Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Design Strategies

Many or all of the strategies below are obviously specific to certain design goals and philosophies (and a specific culture/time). They are by no means "universal".



1. Keep it moving, avoid static cycling. Add something new to the idea each time. Shift scales (e.g. between focus on whole design and specific details).
2. Identify implicit assumptions, and question them.
3. Systematically explore and change each aspect of the situation (turn around, upside down, change numbers, etc). Also identify, question and explore the implications of changes of the underlying assumptions (your, your client's, your society/culture's assumptions).
4. Choose to let go of every/any idea. If it returns later, then explore further.
5. Saturation > gestation > illumination. Gestation: Explore as many aspects of the situation as possible. Feed your mind information from a variety of sources - including (systematic and/or intuitive) visual (e.g. drawing) and tactile (models) exploratios. Allow your mind to sit with the problem, and come up with a solution (often unexpected and/or out of the blue). Cycle through until satisfied or the deadline.
6. Develop a clear hierarchy of organizing principles. These are limited in number (keep it simple and manageable). Integrate each aspect of the design into the top level principles, and many into the lower level principles.
7. Solutions work at specific scales, and some at many scales.
8. Draw an abstract representation of the situation (from your direct experience), and explore the drawing. What does it tell you? What happens when you change aspects (upside-down, angle, change proportions, edges etc). See Drawing on the Artist Within by Betty Edwards.
9. Systematically apply a set of rules throughout the design, with variations. Explore different balances between recognizeable order and variations/randomness/playfulness.
10. FL Wright: Tartan grid and interlocking (interpenetrating) spaces.
11. Look at movement, rhythm, transformations and tesselations (variations on tile patterns). Take a known design (nature, graphic, built) and transform it - explore its possibilities.

Specific to 2D/3D Design

1. First design space that supports human activities, then use architectural elements to define that space.
2. Look for what is unique with the site, client, program etc.
3. Use organizing principles or lines (datum lines).
4. Look at figure/ground interactions.
5. Suggest space rather than fully define it (let the user's/viewer's mind fill in the rest).
6. Layers of meaning and discovery. Designs that keep the interest of the users. Allow the person using the space to continually discover something new (layers of discovery).
7. Roof height and shape reflects activity below (Seating, individual space, or storage - low. Standing, group space, or need for a certain light - high).
8. Design from (a) "inside - out" and (b) "outside-in". (a)Look at the spaces that will support certain activities and how they may be connected, then design the architectural elements that will define this space. (b) Design from outside-in by looking at the natural and built surroundings. Adopt the unwritten "rules" set up by these in the public face of the design (or do something different if there is a good reason for it. Allow the building to contribute to the fabric of the neighborhood.
10. Exlplore the edge-to-central space ratios that may be appropriate for a certain use of the space, then forms that embodies this ratio. (Central space most important - then cube or circle. Edge space more important, then narrower spaces and more convoluted edges).
11. Look at how buildings define open space (figure-ground). Connect inside and outside public spaces.


1. Use broken lines to suggest form
2. White spots in the shades gives shimmering effect.
3. Decide on a particular focus. Creat focus through higher contrast and/or more details
4. Vary the lineweight. A darker lineweight can indicate (a) foreground (atmospheric perspective), (b) depth of space behind outline (architectural line drawing), or (c) shade.
5. Use accents. Emphasis (heavier lineweight) on corners and edges.
6. Use atmospheric perspective. Higher contrast and/or more details in the forground.

Thursday, July 17, 2003


I am helping with setting up a green design review for architecture students at University of Oregon. We plan to include local professionals, instructors, and students.

Here is the beginnings of a checklist:

1. Systems thinking
- integration of systems and elements, causality loops taken into consideration
2. Elements
- energy, heating/cooling, water, waste treatment, materials
3. Social impact
- local and global levels
4. Lifecycle considerations
- Cost, maintenance, reuse of building and/or materials
5. Attractiveness
- aesthetics, ease of use, cost of building/operation, match with user wants and needs, overall attractiveness
6. Feasibility
- technology, cost


More in depth:

1. Systems thinking
Integration of systems and elements. Causality loops taken into consideration.

a. Systems view (does changes in one element/system lead to opportunities in other elements/systems?)
b. Multiple functions (do the elements serve multiple functions or combine functions?)
c. Relation to a more sustainable society (How does it facilitate a move to a more sustainable society? How may it fit into a more sustainable society of the future? )

System changes with new opportunities: Super insulation lead to reduced size or elimination of furnace/air conditioning (Rocky Mountain Institute).
Multiple functions: Roof serving as shelter, shade, solar energy collector, water collection, garden, habitat etc.

