Ten Considerations for Design Pedagogy from Practice, 2016
It is a truism that the world is complex and interconnected and dynamic. The last decades of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first century have been marked by enormous social, economic, political, and technological change. Perhaps unlike in the past, today we recognize that change is perpetual and intrinsic to life. Architecture encompasses change by framing relationships between people and space that unfold over time at every scale of experience. Cultivating the potential of these relationships through design is essential to create architecture that affirms the value the world and the quality of our place in it. Through this engagement architecture also gains cultural consequence. The desire for an architecture of engagement has driven the trajectory of our practice. This objective also has profound implications for design methodology and pedagogy.
1. Context as Ecology
Before there is design, there is the context in which it is situated, which transcends a given site or program. It is vital to recognize that design exists within a vast network of physical and social relationships that constitute the world. This includes places that range from rural to urban, from expansive regions to intimate interiors. Myriad exchanges between and independent of people occur in these places. Manifold ideas, histories, memories, and dreams weave through the fabric of society as well.
In a complex, changing world it is not possible to know everything; exploration helps us formulate concepts and intentions. Framing design as inquiry also enables the process and outcome of design to develop along with the cultural context. A research-based design methodology is a philosophical approach as well as a means of investigating specific issues and ideas. The goal is to gain knowledge and insight. In this formulation, architects’ expertise is asking questions; many practical, some deep.
Intrinsic to inquiry is an acknowledgment of the value of collective intelligence. Complexity and the resultant vast increase in the body of knowledge have given rise to increasing specialization. This conceals interrelationships across disciplines and separates expertise from action. Collaboration breaks down boundaries and helps unlock the potential for discovery. As generalists, architects orchestrate collaborative processes to synthesize information. The degree of collaboration necessary in design is often proportional to a project’s social dimension.
Through design, it is critical to assess each project in its widest physical and social context. Also, by addressing a broad range of sites, types of programs, and scales (from the body to the planet), practice enters into the continuum of human experience. This helps us to gain direct understanding of the diversity of space as lived. This breadth also exposes conditions that are characteristic of contemporary life as the relationships between places and activities are often ambiguous.
Depth in design means to develop ideas with specificity and intensity to derive form, space and material grounded in their particular circumstances. Through iterations that correlate diverse information and test multiple possibilities, design intent and outcome are more precisely aligned. The goal is a layering of qualities that clarifies and enriches the final result. The depth with which the specific parameters of a project are engaged through design also helps foster innovation.
6. Design the Process
Design is itself a construct. The designer choreographs the working process, setting both the overall framework and the methods employed to study a problem. Complexity gives rise to many possibilities that must be evaluated to determine which ideas are appropriate. In each project, the issues and questions are always slightly different. Therefore, the design process itself is calibrated to the specific circumstance and goals of each situation.
7. Design through Time
Ideas in architecture are understood directly through use and experience which vary according to the scale and duration of a project. The means and ends of design are also different according to these variables. At the smallest increment of time, architecture engages human perception, shaping momentary phenomena according to the movement of the body in space. Over years, architecture composes program relationships to constitute the function and identity of an organization. At the city scale and beyond, design establishes strategic systems that shape urban form over decades.
8. Informed Intuition
We teach ourselves through design as we test ideas through comparative analysis of many possibilities. The goal is to generate productive feedback loops that help clarify intentions. This also yields discoveries and inventive solutions. But great design is more than problem solving, it is a meaningful transformation, a creative leap that emanates from the complex alchemy of objective and subjective thought. Design is as much a product of individual insight as it is a group activity. Informed intuition is the ultimate, essential outcome of the design process.
Architecture as a built artifact communicates directly, without mediation or explanation from the architect. Yet representation is also reality which conveys intent. Visual information is a significant aspect of the design process that enables concepts to be accessible and compelling to a diverse audience. Specific types of drawings or models are also tools that correlate to particular concepts. Employing multiple kinds of representation (including physical models) selected for their appropriateness to specific ideas exposes new possibilities.
10. Frame the Problem
Ultimately, the designer is responsible for shaping the goals of design. The project brief is only an apparent limit; to be compelling architecture exceeds that which is known, given or anticipated at the outset of the design process. Particularly for a project in the public realm, this includes addressing those indirectly involved who may not participate in the process. Through critical consciousness that transcends initially recognized parameters, the designer gains the power to achieve a more impactful result.
Learning Through Design
These ten considerations form an integrated constellation. Fundamentally, the design process begins with an acknowledgement of the intricate, constantly shifting reality in which it is situated. The understanding that architecture is intrinsically relational- at every scale of experience- enables it to be responsive to evolving parameters in its dynamic context. It is vital that architects encompass change as integral to our work – as the essential condition through which our ideas are conceived, created and experienced. Re-framing practice and pedagogy toward this objective enables architects to realize our full potential as we evolve by learning through design.