There are only few periods in history in which architecture and urban planning acquired the speed of development they have today. This acceleration of development has to do with fundamental changes in our society. Cultural and economical changes in the framework of globalization and growing international dependencies, technological innovations like the establishment of new traffic and transportation systems, the introduction of automated production methods and robots in industry and the even broader application of information and communication technology in everyday life – all these developments are affecting the cities and city life – while environmental risks at a global scale are forcing us to consider the sustainability of our technologies, our life styles and our behavior.
At the same time, in designing our environment we are confronted with an unprecedented abundance of forms and possibilities, enlarged even further by the possibilities offered by the computer. We are being forced to learn, sometimes with great difficulties, to control this abundance and to restore it to a (more or less) consistent language.
The challenges of urban transformation no longer can be faced by analytical or regulative approaches (if they ever have been faced in that way). Conceptual thinking – design thinking – is necessary not only to make a plan, but even more to understand future opportunities and threatens. In this respect – maybe more than in the past – the process of design has become a process of exploration, a process of researching new spatial possibilities and investigating new methodological approaches. This process we could call research by design. In this article I will discuss the demands for research by design against the background of fundamental changes in the practice of designing the built environment.