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Plowright on Method: Revealing Architectural Design


“Design methods are repeatable patterns of activity occurring systematically and recognized to produce certain results in the process of architectural design. That is, they have the potential to produce results and they should be able to be taught, learnt, and applied. More often than not, this potential is not realized. Many, if not most, intern architectural designers and students learn through practice and trial-and-error, overseen by an experienced architectural designer. When method is introduced as part of learning architectural design, it isn’t often done in a systematic way in order to show its relationship to larger design concerns. Much information, coming from either theory or outside the discipline, is used as early ‘inspiration’ rather than deeply connected to the decision-making process as part of designing. To make deep connections, theoretical positions need to be connected to structured techniques of mapping, transfer, and application as an integral part of the design process.

“The misunderstanding, or lack of visibility, of how external information is used to generate architectural design encourages intuitive responses in the process of architectural design. Intuitive responses are capable of developing rich projects if the designer is well experienced. However, more often than not, the result is a proposal that is difficult to defend and less rich than it could have been. The designer might sense that something is interesting or has significance in a context but have little clue how to develop that work in order to reinforce those qualities. Many times the result simply becomes a shallow, symbolic representation of the initial idea, focused on an object of cultural but not architectural meaning. While form is the final manifestation of architecture, that forms needs to be accessible by conceptual layers of architectural syntax and domain knowledge. Considering that the basic activity of architectural design has to do with the translation of intellectual intentions into tangible form, the lack of clear processes to connect thinking to formal realization seems problematic.”

These paragraphs open Chapter Three of Philip Plowright’s recent book, Revealing Architectural Design: Methods, Frameworks and Tools (Routledge 2014). I couldn’t agree more with his treatment of the obscure place of method in design education and discourse. Check back here for an extensive review and discussion of Plowright’s book later this month.

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