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Theory and Criticism
 
Scientifically equipping the design process
Allow me to ask all of you thinkers out there a question that has been on my mind for quite some time:
Is is possible to equip architectural pedagogy and the design process with concrete facts and "formulas" driven from sciences such as mathematics, cognitive science and neuroscience?
In other words, somehow creating a form of "validation" to what we design as architects.
Don't get me wrong, i'm not under-estimating the role of creativity in design, but is it possible to add a helpful frame-work when speaking about the actual process of designing something?
Probably in the same manner physics played a important role in assisting architects with structural and acoustical issues almost 100 years ago?
Any and all comments are highly appreciated.
Sina Esteky
Responses
 
Scientifically equipping the design process

"Is it possible to equip architectural pedagogy and the design process with concrete facts and "formulas" driven from [exact] sciences ...?" Surprise! Is this not already a general trend, a high percentage reality? 'The building that builds itself' according to computerised programs? I have seen this some time ago in Tokyo, central area. I told a japanese photographer that I felt like a 'gokiburi' (cockroach). We laughed.

The problem is that architecture is part of the cultural environment. The historical dimension enters. And there it is still fairly chaotic. We do not know much about the interactions between natural environment, architectural implantations and how they influenced humans and their brains (or their identity).

Mathematics, cognitive science and neuroscience are not the fields that can help us in this regard. Particularly the latter are fairly 'in' at the moment, but I think this is a misplaced perspective, similarly like 'Positivism' in social sciences. Lots of enthusiasm, but it could not basically explain the 'human condition'.

On the other hand we can say that the understanding of architecture as a human problem is still 'underdeveloped'. The world of architects has never cared to develop their own research - as for instance medecine did hundreds of years ago. They delegated 'research' to the art historian, which is highly problematic. Because the art historian is basically a historian (of written sources) and he considers architecture with an extreme reductionism merely as art (like a carpet or like a porcelain vase). Main criteria are the absolutely subjective basis of aesthetics and scientifically worthless concept of 'style'. The most important human dimension is lost.

Many have become aware of these handicaps of architecture in the last 30 years with stimulating figures like Amos Rapoport (Environmental Behaviour Studies) the IASTE movement in UC-Berkeley who study Traditional Environments globally, or Paul Oliver (Vernacular Architecture of the World) or also others working on the basis of O. F. Bollnow's settlement-genetic anthropology of space reconstructing an anthropology of habitat and architecture (AHA) in which I am working myself (-> http://home.worldcom.ch/~negenter).

If thus we open the horizons and deepen the temporal depth into the dimensions of anthropology we suddenly discover that there are cultural traits common to practically all humans. For instance the habit to consider somewhere in one's environment of paths and fields of activities one spot, one sign, one hut, one house, with one hole, or gate, or one door, with one room where, isolated from the outside he or she spends the night sleeping in some secured atmosphere.

This pattern may be of a tremeondous temporal depth and very likely has left its permanent traces in the human brain. Thus, we are again close to "cognitive science and neuroscience". But, we might be conscious that these 'exact' sciences are only meaningful if the researchers are aware that their object too, the brain, has a history. A temporally deep one, and one in which the implications of space and architecture should not be neglected.
Nold Egenter
Scientifically equipping the design process
Sina, what you ask is not necessary in the sense that using mathemetics, cognitive science and neuroscience to create a validation vehicle is like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer.

Essentially, there are fundamental principles to design which I deduced between 1990 and 1993 and these can be used on a conceptual level to check the validity of any design and any design theory.

