Responding to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Flexibility & Integration

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

12.13.2019 | Fab Bozzolo-Fabia | Katelyn Broat | Nicholas Bruscia | Drew Canfield | 
Tyler Madell | Hunter Perez

Nicholas Bruscia: Can I talk a little bit about specialists? The well-rounded specialist ensures flexibility and adaptability. I think a lot about flexible thinking and adaptable thinking. I really think if we are too technically oriented, or let’s say we’re too oriented on our criteria that we have to fulfill as an accredited institution, we could lose some of that flexible thinking. Some of the experimental thinking that I think the school is really known for is so critical to me.

I think what Nagy was talking about is just what I’ll refer to as “design foundation.” From an educational perspective, the question of how are you training a well-rounded specialist, or how do you train a well-rounded architect, brings to mind a couple of the key figures—those who have brought basic design thinking to the school. So one of them is William Huff, and the other is Beth Tauke.

Beth used the word “design foundation.” That shouldn’t be thought of as only entry-level instruction, or as necessarily preliminary. What they meant is that basic design is fundamental to everything, and it can be applied to more advanced design problems.

I sketched out the timeline starting with the Bauhaus, where a few phases of basic design thinking were formed, the Itten phase around 1920, then the Moholy-Nagy/Albers phase. And then there’s the Maldonado phase, which links UB to the Ulm School through Huff. I would say the Maldonado phase kind of takes us all the way to now. But I would also add, it might be the first time it will ever be written, that this includes the Huff/Tauke phase.


the argument for basic design is that with an understanding of geometry and a development over aesthetic judgment, one could then start to think flexibly AND confront his or her capacities.

- Nicholas Bruscia

And it’s really important to me because this really did guide so much of my first-year studies. I still, to this day, implement a lot of the thinking that went into some of those exercises into the way I introduce more advanced digital modeling techniques. And that gets into the development of aesthetic judgment, which is the purpose of the discipline, as Huff would say it, and a command over geometry as a starting point. So, with those two things in mind, the argument for basic design is that with an understanding of geometry and a development over aesthetic judgment, one could then start to think flexibly and confront his or her capacities.

So I think the Nagy quote here is actually quite well taken and really timely because I do think that’s something that I’m trying to do is revisit basic design in the school and the history of it here.

There are many interesting design exercises that come, of course, out of Huff’s work, but also Beth’s work. One is called geometric refinement, and the other is geometric construction. Did you guys do those?

Hunter Perez: We did them, but they seemed so abstract. After being introduced to your media class specifically, the process kind of developed. I felt like I learned how to do that throughout the semester, and then when I got to your class, I had a definition of what I was doing, that I could relate it back to.

NB: That is the biggest compliment I’ve ever received. [laughter] Seriously, that actually means a lot to me. But in any case, the refinement is the process of superimposing a grid system over an object and refining it down to the very basic rule set of subdivision until you can eventually approximate the shape. So that’s a more top-down approach. The construction starts with two points and an arbitrary line, and from that, you’ve got only the capacities of the drawing tools, so the triangle, the square, and so on.

And you have the rules of geometry and your own design-thinking to recreate the object using a sequence of moves. Each new move is dependent on the result of the last. You can’t measure something out and apply it. So it’s not an as-built. The drawing grows and the object emerges in the process. And in the end, what you basically have a geometric scaffold that defines the form of the object. This is a direct precursor, I think, to computational design-thinking. There’s a lot to say about the limitation of tools and, in this case, the harnessing of that. This gets into some really interesting territory. This well-rounded specialist and the history of Huff and Beth, and them being here at the same time in the 90s, has led to a really exciting period in the early 2000s of design experimentation at UB.


Professor Huff taught the same exercise for decades, and students were asked to continuously repeat the exercise so that by the end of it, new discoveries were made, and an awareness for precision was developed. I think that’s so important because at that level of care and aesthetic quality and just kind of appreciation for detail is something I think will always carry forward. It’s a specialty that carries forward in a flexible way. So one of the approaches is to try to teach technical skills as ways of thinking as




KATELYN BROAT: BS Arch Student, Junior
NICHOLAS BRUSCIA: Assistant Professor - Department of Architecture
HUNTER PEREZ: BS Arch Student, Junior