An Idea of Architecture (1) – A Search for the Architecture of Design Process


Architecture has been among the most important types of man-made entities that can reflect people’s daily lives and beliefs since early human history.  These structures serve their functions and convey various concepts by their forms, spaces, and materials. In the past two decades, ease of access to information, building materials and construction technologies makes architects’ designs increasingly similar to each other. Many architectural projects, particularly those in developing countries, are underdeveloped or they are superficial imitations of other projects without much consideration for their unique contexts and design parameters. Being an architectural designer, I always ask myself a very fundamental question about architectural practice: how does one approach and design a contextual and autonomous project so that it can formally better serve its function and convey its embedded cultural, philosophical, spiritual, political, artistic and scientific concepts to people? As in any historical periods, there are outstanding projects in different regions around the world. However, as one may realize, many contemporary buildings have fallen into the following categories:

1. They are the products of random and arbitrary designs whose original concepts come from occasional or improvisatory ideas (Figure 1).

2. They lack formal connections to the past, or the formal connections to their vernacular cultures.

3. They could have been more appropriate built solutions if the design teams and clients understood the projects’ contextual parameters and constraints more comprehensively.

4. The application of computer-aided design software seems to be used in a computer-orientated way instead of a humanistic way. This category is particularly applicable to projects that are designed and modeled in 3D software, which has certain capabilities and advantages in achieving some formal design tasks. Therefore, projects that are derived from this type of software are formally similar. Since designers spend much of their time on searching for solutions in 3D models within the software, they sometimes neglect people’s collective experience about form, space, materials and their embedded semiotics of architecture.

Figure 1. A Multifunctional Building In China

Architecture is the result of collaboration. If the architects, their clients and other related people know the projects’ context, design parameters and historical settings better (Figures 2 & 3), the building projects that fell into these categories could be improved and became better built works. Giving that each architecture project has a series of design problems based on its unique requirements and constraints at the beginning of its design process, is there a rational and systematic graphical method to draw and record the design process? If the creation of architecture is not only about the final built work, but also about the generative process; this Systematic Drawing of the Design Process (SDDP) is aiming to represent the complex and interrelated relationship between design parameters, ideas, decisions, and procedures of the collaborative work of architecture (Figure 4).

Figure 2. A Sketch of the Logical Relationship between Human and Architecture

Figure 3. The Relationship Between Human and Architecture Based on Differernt Human and Non-human Factors

Figure 4. A Simple Relational Framework of a Typical Project

The SDDP is the visual representation of the design process. Indeed, this representation or documentation is invisibly imbedded into the subconscious creative process of every architectural practice. If the architect can constantly update the project’s SDDP, it can help themselves to be more self-critical about their design. Furthermore, as the SDDP can break down the design process and design parameters by a logical framework of inter-relation, it can enhance the mutual understanding between architects, consultant teams, contractors and the clients. This logical framework of design parameters and information can expand and focus on certain parameters based on the project teams’ interaction during design development. This blog piece is a starting point for myself to brainstorm about my graduate thesis of developing a graphical/virtual drawing of the architecture of design process. I believe this drawing of collecting, recording, learning, analyzing, informing, representing, selecting and creating processes of architecture can help to develop a project from concept sketches to construction documents, and from the massing of the overall form to the detailing of joints. Therefore, we can anticipate that the built work will be a better piece of architecture.