What I have deduced (my natural deductive ability was noted by MENSA in 1993 as an IQ of 156) is not recognised as it undercuts the mountains of architectural pedagogy which act as a barrier to thought. :)))
Frank John Snelling
Scientifically equipping the design process
First of all sorry for the late response (I was miles away from any kind of �connection� for days, although it�s nice to experience such an isolated and remote environment every once in a while).
Dear Nold and Frank, thanks for your responses.
Nold, First of all what I mean by �scientific equipment� is not a computer program that we can rely on to design a building and act exactly as an architect or even better. We are many years away from that kind of artificial intelligence that can take our deep cultural and historical backgrounds into account. In my opinion that is nothing more than sci-fi for now. The basis for such a scientific �evolution� is still so weak that I don�t blame you for feeling like a 'gokiburi' there. This is why I emphasized not under-estimating the role of creativity in design, and by creativity I mean creativity, uniqueness and inspiration driven from ones cultural, historical and environmental background. I think that the design process never can and should be generalized in the sense of designing a computer program with certain inputs and outputs.
But what if we, as human-beings, can find a way to use our very own brain (which is the final jury of any architectural competition) as a reference to our design? I mention this once more: �adding a helpful FRAME-WORK when speaking about the actual process of designing something�.
With current scientific advancement it is possible to develop a new inter-disciplinary field that can show us how the brain responds to aesthetic issues of the environment, or on a deeper basis how can the environment affect the brains creativity, productivity or other abilities. How can our design affect a patient in a hospital to heal faster? How can it help a student learn better?
I believe that we, as architects, have yet to understand the human requirements. This will be a shift away from an emphasis on solving the puzzle of designing a building� its structural, mechanical, lighting and spatial components � to studying how to accommodate human activities correlated with responses of the brain and the mind.
This will result cities and buildings designed by ordinary architects and vernacular society-based designers; which will be much more harmonious and delightful than some works of the �starchitects� of the past. This frame-work can help raise �the bar� in designing our environment.

Initial researches are already underway in the U.S., suggesting that architectural environments have genetically affected our brain. For example the building materials Africans have used over centuries has caused them to develop more neurons responding to curved forms, while the Europeans brains are more responsive to straight forms and shapes.
Another research suggests that natural light has an inevitable effect on developing creativity among children in schools. Other researches also show environmental effects on healing patients and office productivity.

I�ll finish with a quote by Hippocrates :

�Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain comes joys, delights, laughter, and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear and know what are foul and what are fair, and what are bad and what are good, and what are sweet and what are unsavory� In these ways I am of the opinion that the brain exercises the greatest power of the man.�
Sina Esteky
Scientifically equipping the design process
Any Architectural design solution is a combination of lateral and linear thinking processes. Its like a tree with various branches propagating towards a solution. The linear branches(linear thought)can definitely be aided and speeded up by mathematics and science. (for eg. area calculations, climatic simulation, emissions etc).
But when it comes to deciding(making a choice) at a node as to the direction of the design propagation (for eg. choosing between the types of flooring) there are far too many factors(variables) that come into play. Thats where I see humans win over computers which, today run on binary logic (0's and 1's).
maybe quantum computers (more than 3 states) hold the answer to the computing problems.

Seemingly efforts are being made on certain fronts to resolve the computing problems:
http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/

