Ebook: Ways to Study and Research Urban, Architectural and Technical Design
How can we develop a scientific basis for architectural, urban and technical design? When can a design be labelled as scientific output, comparable with a scientific report? What are the similarities and dis-similarities between design and empirical research, and between design research, typological research, design study and study by design? Is there a need for a particular methodology for design driven study and research? With these questions in mind, more than forty members of the Faculty of Architecture of the Delft University of Technology have described their ways of study and research. Each chapter shows the objectives, the methodology and its implementation in search for a deeper knowledge of design processes and an optimal quality of the design itself. The authors - among them architects, urban planners, social scientists, lawyers, technicians and information scientists – have widely differing backgrounds. Nevertheless, they share a great deal. The central focus is a better understanding of design processes, design tools and the effects of design interventions on issues such as utility, aesthetics meaning, sustainability and feasibility.
Within the range of a technical university the object of design – in terms of (urban) architecture and technique – is the design subject that is amongst all others most sensitive to context. The programme of requirements is not only derived from an economical and technical context, but also from contexts hailing from political, cultural, ecological en spatial considerations; on many levels of scale.
This applies as well for the effects not foreseen in the programme of requirements for a soil-bound object with the longevity of a building or a neighbourhood. The survey in this wide context of the effects of the built environment requires long-term perspectives envisaged on all these domains, from where boundary conditions may be read for forecasting effects; with, or without, a method; for within one perspective the effects of the built environment might work out much differently than in another.
It may be expected from a built environment that it was designed in such a way, that it may function in several perspectives without too many negative effects. This aspect of an architectural design is termed ‘robustness’. It does entail much more than flexibility and adaptability: it encompasses multi-functionality and diversity as well, and freedom for users and exploiters to come to choices. The principal of an architectural object does not usually require a predictable, average solution; but rather one matching the identity of the principal and the unique potential of the location. This implies that the architectural designer should not only display a many-faceted sensitivity to context, but also great creativity, and a will to explore ever again new ways. This is the technical-scientific challenge to the architectural engineer.
For getting one's bearings in all these contexts, while providing at the same time spatially integrating proposals, one single, unequivocal scientific method is not available. During the innovation of education of the early nineties this question was put to the first Committee of Methodology of the Faculty of Architecture which methods would be essential in this respect. Opinions diverged.
On one side of the argument, Priemus advocated the idea, formulated in Chapter 26 of the present book, that the classical empirical-scientific method and its expansion into system theory would be sufficient for the scientifically trained architectural engineer. On the other side, Tzonis mentioned his opinion that there were as many as two hundred methods, all of them could be ranked as ‘scientific’; each of them at times needed to be applied to locationbound challenges and tasks. The Committee agreed to a preliminary recommendation to work out further eight categories of methods for education and study. This mixed application of methods was sorted out, during the following ten years, in order to come, for the benefit of many years in the future, to a rather more conscious synthesis.
A second Committee of Methodology has been working, since the turn of the millennium, on methodological matters. Your reading eyes are focusing on its results. This methodological book has been divided into the eight previously distinguished sections of scholarly methods, each of them addressed individually by different authors of the same Faculty along individual lines:
A.: Naming and describing
B.: Design research and typology
C.: Evaluating study
E.: Programming and optimising study
F.: Technical Study
G.: Design study
H.: Study by design
Design study is the daily practice of design studios not designing exclusively on the basis of intuition. They tend to document their design decisions, in order to be able to evaluate the design process afterwards because of a sense of responsibility. Study by design is the ultimate challenge, ever-changing boundaries and one to be expected anywhere, at any design institution. However, by definition, it entails that one must reach beyond the known scientific domain and methods, at the risk of being considered unscientific. However, if that risk is not taken, no ways are to be found into an unknown territory.
How does this architectural challenge and task relate to other Faculties of a Technical University? The context within which a designed product must function is always the source of its programme of requirements; and at the same time, the victim of its unintended effects. For the programme of requirements of most technical products the context of financial economics is central. It reaches from global forces on markets via efficiencies and effectiveness on the personal level to economical use of materials; on a smaller level still within the object to be designed.
This cultural context also impinges more greatly upon other technical products than architectural ones in terms of social acceptance and implementation. A product may fail, even if it has got a market for itself.
Designing personal goods must allow for a different cultural context than the design of capital goods that should be accepted in various entrepreneurial and governmental cultures.
To designers of components the technical context is particularly important. Within each technical discipline they are beholden to agreements about dimensions, inter-connections and to performance requirements within the design as a whole. Usually the technical context of relatively small complete products may be adapted by way of an interface or housing to be fitted locally. In this sense, the built environment is the final layer; the site may be adapted in one way or another, but the climate is a global, ecological, context beyond the influence of the designer; as is the social climate in its many perspectives, or scarcity of space.
In all technical sciences, therefore, also in architecture, these contexts may be recognised; but in building & architecture they seem to attain maximal extension and significance. Restriction to the site, scale and longevity of the object of design is playing a rôle. The (urban) architectural object as a whole can not look for a free market, unlike a mobile product. It functions, by itself, as a context for human activity and the industrial products connected to it. By the same token the architectural object does not only feature external, but also internal political, cultural, economical, technical, ecological and spatial contexts. They are the ones determining the programme of requirements; they will undergo the future, long enduring effects – both intended and un-intended – of the object designed. Any imaginable effect will, sooner or later, strike a local human chord. Then it may be understood that architectural objects do enjoy, nowadays, social visibility. A great many local interests are coming to the fore in order to contribute to the design process or delegate interest to the government level concerned.
Therefore, this wide and multi-faceted context is playing a much grander rôle in the design process of those who are building, than in the solution of those who are facing problems as there are (air)-conditioning, separating, joining and carrying. Since the three millennia preceding us, solutions do already exist; but we may vary them. By the way: the architectural engineer, in all this, is showing his might: repeating existing solutions does not equal the kernel of the task that is a design.
The number of architectural solutions and possibilities of usage within classical contexts is larger than the number of atoms in the universe. If the ‘Windows’ icon with its 16 x 16 pixels of 256 colours is equalling all 256 * 256 possibilities of use for design, the designer of a 3-dimensional location with 300 possible building materials is finding himself in a multiple universe of possibilities. Only partially technical specification directs the numberless design decisions; in as many uncertain contexts facing the architectural designer.
The explosion in terms and numbers of combinations as offered by the scale of a building or a neighbourhood and the differentiating character of their commissions does establish a scientific challenge; this book provides elements to meet it. In addition, it supplies its readers with perspectives on innovating architectural thought. However, the prime importance and achievement of this book is that the scientific debt of a mix of methods honed to one single location needed for this task have been eased and facilitated. Methodological components are accessible and may be pointed out.
Prof. dr. ir. J.T. Fokkema
Delft University of Technology