Design Frameworks

Design Frameworks

Design Frameworks

Design Frameworks

By Marshall Brown, Aaron Sprecher, Beth Weinstein, Blaine Brownell, Jori Erdman, Amy Kulper, Grace La, Graham Livesey, Kiel Moe and Nicholas de Monchaux
In 2007, the Journal of Architectural Education's Executive Editor, George Dodds, and Design Editor, Jori Erdman, crafted an introduction to new content for the journal entitled, “Architectural Design as Research, Scholarship, and Inquiry.” (George Dodds and Jori Erdman, “Introduction,” Journal of Architectural Education 61, no. 1 (September 2007): 4.) There, Dodds and Erdman ruminated upon the limits and categories of architectural knowledge, introducing a new type of submission subsumed under the heading Design as Scholarship. In their introduction, they parsed the disparate operations of research, inquiry, and scholarship in relation to design, presciently associating this emerging category for the production of architectural knowledge with the ubiquitous commercial operations of branding, the pervasive influence of digital fabrication, the incipient allure of the scientific method, and various institutional exigencies for funding research within the academy. The crux of Dodds's and Erdman's argument was that Design as Scholarship is “a practice of transforming information into knowledge within a discipline's discursive limits.” Six years later, conditions that Dodds and Erdman viewed as emergent have now solidified, for better or worse, into a category of disciplinary knowledge and practice commonly described as design research. 
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With its quasi-scientific tone, evoking white lab coats and scripted experiments, design research has become the rubric under which architecture's discursive project operates. The qualifiers that Dodds and Erdman so carefully applied to design—“as research,” “as inquiry,” “as scholarship”—are now seamlessly elided with the procedures and methods of design. Distinctions between design and design as research are either actively suppressed or passively unarticulated as designers of all stripes jump on this bandwagon.
Recognizing the charge for design as scholarship as “a practice of transforming information into knowledge within a discipline's discursive limits,” the Design Committee of the Journal of Architectural Education has crafted various vehicles that will allow future contributors to actively probe these limits. In forthcoming issues and under the rubric of Design as Scholarship authors will focus on the holistic agency of architectural design, embracing all forms of disciplinary creative practice, rather than weighing in on this false dichotomy and splitting proverbial categorical hairs. Jonathan Hill reminds us that architecture's discursive project can be traced back to the disegno tradition, in which design simply alluded to the drawing forth of an idea. Rather than parse precisely what constitutes design research and what does not, the Design Committee has opted instead to introduce the notion of Design Frameworks. If Henri Bergson once characterized form as a “snapshot of a transition,” then we proffer these Design Frameworks as a “disciplinary snapshot” of current creative design practices in architecture. The frameworks are an emergent constellation of disciplinary practices that the Design Committee will actively curate to accurately reflect contemporary architectural interests and tendencies. The Design Frameworks will be featured on the JAE's website after their initial appearance in print in this issue, and are meant to act as a guide for architects and architectural educators practicing in these areas, but who might be uncertain as to how to frame and format their research for dissemination.
The second new initiative in the Design as Scholarship section of the journal is the featuring of Guest Curators. Conceptualized as a mechanism for identifying exemplars and best practices within the categories of the Design Frameworks, the Guest Curators are asked to articulate a polemic within a given framework, selecting design work that supports their argument and positions the disciplinary stakes of the projects.
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For this issue, the committee invited Jonathan Hill, Director of Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and Neil Spiller, Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Greenwich, to advance polemics regarding architectural representation and to curate examples of contemporary practices that leverage drawing or model making in unique and provocative ways within the Design Framework, Drawing Forth: Mediated Practices.
As this is the inaugural launch of the Guest Curator feature, we chose to activate another Design Framework, How: Techniques and Protocols, and invited Billie Faircloth, Research Director at KieranTimberlake, and Ivan Rupnik, Assistant Professor of Architecture at Northeastern University, to craft polemics about architecture's technical imagination and offer examples of current work to support their arguments. The ambitions for the Guest Curator feature are to catalyze disciplinary discourse within a given framework, to advance exemplars of best practices within any given category, and to establish the journal as a forum for debate about the positioning and relative values of projects within each of the frameworks.