Lets see what the future has in store.
Zoheb Kherada
Scientifically equipping the design process
Dear Sina,
Even though my english is not quite as elaborated, I�ll try to explain my ideas on your very interesting topic....:
First of all, I think, that the idea of equipping the design - process scientifically has not very much to deal with the abilities of comuter programms nor the functions of brain , examining the parts that do or not do influence the design decisions taken... (There �s a book on this theme written by Martina D�ttmann in Germany...)
I think nowdays it becomes more important to deliver the students some kind of decision-parameters, that allow them, to resolve a specific type of architectural problem in an at least conceptual and sensful manner according to the high social resposibility of an architect�s decisions. This is not just done by creating an highly original shape of a building. Its more important to create an idea that fits best to a specific task. There are so many forms and shapes possible to use for designing, that students first of all do have to learn to separate from beloved ideas, when they dont�t fit to the given theme. My experience is, that students do have many problems with this separation. Cities like Dubai or other modern large scale metropoles are becoming more and more exchangable for the designers lack being able to search for somithing that fits either than designing somethings that cries for attention in the whole world. In my opinion students should first of all learn to deal with pure geometric shapes, that�s already difficult enough! ..instead of adapting all the colourfullness of the world and trying to press this into small projects. So in my opinion scientifically equipping the design-processs means to study pure geometry and its interchange with urban situations and natural environment, in order to be given the fundamental abilities of architectural handwork.
A remarkable design ist not necessarily the best architectural or urban solution.
Markus Kasper
Scientifically equipping the design process
Dear Markus,
I must say quite frankly, i didn't understand your first paragraph, neither did i understand how it relates to our discussion (architecture, neuroscience, cognitive science, research, design-process, mathematical modeling, etc.)
as for the rest of your thoughtful comment, i'll show you how i see le corbusier and his relation with science.
"Much is made of Le Corbusier's modulor system of scales as being a link between Modernist architecture and mathematics. This is a dimensional rule that uses multiples of the Golden Mean, f = 1.618, anchored on the height of the "standard man" at 6ft (183cm). A careful reading of this design system reveals that it is not, and was never intended to be, a method for generating patterns. Le Corbusier himself did not apply it for surface design, preferring empty surfaces of raw, "brutalist", concrete. When he did use it (with his assistant, the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis) on the Monastery of Sainte-Marie de la Tourette (seen in the picture), it produced a random, purely ornamental fa�ade, and not a pattern.

It may seem odd to call Le Corbusier a fundamentalist, but the term is apt. He was a utopian visionary with the most grandiose aspirations, willing to destroy almost anything in his way to build a new doctrinaire regime. With "modernist arrogance", in Jane Ridley's words, Le Corbusier proposed to bulldoze the streets and buildings of Paris and replace them with soldier-like rows of modern towers.
Parisians didn't let him, thank goodness. But other cities weren't so fortunate. Le Corbusier tried to convince successive French governments, including the collaborationist Vichy regime, to implement his plan of razing Algiers, the capital of Algeria and then a French colony. The plan was eventually realized after the Second World War, coinciding with the anti-French resentment that precipitated Algerian independence -- with long-term consequences that include the terrorist violence that continues to plague the country to this day."

i'll finish with the man's own words, the rest is up to you:
"Decoration is of a sensorial and elementary order, as is color, and is suited to simple races, peasants and savages.... The peasant loves ornament and decorates his walls."
Sina Esteky
Scientifically equipping the design process
Dear Sina,
my opinion on this theme might seem on the first look a rather traditional one, but I fear any directions, that lead one�s again in an morphologic direction. I don�t think that this would be helpful in any scientific way. Instead in my opinion this will lead to even more confusion for its exorbitant possibilities in an multilinked world. I think that these - for myself - rather abstract ways of dealing with design-processes have to enter in the end of an whatever formed sceme of theory.
I�m a real fan of Le Corbusier and do think that for example his Vers une architecture is a still very modern book to read. His explanations do all follow a very sensful, I think even scientific pattern. There are no choices to select... He also relates very much to antique principles of forms an shapes. There�s nothing oldfashioned in this as long as its not transormed in an retro-interpretation of modernity......
In our world either you are an star-architect, redesigning yourself in a similar way ones after the other, independetd from time and place, or quite often there are architects, trying to adapt stars to their small projects in I don�t know where. There are just a few being able to let the eviroment / tradition influence there designing concept.....
That�s why i think its still right to start with the pure.... as Le Corbusier said: Pure Geometry is the language of mankind.
Greetings !
Markus Kasper
Scientifically equipping the design process
Zoheb,
I agree with you on the fact that the linear part of designing can be aided but it is clearly too soon to be able to provide such support on the �decision� level of designing. That would need much more efficiency and precision when it comes to A.I., artificial intelligence, but I also believe that we are at a scientific threshold where we can claim that providing scientific basis for design on the �common and linear� level is possible and necessary.
Markus,
first of all I should mention that what I am suggesting is not only related to student work or pedagogy, I�m suggesting a critical change to any architect or designers way of design. Studying �pure geometrical shapes� is of course very important, but isn�t that what we�ve been doing since Vitruvius?! I think that studying shapes is vital once we acknowledge how different shapes may accommodate different needs, instead of using them on a purely �aesthetic� and �artistic� base.
Jofer,
you drew an interesting perspective of the �far far� future. Yes, I believe that that will happen eventually. Although I think that first of all you won�t have go through the trouble of �a highly advanced 'brain-mapping' or psycho-analytic testing process� every time you want to go shopping, since your personal computer (or what ever you want to name it) already knows your exact �taste� and �needs�. And secondly, I think that this evolution is much more than a regular �shopping list�, for example (since we�re talking about architectural design) when you want to redecorate your room, you can know with exactly what color, setting, light and pattern will your room be most productive, roomy or even inspire your creativity.
Again thanks to all of you for your comments, keep them coming!
Sina Esteky
Scientifically equipping the design process
hello Sina.

