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Topic for Debate
 
Prototypical Standardized Designs vs. Site and People Specific Designs
Over the past few decades there have been many advocates of prototypical housing designs/projects. There have been movements toward prototypical school designs as well in different parts of the world. Some argue that architectural design is like product design: Needs to be standardized.

I would like to raise several points and questions underlying this topic:

- What is meant by prototypical designs? Are they standardized designs of the whole building or structure, or the building shell only or does it mean pre-approved elements or components? Does it mean copying an intitial model that proved to be successful? Does it mean repeating an initial model after fine tuning and some adaptations and adjustments?

- Would the use of prototypical designs be responsive to site and neighborhood character and people needs?

- Will the use of prototypical designs reduce cost and time and to to what extent?

- What is sacrificed by the use of prototypical designs for different building types (schools, housing, offices...etc.?

- What are the advantages and disadvantages of prototypical designs and site and people specific designs?


Hope these will stimulate some debates.
Ashraf Salama
Responses
 
Prototypical Standardized Designs vs. Site and People Specific Designs
I would like first to distinguish between prototypical designs and standardized designs. Prototypical designs as a repeated replica of an original design format or mold are gradually disappearing even in the industrialized countries, not only in architecture but even in industry as a whole. Growing and sophisticated market demands now require more flexible production models where a certain product an be provided ether with an increasing list of modifications and options for the customers to chose from, or the product itself is divided into its main element and the manner these elements get together is subject to consumer preferences and some minimum industry standards. An example for that might be modern passenger vehicles that are now made to the requests of the individual buyer.

However, once and still accepted and welcomed in almost all industries, standardization turns immediately negative when applied to architecture since it carried an automatic connotation of matchbox apartment buildings with similar plans and elevation spread across a country regardless of the site characteristics or the socioeconomic and other needs of its occupants. While that is probably true in some developing countries, and even Western Europe after World War II with the grave need for rapid and cheap accommodation for a very large of devastated population, this might not be the case in increasing case studies in the US where ��manufactured houses�� are being built in the factory and then transported to the site later.

In a recent project in Ohio, manufactured homes provided a housing solutions with 50% savings in the total housing cost to the buyer, in almost record time from choosing the house design till actually occupying it (an average of 3 weeks!!), and with a level of quality control that can be only guaranteed in an automated production line environment. While the idea might be immediately repulsive to many architects as a matter of course, studying that project and seeing its different processes and the final neighborhood that has been created makes it a very attractive subject of study for those interested in alternative and affordable housing options.

In that project, residents were given the chance to choose the components of their homes, thus the final product was a very diverse design alternatives although the space frame each hose occupy is the same. The production process was flexible enough to accommodate a large number of building components and options to allow for such a variety of homes. Then the houses were manufactured and assembled in the factory, and transported to its final site where only the foundations were laid. Walking on the street, you can never tell if these were manufactured homes or not. And with the 50% reduction in cost, this project provided critical solutions of a segment of the society who had never dreamed of owning a home.

The question is, can this be applicable in other countries? And if yes, then how and what would be the implications of that?
Ragaei Abdelfattah
Prototypical Standardized Designs vs. Site and People Specific Designs
Many thanks Ragaei for your thoughful contribution and example.

I would say that the two terms are used interchangeably. Your analogy of custom-made vehicles is to the point. However, cost increases tremendously when you customize a car!

Yes, the two terms have negative connotation when it comes to architecture, perhaps because they were overused for decades and in many cases they are associated with the ugly images we see in many parts of the developing world. They are also associated with the housing projects that did not meet individual and collective needs.

Perhaps, this is due to the fact that most public and affordable housing projects are based on government led initiatives where typically users needs are not the issue; and many of these projects did not go beyond "satisfying or meeting the demand"

The oppostie is ture in the example you gave. I would guess that Ohio project is based on private business/companies, or private funding agencies intitiatives, although it might have been under one of the US-HUD government or state programs. The private business mentality, even if it was an affordable housing project or low income, mandates customer satisfaction.

One of the great Aga Khan Award Publications on Archnet digital library is
-Architecture of Housing, Robert Powell (ed.) In it there are essays, articles, and arguments that detail the issue.

Back to your example, I would perhaps categorize it under "Adaptable Prototypical Design" based on the kit of parts or the pattern language concepts.

Now, I am just wondering if the residents were aware of all the range of possible options for their new homes. Sometimes, they are manipulated by the funding agency, the design-build company, or even the planner and the architect, becuase they are in need. In this case the range of options presented to them is very limited, but they get the feeling that they have had a "choice", but the fact is that they have not.

