Facade Games

The Vertical Surface as Student Design Exercise



This paper provides an overview of a course focusing on the façade as taught to architecture students over a twenty-year period. The need for this subject emerged after witnessing countless examples of student work where the façade was seldom designed with the same intensity and expertise as the plan. A philosophical divide centers on whether the ‘vertical surface’ is merely a mechanical ‘elevated’ plan–root word elevation—or the façade, designed as a deliberate instrument with meaning akin to the complexities and nuances of the human visage–root word face. The objective of the course is to introduce students to the design of the ‘vertical surface’ through the study and analysis of a series of historic and contemporary precedents exploring design strategies, compositional methods, structure and materials. As a matter of first importance, students are required to design a series of physical models relying on these ideas. The format for all exercises is a bas–relief model of a facade three stories high and five bays wide, or five stories high and three bays wide, placed on a black ground measuring 8 1⁄2 “ X 11” at a scale of approximately 1/8” = 1’ – 0”. This format is a very important aspect of the pedagogy as it facilitates comparisons between student projects and it also gives students a tangible measure of their progress and accomplishments over the course of the term. Each week a theme is presented in lecture format followed by an exercise due the next class period that treats a given issue. Over the course of the term ten different themes and corresponding projects are designed. At the end of the course the entire body of work is exhibited, typically consisting of over 200 examples for any given class.


Photo of James Tice

James Tice

Professor of Architecture

University of Oregon




“The façade is the metaphorical plane of intersection between the eye of the beholder and what one may dare to call the soul of the building.”

-- Colin Rowe


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The façade is arguably the most public aspect of building and yet Modern architecture has typically considered the deliberate design of the vertical surface as a questionable exercise. The argument

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Once this investigation began it was revealing how many historic and contemporary buildings use three story–five bay building format in their design which, not coincidentally, approximates the Golden Mean using

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Conclusion and Future Work

In this brief description of Façade Games one hopes to show the wealth of ideas that are attendant to the design of the vertical surface–ideas, although readily available through historic

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The author would like to acknowledge his students for their work displayed in this paper. They are: Pete Alderson, Jensen Augustine, Austin Bailey, Patrick Bering, Mark Chenchin, John Cheng, Hui Chun, Michael Davis, Andrea Detweiler, Winston Ely, Denny Faris, Jenna Fribley, Justin Kapen, Andrea Koschwanez, Valentina Leoni, Aaron Lester, Jin-Ann Lin, Nicholas Meszaros, Monika Moechtar, Scott Moreland, Björn Nelson, Ellen Nystrom, Jay Orloff, David Posada, Sarah Richardson, Teresa Shannon, Anthony Shou, C. J. Shumate, Lydia So, Ling Tang, Johnathan Wang, Jason Warberg, Erik Winter and Nathan Wong.

He also would like to acknowledge a debt to Virginia Cartwright, Colin Rowe, Klaus Herdeg, Bernard Hoesli, Lee Hodgen, Roger Sherwood, John Shaw, Earl Moursund, Thomas Schumacher and other teachers and colleagues who have inspired him to articulate and develop ideas that subsequently became this course devoted to the facade. Lastly, he would like to acknowledge Kevin Nute and Nico Larco, colleagues who have shared teaching Spatial Composition with him in a large lecture format where this facade exercise was given to students, some examples of which are included above.

Rights and Permissions

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