after reading your second post, i seem to imagine a future wherein if i decide to shop for a house, or a car, or furniture, or clothes, or anything for that matter, all i needed to do is subject myself to a highly advanced 'brain-mapping' or psycho-analytic testing process, the results of which would be a comprehensive shopping list that is guaranteed to satsify me, having considered the unique manner which i am wired to my brain. and add to that the brain-enhancing features that the suggested products can offer in their use.

this does appear more like science fiction. but, on second thought, which other scenario is your dilemma leading to?
Jofer Magsi
Scientifically equipping the design process
Dear Sina,
I hope you didn�t get me wrong... and you are upset about my comments.
In the end , what I wanted to say is, that I don�t think it is or will be possible to influence the process of design or creativity scientifically in the way you�re asking for here. There have already been several investigations on the field of neuroscience, if it is more the right or the left side of the brain, that influences this process and so on.
Finally I think, that this ambition to search for something that makes Architecture / Design measerable or logically explainable refers to the fact, that this ist not possible. Everyone has an opinion on architecture / design , whatever background he comes from. An non-professional has his very specific opinion on which is beautiful and which is not. And in the same time, this opinion is mostly in a total contrast to the one of the architects. That makes it so difficult do deal in architecture or creativitiy. Because of the colourful outer influences.
If you talk to someone about mathematics, he will mostly say: I,ve no opinion on this, because I don�t know about it... In Design it will never be like this, people do always have an opinion on this and want to participate.
So there is no clear defined false or right, 1 or 0 that�s necessary fore scientific evaluation.
Markus Kasper
Scientifically equipping the design process
Dear Markus
My apologies if my last comment seemed a bit harsh. Nothing personal with you of course, but I do have a bit of a foe with corbu, since I�ve seen and spoke with people who are still suffering from his total arrogant nature of design in India, Algeria and other so called �third world countries�. But corbu really isn�t related to our discussion so let�s move on.
I totally disagree with you when it comes to architecture not being �measureable� or �explainable�. I believe that EVERY phenomenon in this world is �explainable� with the exempt of metaphysics (God, Spirit, Miracles, destiny and so on, if you believe in them). And I think we can agree that architecture is not a metaphysical phenomenon. It is true that we don�t share the same �taste� when it comes to architecture, but do different buildings share the same structure all the time? Do different conditions make structures any less of a science, a measureable factor? Not even structures or acoustics are based on a "0 or 1" logic...
I am sure that if people like Galileo, Descartes or Newton thought that there are unexplainable events related to our physical world, we would have still be living in the medieval ages.
Nonetheless, I still respect your opinion and hope we can discuss this idea further, on the basis of respect, honesty and reason.
cheers
Sina Esteky
Scientifically equipping the design process
Dear Sina,
I want to add another question to you...
I have to admit that there might be indeed a situation, when the determination of what might be a right or wrong interpretation of an architectural or design given theme is thinkable.
For example in a competition�s result it is quite often rather obvious, which projects have made the most sensful solution for a special task. Even though there might be a discussion on this, there are surely 3 or 4 projects that have delivered a highly sofisticated concept. For example in the competition for the chinese national museum, when Gerkan Marg and Partners interpreted the theme of traditional chinese housing... or Piano�s project for the museum in Neucaledonia...
In this case you can decide, that others have made a wrong concept or followed at least a wrong way.
This is a lot more difficult, when you can�t compare design solutions to each other, if there is only one solution visible for a project. Quite ofen those ones might be remarkable for themselves, but in the end there is no possibility to explain, what would have been a lot better to be done for the environment or urban place.
So what I want to say is, how should it be possible in that case to define scientifically, if your taken choice - which you personally are highly convinced about - is the right and best one taken?
So yes, there are several possibilites for solution, depending on each persons taste, but it is also obvious, what�s a wrong or false one, if someone is able to accept the taste of others.
In the university we do have these problems each time, when students present their projects. Afterwards the ones with bad grades have no understanding for the decisions taken..
How could this be involved in your opinion, that this might be scientfifically explainable ?
Greetings, Markus
Markus Kasper
Scientifically equipping the design process
hello Sina. i wish to understand your view better, for which i ask, How do you define 'architecture'? (and i refer to that manner in which architecture impresses on you personally.)
Jofer Magsi
Scientifically equipping the design process
Jofer,
I don�t think this �scientific approach� has much to do with my personal definition and impression of architecture since it might, at some point, undervalue my personal opinion, but to answer your question I can say my definition is pretty much similar to the one you can see on Wikipedia:
�Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and structures. A wider definition often includes the design of the total built environment: from the macrolevel of town planning, urban design, and landscape architecture to the microlevel of construction details and, sometimes, furniture.�
Although I believe that architects have always leaned towards the �artistic division� and with the scientific revolution during the past century, instead of adding a scientific frame-work to their work, they have became more and more obsessed with bizarre and unnatural expressions and manifests, that sometimes aren�t even nice to look at. In short, I prefer a social, environmental, functional and good-looking building.