I believe the ultimate success of the project example you gave can be measured when a POE study is conducted to examine residents' satisfaction and attitudes toward their new housing environment. This is a good business if we are talking about housing as commodity. Exactly, like when one eats in a restuarant and get an evaluation form when paying the bill to judge or assess the quality of food, atmosphere, service, staff attitude...etc.

I would answer your question like this:
Yes, the experience can be implemented in industrial countries where building manufacturing is of extreme high quality, but I am not sure if this applies to developing countries. It also depends on the felxibility of the available building materials, otherwise it will not be cost effective.

The question now would be: is the cost the major determining factor? if so, what is sacrificed in this process? I believe that giving residents choices after all the major decisions have been made in terms of size of elements, total house area, building materials, visual character, adjacency relationships between elements is sometimes misleading and I tend to see it as a deceiptive ideology.

I hope we can continue debating this issue. Best,
Ashraf Salama
Prototypical Standardized Designs vs. Site and People Specific Designs
Any new thoughts, ideas, discussions on this subject. This topic is re-introudcing itself on the map of academic and professional interests, especially with those who have interest in school planning and design, work environments and work station designs, low income, co-op, and affordable housing development.

If you have thoughts or ideas, please insert them here in this forum!
Ashraf Salama
Prototypical Standardized Designs vs. Site and People Specific Designs
Great topic for discussion that I had somehow missed!

Thinking about how the impact of applied sciences and engineering have directly influenced architecture by providing technologies developed by engineers and for engineers in a proprietary sense, I have come to some conclusions that I feel are inevitable UNLESS architects adapt to use engineering technologies autonomously.

Look around in an industrialized urban environment. Things inevitably have become standardized. Pretty much everyone can agree upon that. That is because things are mass produced and manufactured using engineering technologies down the supply chain. The impact on architecture has been dramatic and in many cases negative to the continuity of culture and civilization itself. This is solely because these are functional tools where the aesthetics as accepted and implemented are ones based on machine component geometry. AutoCad was invented to cut steel parts, so that engineers did not have to punch g - code into tape. .dxf is the culprit. The standard that controls modern is the absense of curves.

Add curves to any project in a contemporary world, and the costs rise thru the roof. There is no real reason for it other than the talent to manipulate manufacturing aesthetically has not been challenged on a massive scale by architecture, construction, industry or fabricators the way the hammer did for thousands of years for all human history.

A new thought came to mind recently, given my own area of work and collaborations with larger construction on a bridge project. Civil and structural engineers are into the wholesale manipulation in many cases of topography. If the trend towards standardization proceeds at its current rate, which I assume will occur in the next 100 to 200 years or less......... there just might not be a need for architects at all. Think about it. In the commercial and residential sense, much of what is built is identical. Cookie cutters run amuck. The reasons are based on economics as perceived. Take the scenario of large development firms. They buy land and market its value by putting up structures for a variety of functions. Shopping malls are a good case to analyze. All the malls look the same, and often they are indistiguishable. If the developer had his druthers, he (or they) would skip having architects to deal with at all. Once you have a set of plans that is reasonable (also known as profitable), you can use the same plans over and over.

The only thing that has stopped them so far or at least hindered its acceleration is topography. I predict that the civil engineers in partnership with land developers will strategize creating standardized topographies. Grade the earth to plug predesigned or existing componentry on it.

Architects need to adapt and control CAD as a value added part of their everyday practice. Otherwise they will be relics or anachronisms of times gone by. Everything changes. Unless there is a personality infused back into architecture that clients crave and demand, the lowest common denominator or standard prevails and conquers.

Scary things to consider. But think about it for yourself. What inspired any forum participant to work in designing buildings? Something you saw, which was probably very unique in contrast to what you are making today literally took your breath away. It wowed you. Modern computerized design and manufacturing are one and the same, and can be used far more aesthetically and productively to create anything (really anything) at 90% less labor than conventional accepted approaches. Why do we accept that the only ones to autonomously contol manufacturing related to architecture are other people. It is a myth. Specifying is an additional impact of standardization. It is in many cases a mistake that will eliminate the existence of future generations of architects.

This has been bugging me lately,

Your thoughts?
Eileen Webb
Prototypical Standardized Designs vs. Site and People Specific Designs
Thanks Eileen for your thoughtful argument.I just want to introudce some thoughts in response to the issues you are raising.