2. Elements
Sustainability of the elements and systems.

a. Site location/impact (integration into local ecosystem, site restoration)
b. Energy (in/storage/out, heating/cooling, day- and artificial lighting)
c. Water (in/storage/out)
d. Waste treatment (foodscraps, greywater, human waste)
e. Materials (origin, transportation, toxicity, opportunity for reuse)

Use of local, non-toxic, and less processed materials.
Designed with climate and microclimate in mind.

3. Social impact
Local and global social impact.

a. Equity (is it affordable?)
b. Social interaction (what type of social interaction does it facilitate?)
c. Quality of life (how does it facilitate well-being and/or productivity?)
d. Educational element (does the building offer opportunities for ecological learning to its users?)


4. Life-cycle considerations
Life-cycle view of building and materials.

a. Reason for existence, size (does it need to be built? can it be smaller?)
b. Existing vs. new building (adaptive reuse)
c. Impact on site (integration in local ecosystem, site restoration)
d. Operation and maintenance
e. End-of-life (flexibility, ease in converting to different use, ease of deconstruction).

a. Source (embedded energy, degree of processing, local or not)
b. Operation (nontoxic, lasting)
c. End-of-Life (reusable, compostable)

5. Attractiveness
Overall attractiveness. Will people use it?

a. Aesthetics (will they like/want it?)
b. Ease of use (will they be able to use it?)
c. Match with user expectations, motivation, their perceived needs, and (sub)culture (will they accept it?)


6. Feasibility
How realistic? Can it be done?

a. Technology (is it available?)
b. Cost (is it affordable?)


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Ecological Design

I find it astonishing that ecological design is not more widespread - both in society and in design education.

It is such a vital area - to our quality of life and ultimately our survival. What can be a stronger motivation for engaging in any type of practice? Our ecological situation is critical - with toxins in our air, water, and food, soil loss and depletion, depletion of natural resources, unravelling ecosystems, and more. We are in an ecological crisis. A crisis that is already dramatically influencing the lives of many of us (through diseases, hunger etc) and will dramatically impact all of us (through unravelling ecosystems, social unrest, and more).

I also find ecological design immensely attractive. It offers a partnership approach with the Earth community and future generations. It facilitates a sense of well being and increased quality of life of the inhabitants (daylighting, nontoxic materials, air quality, indoor living ecosystems, social interaction). It requires innovation and whole systems thinking (looking at feedback loops and how the components in the built, social and natural systems interact) - going beyond fragmented and shortsighted considerations. It is a design grounded in real and urgent needs. Most of all, it is fun!

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Design Beyond Ego

Design is, as so many areas of human life, an area where our limited experience of the world is clearly manifested. When we experience ourselves as separate from the larger whole, design often becomes in the service of the ego of the designer - focusing on aesthetics, style, and/or the extraordinary - not on what is appropriate in the situation.

Here are two paths that may help us beyond ego.

1. Ecological design. This approach requires us to be flexible, not attached to one particular approach. It also brings a partnership approach to design - an intimate partnership with the larger Earth community and future generations.

2. Fluidity. Letting go of attachments to certain ideas and apporahces, and see what is appropriate in the situation. Design is similar to acting in that we are required to explore and express something that goes beyond our regular life. We need to go into the worldview of the client, and also explore and experience the needs of a multitude of clients (paying, human and Earth communinity, future generations).

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Architecture Studies

I am at the end of my second week in the Option III architecture program at University of Oregon, and am so far impressed with the overall quality of the program.

I am also struck by a few things. One is what seems as a tendency to servility and wanting to please the instructor. We are after all paying them good money to learn (a) the skills needed in later professional work, and (b) what aligns with our personal passions and interests. We are not here to please anybody except ourselves and possibly future employers. If we have a strong interest, that should take priority - not the personal interests of the instructor.

The other - which I knew about in advance - is the absence (for the most part) of an emphasis on ecological design principles. The rationale is that we can include it later, which is to some extent true. Still, it gives the impression that aesthetics and responding to the "program" (the design specifications) takes priority, and ecological principles can be attached as an afterthought. A large number of students here express a strong interest in ecological design. To me, the rationale above - expressed by some instructors - appears to be a (poor) excuse for their lack of competence in that area. An area vital to humanity in our critical ecological situation.