Markus,
First of all, I must say, I don�t believe that there is an �absolute� right or wrong in architecture. I�m going to use the example of structures to explain more clearly, I chose structures for two reasons, one: it is closely related to architecture (mostly counted as part of it) and two: it is a �creative science�, in the sense that it is based completely on concrete facts and formulas driven from physics and dynamics, but on the other hand has the potential to be creative when it comes to designing different structures in various conditions (take Santiago Calatravas� works as an example), what I�m suggesting in architecture is very similar to this �creative science�.
There is no absolute right and wrong in structures, it may work or fail (the right or wrong �way�, as you mentioned), but there are always numerous resolutions to one single task, this is what makes it �creative�, on the other hand when you are designing a structure, you are using proven facts based on empirical experiments, calculations or other means of �validation�. It�s the same regarding neuroscience, cognitive science or psychophysics, in which case, we as architects, can use the human brain as a �reference� to how we design, bringing some level of �validity� to what we design and reducing the chance of our design being a failure, on both aesthetic and functional levels, don�t forget we might have very different tastes but our brains function quite similarly.
I think, as architects of the 21th century, it is very inefficient to rely only on personal talent; creativity and experience to handle the responsibility we have/should have globally. A collective data-base of what suites the mind better in all aspects of architecture, driven from millions of years of human evolution and his encounter with the environment surrounding him, I think, is a much more reliable solution compared to the old �expressionist, artistic and individual� solution that has been carried out since humans started to change their environment.
To answer your final question, I must say, you can�t explain to a student why exactly his/her design isn�t �good enough� (although you can give them a hint), because they have designed it based on their personal experiences, talents, etc. and you have judged it based on your own personal features. There has not been much of a �common-ground� to rely on, other than common experiences and observations, which are not really �discussion material�. But, this might change if there is a common-ground, the form of validation I mentioned earlier, then that student would better understand what the problem is with their design solution that makes it �not one of the better ones�.