It is bugging me too. I agree with you on the fact that applied sciences and engineering have influenced architecture. But, remember it was one profession throughout the history (Architecture). The attitudes of modern and contemporary architects have led to the separation and isolation of the "one" profession to many--by claiming all the time that "we do this, but we do not that, or this is our job, but the other is not." Some say no, we are artists, others say we are like engineers, and many say we are in-between. The end result is that many of typical and traditional tasks of manufacturing and assembling the building are left to other people, and this is not new. Interestingly, architects themselves continued to delegate these tasks to others until nothing is really left, but we see few name architects who see themselves as masters and are seen as masters. The low profile ones are just making business through practicing architecture. Let's face it. Also, after decades and decades of calling for the need for specialization, not we are calling for integration inter-multi-and trandisciplinarity!!

In general terms, we differentiate between architecture and the production of architecture. Also we differentiate between the design process and the building process. The result is more isolation and designers are working in their own realm and builders and construction companies have their own world.

I am not with or against prototypical designs and the idea itself, but I think a need for knowling the pros and cons is critical. We need to examine what is sacrificed by adopting one over the other, and in what type of building. Yes, architects need to adapt but am not sure how? I think the challenege continues; to strike a balance between architectural design as a creative activity and as an activity tempered by the responsibility to the people and the place affected by the built environment/building.

I do not think we can abstract architecture to the extent that it is viewed as a product and only a product. Yes, it is a product, but has different qualities and requirements other than pure functionality. Efficiency and efficacy are major and sometimes "only" determinants in the design and creation of products. However, architecture--if seen as a product-- has more than that. In some building types standardization might work very well, like the two examples you gave on residential and commerical buildings. But, what about mosques, churches, college campuses, hospitals, and many other types of environments?

I actually tend to disagree with this one "once you have a complete set of plans...profitable, you can use the same plans over and over." We need to ask ourselves again and again what is sacrificed in this process. I believe who uses what, where, when, and how and who decides what for whom will continue to be central issues in the design and creation of buildings.

Practically speaking, yes- your argument about straight lines and curves is 100% valid for profit making and/or economic purposes, but can we abstract architecture in terms of lines and curves!

Yes, architects need to adapt, but it will take many generations for this to happen, if we assume that this is a transitional period in the overall historical development of architecture as discpline and profession. It would need ages for architects to move (truly) from CAD - D for drafting, to D for designing, and linking all of that to the manufacturing process.

I would second your voice that there might not be a need for architects at all, for the purposes you have mentioned and for many others. Architects --in many cases--are increasingly seen as a "plus" not a "need" in the eyes of clients, building owners, contractors, and other specialties involved in the design and building process. The problem is that this "plus" costs too much in the eyes of others. I predict that architcture will move from being design-based profession to knowledge-based, research-based profession. Social scientists study societies, but do not design them, psychologists study people but do not design them, I think architects will be like that too, they will study built environments and buildings but do not design them. Many people tend to agree with this view, but it would not happen in the near future.


Best,
Ashraf Salama
Prototypical Standardized Designs vs. Site and People Specific Designs
Dear Ashraf,

Thank you for your well crafted response.

To clarify, it might help to understand my point is that the net intent of CAD / CAM as originally introduced thru AutoCad as
it impacted architecture has been not researched, explored, understood, or applied with the same ability that tradtional
architectural practice can twirl a pencil to keep the lead sharp. It has stayed at home with engineering. It has prospered in that
environment. But, it is nothing more than a tool akin to a pencil and paper when used to its full potentiality to accomplish any
vision that is appropriate for architecture or the plastic arts in general. As an engineering tool, it is perceived by everyone else
as a technology. It is foreign to their personal experience and understanding. It has been accepted as it was delivered. Its
limitations are only in the lack of interest or fear of learning to use its full spectrum of impact autonomously to the new paradigm
it controls.


Architecture is suffering in every type of building ( commercial, residential, multifamily, religious, community centers, etc.)
because hand craft is decreasing rapidly in urban and semi rural communities. More goods are mass produced and distributed
to every corner of the global economy. More money is made by fewer and fewer people, machines replace human hand labor
because of the cost advantage. The inspirational face of architecture has changed into faceless monotony. More architects
have been led to believe, in some cases falsely, that specifying mass produced and distributed building materials is the only cost
effective way to design and support build.

It is a choice. It should be a conscious one.

