but he is criticised for his apparent disengagement with politics or social causes in his art.1 While it is true that Liebermann kept a wary distance from Wilhelmine party politics, he was active in cultural politics throughout his career, helping to found the Verein der XI in 1892 and the Berlin Secession in 1898 as reactions to the conservative art favoured by the Kaiser and speaking out in support of modern versus academic art throughout his life.2 Furthermore, Liebermann's war series does not conform to typical patriotic German art from the period and, from the beginning, it uses subtle visual cues to present a more balanced view of war and even to question the sense and logic of violent conflict. Many other contributors to Kriegszeit demonstrated an evolving attitude towards the war between 1914 and 1916, from blind patriotic enthusiasm to growing cynicism and scepticism as the realities of the conflict became known. Liebermann's position is reserved yet perceptive, as befits an older manwithsubstantiallifeexperience,which included serving as a medic in the Franco^Prussian War, where he witnessed firsthand the toll that war takes. As the series progresses, Liebermann subtly criticises and questions the idea of war, its inhumanit...
Barnstone, D. 2015, 'Bruno Taut and the First World War', Athens Journal of History, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 97-113.
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It is commonly held that the experience of the First World War altered the course of avant-garde art and architecture in the Weimar period. Yet there were different experiences of the war; and the avant-garde was not a monolithic group either before 1914 or afterwards. Few histories discuss specific connections between the events of 1914-1918 and the explosion of creative activity that began as early as 1917 then continued through the 1920s. Yet by all accounts the war was a formative experience with a strong effect on all who lived through it whether seen from the vantage point of trenches along the Western Front, the Prisoner of War camps in East Prussia, or the increasingly pressured cities and towns at home. This essay traces the war experience and postwar response of the important German architect, Bruno Taut, who called the war 'an epidemic of mental disorder. Taut was a leading anti-war activist/agitator who experienced the war on the home front in Magdeburg and was a founding member of many postwar avant- garde groups. The 1914 Cologne pavilion, done with Paul Scheerbart, might prefigure what was to come. However, Taut's work took a radical turn during the war. From the uninspired pragmatism of Falkenberg (1913) he turned to the fantasy and speculation of Alpine Architecture (1919).
Barnstone, D. 2015, 'Willem Marinus Dudok: The Lyrical Music of Architecture', The Journal of Architecture, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 169-192.
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Willem Marinus Dudok stands out from his Dutch and European peers for resisting the temptation to conform to aesthetic norms of the avant-garde and for the unique aesthetics in his work. A man who shunned movements and dogma in a time when new architectural manifestos abounded, Dudok preferred to say little about his designs. Yet by combining a close reading of his design work with the few essays that survive, it becomes apparent that one important inspiration for Dudok was classical music composition, in particular counterpoint. Dudok was the son of a professional musician; he played piano lifelong, even sketched his design ideas on scores most likely when he was practicing. Analogies between music and architecture date back centuries; typically architects worked with the aspects of form, rhythm, harmony, and proportion. But Dudok added another element to the musical arsenal; he used classical counterpoint as an organizing principle in plan and elevation. Although he never outlined exactly how he translated his extensive knowledge of music to architecture, Dudok used musical metaphors often enough when describing his work that we know music was always on his mind. Dudok was a prolific architect, and considered important during his lifetime; he won the RIBA Gold Medal and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal; there were Dudok societies all around the world; and yet he is largely overlooked today because his work never conformed to the aesthetic expectations of modernism. This paper examines Dudok's design method, in particular his use of musical composition techniques, and re-positions his work as an outstanding example of a different kind of modernism.
Barnstone, D. 2014, 'Nomina sunt Omina - Capital City Bonn: Inventing an Image for the Federal Republic of Germany', Journal of Design History, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 148-166.
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Bonn's ascension to the rank of capital city in 1948/1949 represented the first major success of a new political culture and the original aesthetic imperatives it was designing. In 1948 five cities, Berlin, Bonn, Frankfurt, Kassel and Stuttgart, vied to be chosen capital city of the soon to be formed Federal Republic of Germany. When the dust settled, the unexpected had occurred; the sleepy university town in the Western reaches of the country, Bonn, had triumphed over a cultural centre, financial centre, commercial centre, and the former capital city. The new political aesthetics were firstly based on the repudiation of any aesthetic program associated with either National Socialism or Monarchism, Third Reich or Wilhelmine Germany. Carlo Schmid warned that nomina sunt omina - names are omens! 'Names express what is really there, or ought to be there', that is, the essence of things. Although Schmid was warning about the name of the future constitution, his attitude reflected a broadly held belief that names and symbols are important, even crucial signifiers. This paper explores the ways the choice of Bonn was perceived by West Germans in their visual media through a look at several political cartoons and how the cartoons and official state press photographs from the Bundesarchiv collection contributed to the formation of Bonn's symbolic identity.
Barnstone, D. 2014, 'Hans Scharoun and the Aftermath of the First World War', Journal of Architecture, vol. 19, no. 6, pp. 825-848.