All the best
Sina Esteky
Scientifically equipping the design process
hi sina,
m regret this response is little out of mark for the post.

ur response to mr markus on corb works with series and how his facade for the monastry evolved whn he worked along with mathematician xenesis was a very interesting piece to read.

do u have more articles on how corb worked?or thoughts on his design processes...

thnaks!
Sumedha Jain
Scientifically equipping the design process
Sumedha,

although we're past that issue, but since you have asked: there was a rather interesting debate by Christopher Alexander and another by his close friend Nikos Salingaros several years ago that discussed corbu's works with emphasis on the process it went through and how it has sometimes claimed to have been "scientific", i'll post the link if i could find it in my archives.

cheers
Sina Esteky
Scientifically equipping the design process
Dear Sina,
...so I still don�t get the point of your aim ?
I think that your comparison to structure isn�t very sensful, because this is a scientific science, which also is absolutely measurable. If there have been made wrong calculations, a building tires down....end. I really don�t care if a building has been made of steel or concrete , as long as it fulfills my architectural aim. Mostly its just an economic paramter that defines the election of a structural material.
But structure is just one part of architecture. An architect has to deal with lots of different calculatable, natural, historical, social or whatever sciences, but they are all in the end just small pieces in a general mental conception, just servants to realize something that�s been invented by an architect. Sad the architect, who isn�t able to treat those sciences in that way and makes himselve a servant of one of them.
I want to remind also, that there have been lots of examples, when designers or architects have done something, that has been highly critiziced while they presented their work, but afterwards, everyone has been faszinated, even though this might have happend hundreds of years ago. Urban planning of Hausmann for Paris is a good example in this direction.
I still want to insist that I think, that this ist not able to be supported scientifically to anyone, who isn�t able to use his personally formed / learned/ experienced parameters of how to deal with a specific task. Architecture is just on the one hand related to structures, but my experience is, that the architect in the end has to contol it, in order to fulfill his public responsibility. Structual engineers are usually not able to measure this "soft" value!
So I still want to insist, that science in architecture can only be involved in a way, that there is a transmition of parameters how to solve given problems in a sensful and responsable manner. This is highly scientific, but also relates us very much to something like Le Corbusiers principles. Those are nothing else than parameters. But still don�t lead to individual creativity as you can see in the 50ties architecture in Germany (close related to LC, but with a lack of his creativity).
In another forum�s question there�s someone asking for ideas for a shopping mall. Whay is he or she doing this ? Because he / she didnt�t get to be offerd those parameters of education or experience that would have made obvious that there isnt�t a difference between designing a chair or a shopping mall wherever in the wourld. Its not more difficult the one thing to the other in any way. In both cases you need to have a fundamentel conception developed in a meanigful way, in order to convince your client/public.
Markus Kasper
Scientifically equipping the design process
hello again, Sina. would it be more apt to put this as 'scientifically equipping the process for SELECTING a design architect'? what do you think?
Jofer Magsi
Scientifically equipping the design process
Sina, please do re-read my post of October 6th. There is a world of difference between finite sciences and infinite logics. Sciences are limited in viewpoint because it is so thoroughly grounded in analysis that for many analysis becomes the be-all and end-all of scientific research.

In other words the original motivation for research was simply someone being curious about something and exploring all possible avenues of logic. This has now evolved into scientific research which is more interested in crossing the "t" and dotting the "i" than in being curious about something without limiting thought to highly ritualised thought patterns. :)))
Frank John Snelling
Scientifically equipping the design process
Dear Sina,
I (we?) miss your further mediation in this interesting forum! Do you agree with my/the others comments?
I think you�ve done a very good mediation so far in responding to all postings...
Greetings!
Markus Kasper
Scientifically equipping the design process
check this out:
http://www.livescience.com/history/071121-beauty-brain.html

now that's what i'm looking for...
Sina Esteky
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