You very correctly observed that there are cultures and beliefs at play. There are cultures of design, and there are cultures of
engineering and construction and traditional fabrication crafts/labor. I came into my work, as a designer using CAD and CAM
paralleling construction/and traditional crafts - particulary blacksmithing. I used CAD/CAM to do what a hammer did without
lifitng a hammer. The aforementioned cultures are chauvanistic and generally resistant to change. Well established, they are
convinced that theirs is the only and rightous way.

Enter the reality that changes what defines the only and rightous path = clients. When given a choice in my experience chose
things with curves versus the box or rectilinear. They will chose artistic expression if the price is reasonable and the qulatiy and
aesthetics are enduring. They still remember the inspiration and magic of timeless beauty that is culturally embedded in our
architectural heritage. It is often what inspires anyone to study architecture and enter the profession. I hold this vision in my
own mind's eye. As soon as you create something beautiful, no matter how it is made with or without labor, the traditional
construction, fabrication or other trades try every which way to take an extra piece of the pot for themselves. If it is machine
made - intact and holistic, there is no justification for it. This is a war of aesthetics and civilization itself. that in my opinion and
experience can and only will be won by architectural and other professional designers in a CAD/CAM setting. The build end is
not being helpful.

Ironically, when I started at this type of work, I did not know anything about it. I had a vision that did not fit the box. As an
artist, I saw realitistically what the possibilities were, and pursued for my own sake learning everything to make consistent
curves predictable and possible. I saw that computerized machinery could cut curves, but did not. I sought for myself to make
it work. These concepts forced myself to create a larger informational data matrix of materials, engineering processes,
finishes, labor, contracts, computer related interface and how it works as art integrated into design and build as a single
process. CAD is a single process that is build in the tradional hand craft sense.

When it comes back to how it affects architecture, this is the path that will serve the culture of architecture making it a master
of its own fate, instead of leaving it in the dust. As any architect learns and masters the craft of representation of ideas on
paper or models, they can and should also take full advantage of what everyone else that they (architects) have to interface
with in the build construction food chain. The pencil evolved to a mouse. It is also a hammer.

All these other parties related to build are more resistent to the revolution that AutoCad set upon architecture. It affects their
ability to (in my opinion) gouge the client by charging more and in many cases subverting the integrity of what is created as a
vision for the client - in whatever type of project. If architects just learn the materials and programming realities, apply sound
engineering of how materials are assembled, miracles can happen for clients.

Whoever learns first, takes control of a new way that will endure for quite a long future. Hopefully, architects will investigate
for themselves, inspite of all the energy that people expend to deny it is possible, before we are buried in our own personal
boxes. It is of larger impact than I can fully comprenend in many cases. After 9 years of learning on my own, because there is
no curricula anywhere in the world at this time, I know that the change will come and must come to architecture itself. Leaving
it to others is like delegating the nurturing of your children and their values to strangers or mercenaries. They will never ever
have your interests in their heart. The results are potentially beyond repair. This is a new process in its infancy, a new baby to
be nurtured the way the family and culture of architecture and design sees fit. Just because it has not been done before, or is
not done currently - does not exclude it from rapidly evolving to correct the misappropriation of values.

Money controls and limits, but is not the only reason that things happen in design and build or not. Prototyping can be site
specific in surface, structure, materials for architecture. Materials and designs can be timeless - and not disposable. A bit of
currency well spent lasts for centuries or in somc cases millenia. Architects are more familiar with CAD than the building
trades. Contractors are prone to denial of engineering and architectural integrity represented in CD's and plans. The client gets
hurt in both their pocket books and in lack of value being delivered. It happens all the time. These processes in some ways
also have the affect of quality assurance for architectural amenity. Many things can be provided to the contractor by architects,
outside of the current practice. I have experienced both sides of the coin. As a female, men in these design and build related
cultures have been not too pleased to see what can be done by an indivudual human who just happens to be not what they
expected. I have learned that the client is the only person who matters. Their vision and money will be harnessed to
accomplish more for less. I have personally seen huge contractural documents be reduced to a single page document because
of the flexibility of a new media that will not be contained in a conventional box. Everything becomes negotiable, time, price,
delivery, labor, payment, insurances, etc. Contractors would rather do it the old way charging a premium, than have a turn key
set of perfectly manufactured components delivered to a job site. They do often replace specified materials with lesser
materials. The upset hits home with the client. Once the client knows for certain what CAD and CAM can do at an
exemplary level to do hand craft without the labor - even the government will alter its approach to design and build.


The culture of architecture will advance rapidly and evolve or perish. The end result is whatever we decide. Problem is, the
sooner people take control of the decsion before it is made for them, the better off they will be.
Eileen Webb
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