Surviving the Design Studio: 6 hacks to develop your crap design quickly.

The all too familiar scenario

For many students, even in the most prestigious architecture schools it is easy to be seduced by the computer: The lure of the computer with the shimmering screen, often means you can easily convince yourself that what you are creating is Architecture; that your design is more developed and refined than what it actually is.

In fact a computer can help you think your design is actually fabulous.

Crisis

Then suddenly you realise your time has run out. The jury crit is looming, or the client is coming, and you haven’t done enough to develop the design. You were too busy researching, or procrastination, or kididng yourslef you were great, or bogged down in admin, or suffering under the hands of a capricious tutor or client. Crisis time !!!

The problem with having a capricious tutor is that they will quickly cut you lose, and wont defend you when the jurors start drilling down into the details of your design; actually, jurors don’t actually care that much about function; they are usually more interested in discussing, those things known as ideas. Holy Rissole Batman !!! Do you you mean actual ideas !?!?

 The Danger

A primary danger is this: allowing the computer to fool you that you had done more design development than what you have actually done. In fact, if you haven’t done enough design development, all you have really done is a functional diagram at best. At worst a conceptual diagram simplistically mapped onto the site. It is awful to see people fashion these diagrams in order to make them seem like architecture.

Knee jerk reaction

The common response to time pressures of the jury session combined with a lack of design development detail is to develop the design through an obsessive and irrational focus on the brief or program, function and functional elements. Yes, it is easy to lapse into form follows function when you are in a desperate panic to get that conceptual and schematic design finished in time.

Certainly, The first thought of most people in this situation is the old keen jerk reaction of developing the design further through, an even further and intense consideration of function. But probably over-thinking the functions is what got you in this mess in the first place.

The worst thing you can do

For a start it is too easy. Secondly, architecture is not about just solving functional problems. Sorry, to have to tell you but it is about more than this and it is also about Ideas. As a socio-material practice architecture concerns itself with embodying ideas in space. I will even stick my neck out and say, architecture actually has nothing to do with function. In the hierarchy of elements a designer should be concerned about function is really a very, very, very, low level concern.

A bit of theory

Yes, in modern architecture, some architects in the past have been to develop radical notions of “pure” functionalism that manages to escape the prosaic. Hannes Meyer, Ernst May, and the Neue Sachlichkeit in Weimar Germany spring to mind. Maybe even Hilberseimer. In the late twentieth century Kazuo Shinohara springs to mind. There are glimmers of this functional realism and objectivity in the work of OMA and Bjarke Ingels. But all of these architects are able to evoke a functional realism resulting in a highly refined and abstract ambiguity (let’s argue about that point later).

Architecture can’t escape being read, or perceived, in ambiguous and uncertain ways. Just solving a design for “function” won’t allow you to control or even apprehend the pathways of ambiguity.  Hence, over-thinking function is really, really, really boring. Developing a design by over-thinking function will not actually allow you to develop the design in a way that accounts for all the other factors architects need to consider.

So here are the 6 so-called hacks:

In no particular order, that might help you get out of the function rut and save your career as a capital D designer.

1.Develop the spatial experience

Develop the spatial experience. What is it like to walk through it. What will people see? Box-like rooms with no windows maybe? What kind of light is in each of the rooms and at what time of day?

2. Develop from the context

What is physically around the design?  How does your design respond to this? Take an element or idea from the context and integrate it with your design or use it to develop your design. Or is your design just an isolated object with no relationship to the  surrounding context. A box, or a industrial product on a blank site.

3.Develop the materiality

What are the materials?Is there materiality or texture? What is your functional diagram like as a physical entity? Or is it just lines in a computer?It won’t look good if it’s just a functional series of boxes. It’s your your pick, is it concrete, parametric plastic or inflammable metal cladding? How do these materials look? How are the materials joined together? Are there floor or wall patterns?

4.Develop the façade treatment (and technology).

How do things look on the façade. Is there a pattern? How is the facade constructed? Are the facades layered or just one material? Will the facade get hot or cold, or mitigate sun, and or carbon emissions? How do the openings look like on the facades?

5.Develop the Public and Private

How are the public and private spaces gradate? Which rooms or spaces in the functional arrangement are more public, or more private. What can you do to emphasise and reinforce this?

6.Develop the car-circulation

Cars can seem like a really functional kind of consideration. But not really. The car is a site where the future will be a contested area; as the AI revolution and the data analytics cult kicks in.

But if you can do this with elegance and actually design the way the parking works and how this is linked to overall concept that helps. Slamming the carpark next to your building or sticking it underground and showing this only in the section is really ordinary. The more, you can think through how people drive to your building, the better.

In other words: Develop the design through playing

Exit the computer and play. Get the design out of the of the computer and print it. Ask yourself how does it look? Then draw on the prints. Draw on the plans, draw on the renders, draw on the elevations. Draw on yourself.

Yes, if you are looking at something in the computer and have yet to translate it to the real world or to the layout sheets. How, the on earth (I will refrain from using profanities this week), do you know what it is you have is actually designed and developed?

The point is, to play with and explore a design, in order to create and even better developed design. Yes, I mean play, like getting into a sandpit and making a sandcastle. After all when was a sandcastle made as a result of strict functional requirements? But some sandcastles l are really cool.

Finally

Everyone can tell, especially jurors,  if it’s a uni-dimensional overthought-in-function design. A better rule to be guided by when developing a design is: If it looks good it is good.



Categories: architectural design, Design Studios, design teaching, surviving the design studio

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