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The connection between the First World War experience and the inter-war German avant-garde is axiomatic. Current scholarship focuses almost exclusively on artists and writers although it was architects such as Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut and Hans Scharoun who led the German avant-garde in the 1920s. It is, of course, easier to uncover connections between art and war than between architecture and war since artists often drew, painted or sculpted pieces that directly addressed the trauma of war whereas buildings do not. Nevertheless, architects were profoundly influenced by the events of 1914–1918 and commented on the significance of the war experience to their work. The little scholarship that does examine architects focuses almost exclusively on war memorials and ignores the effect the war had on aesthetic ideas and the direction of progressive architectural design. This paper explores the case of Hans Scharoun, who was one of Germany's most important architects in the first half of the twentieth century, to probe the ways his war service, and the events he participated in and witnessed, may have affected the course of his inter-war practice.
Barnstone, D. 2013, 'The Breslau Jewish Museum: 'Disintegraion Of The Manifest World'', Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 459-478.
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The Breslau Jewish Museum's brief history mirrors the changing identity German Jews held in the national community between 1928 and 1938. The Museum was initially founded by an optimistic group of prominent Breslau Jews who wished to both chronicle and celebrate the place Jews had in Weimar era Silesian and Breslau culture. But the group's ambitions soon had to be reassessed. After Hitler's assumption of power in 1933 it became increasingly clear that Jewishness was not to be flaunted or celebrated publicly, much less institutionally. As Jews came under attack, the Jewish Museum assumed the defensive role of guardian of Jewish heritage, objects and culture. Its new isolation from the non-Jewish Silesian and Breslau communities paralleled the growing marginalization of German Jews generally. The Museum's closure just days before Kristallnacht in 1938 seems prescient; both events signalled the end of Jewish life in Germany and the abrogation of German Jewish identity.
Wolcott, M., Brown, S., King, M., Barnstone, D., Beyreuther, T. & Olsen, K. 2011, 'Model for Faculty, Student, and Practitioner Development in Sustainability Engineering through an Integrated Design Experience', Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, vol. 137, no. 2, pp. 94-101.
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Sustainable development and the green building movement have been adopted faster than any recent movement in the engineering field.With over 40% of the total U.S. energy usage servicing the operation of commercial and residential buildings, this trend is well founded. Recent surveys of the industry indicate that within 4 to 5 years, a vast majority of engineering firms expect their business will be significantly dedicated to green building designs. In contrast, current academic institutions are not well positioned to prepare young engineers for this challenge, and current faculty are not well trained in the tenets of sustainability or the roles of engineers in this movement. Change must occur if the engineering and design professions are to remain relevant and responsive to societal needs. To accommodate this challenge, the writers have designed and implemented the Integrated Design Experience (IDeX), a capstone course in which undergraduate and graduate students interact with faculty and practitioners on real projects with challenging needs in sustainability. The course is designed to provide an actual and virtual space for the multitude of disciplines to interact on real designs to foster both improved research and outreach efforts. Expected outcomes from the course include both student and faculty learning on the methods and value of sustainable design as well as the development of an interdisciplinary network of faculty and practitioners involved in sustainable design. Learning is being evaluated using a continuous authentic assessment of design products. First-year results indicate that students learned interdisciplinary teamwork and communication skills, and they see substantial value in the authentic design experience. In future years, the development of the interdisciplinary network will be tracked by using social networking tools and by assessing faculty attitudes toward involvement in IDeX. Both metrics will be investigated using the diffusions of innov...
Barnstone, D. 2009, 'Modernism Reconsidered: The Kultur-Zivilisation Dichotomy in the Work of Adolf Rading', New German Critique, vol. 108, no. Fall, pp. 39-71.
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The article discusses the achievements and the contributions of German architect Adolf Rading in Breslau, Poland in the early part of the 20th century. It states that Rading embraced modernization and modernism in architecture with the invention of new materials and construction methods. It adds that the architect refused to reject history in his works that were both intuitive and romantic while he regarded technology with suspicion during the Weimar era.
Barnstone, D.A. 2009, 'The Kultur-Zivilisation Dichotomy in the Work of Adolf Rading', New German Critique, no. 108, pp. 39-71.
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Barnstone, D. 2008, 'Not the Bauhaus: The Breslau Academy of Art and Applied Arts', The Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 46-55.
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Once at the pinnacle of progressive art education, the Breslau Academy of Art and Applied Art has been largely forgotten. The Academy deserves attention, however, because it was a paradigm for art school reform in a time when Germany was rife with experiments in arts education. Differ- ent from its more famous contemporary, the Bauhaus, the Breslau Academy is a study in another aspect of the avant-garde, and its history helps complete our picture of the complexities of progressive art and architecture education during the 1920s.
Barnstone, D. 2004, 'The dynamic relationship between text and architecture: Günter Behnisch's Bonn Bundehaus', Interfaces, vol. -, no. 24, pp. 237-244.
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The texts published in volume 24 of Interfaces present a selection of the proceedings of the International Word and Image Conference held in Paris in June 2003 and jointly organized by the College of the Holy Cross, The Université Paris 7 - Denis Diderot, the Collège Franco-Britannique and the Fondation des Etats-Unis, which hosted the conference, at the Cité internationale universitaire.
Ascher-Barnstone, D. 2003, 'Transparency: A brief introduction', Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 56, no. 4, pp. 3-5.
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Barnstone, D. 2002, 'Building Designs for Living: Studio 804 University of Kansas', The Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 186-193.
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Studio 804 at the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Design uses the design-build experience as a way to explore alternative models for design practice. The Studio is a collaborative workshop, whose designs are open-ended. Student participants learn both to explore new materials for typical construction applications and to invent new applications for typical materials. They learn to discover new constructive possibilities in familiar objects, sometimes in surprising ways.

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