Finally, the third initiative for Design as Scholarship is a new column entitled Micro-Narratives. Born of the conviction that new formats for the dissemination of architectural design ideas might provide the impetus for inventive ideating, Micro-Narratives features condensed narratives about the material culture of architecture. Playing on the double meaning of fabrication, as something that is both made and made up, this column will examine material proto-histories of those things that continue to fly beneath the disciplinary radar, but without which, architectural practice would be lost. As fabrications, these narratives can be actual accounts of architectural manufacture, or plausible fictions with heuristic potential for future disciplinary creation. In our inaugural column, Mark Dorrian contemplates the atmosphere of exhibition spaces as a material entity; Adam Bobette addresses flammable material ecologies and the fire codes and urban morphologies they produce; and Jason Young contemplates humble caulk, as both a material condition of architectural building practices, and a trope for the smoothing of disciplinary discourse. Micro-Narratives will be a recurring peer-reviewed feature in each issue, and the call for submissions for the column can be found on the JAE website. We are extremely grateful to Jonathan Hill, Neil Spiller, Billie Faircloth, Ivan Rupnik, Mark Dorrian, Adam Bobette, and Jason Young for blazing the trail for future Guest Curators and future Micro-Narratives contributors, and for helping us launch these new experimental features.

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Substance: Matter and Materiality

This design research trajectory asserts that matter and material behavior constitute the deep structure and tangible realization of any architectural enterprise. It focuses on material organizations and systems, material ecologies and their spatial relationships, and genealogies of emerging matter and the forces that ultimately give material its form. An endeavor undertaken to define what Louis Kahn termed “the measurable,” (Wilder Green, Louis I. Kahn, Architect Alfred Newton Richards Medical Research Building, University Of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1958–1960 (Whitefish, MT: Literary Licensing, LLC, 2011), 3) material research is inherently a physical enterprise, and consists of exploratory procedures that aim to test the actualization of unknown possibilities. Investigations in materials and their behaviors may be carried out in order to satisfy the requirements of predetermined applications, or they may be conducted as “blue sky” research lacking clearly preconceived objectives. In the former case, material studies are defined by particular performance criteria such as technical, environmental, or aesthetic goals; in the latter case, experiments are broader in nature, with the aim of revealing unanticipated applications. In both situations, material research marks a notable departure from the simulation-intensive activities of design toward a process of realization.
Chronicles of material research appear in the earliest architectural texts. Pliny the Elder, Vitruvius, and Alberti all discuss materials and their behaviors at length. Even after architecture became established as a specialized practice distinct from building, material execution remained a measure of the level of architectural fulfillment—hence Mies van der Rohe's obsession with the detail, or Sigurd Lewerentz's compulsion towards craft. Material investigations may reinforce established trajectories in alignment with known models of building, or they may may intentionally subvert conventional praxis in an approach Sheila Kennedy calls “material misuse.” (Sheila Kennedy and Christoph Grunenberg, Material Misuse: Kennedy & Violich Architecture (London: AA Publications, 2004). Whatever the objective, material research involves a two-sided process of synthesis and analysis. Prototypes are built and evaluated; mock-ups are constructed and then intentionally put under stress. An iterative set of procedures—involving making, assessing, and remaking—define a cyclical methodology that is now increasingly enhanced by computer-driven rapid prototyping technologies. In contemporary architectural practice, material research enables the bridging of disciplines, blurring traditionally distinct lines between design, manufacturing, and construction.
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Flows: Urban, Regional and Global Systems

Franco Ferrarotti describes contemporary cities as a “multiplicity of systems,” which are comprised of the following “a) an economico-ecological or productive system…; b) a political system; c) a cultural system; d) a family system…; e) a symbolic system.” (Franco Ferrarotti, “Civil Society as a Polyarchic Form: The City,” in Metropolis: Center and Symbol of Our Times, edited by Philip Kasinitz (NewYork: New York University Press, 1995), 454). Architecture and urban design participate directly in each of these systems. Further, contemporary cities manage a complex range of flows internally, within regions, and across global systems.
Cities are constructed ecologies, and they participate in a multitude of ecologies; at play are flows such as energy, goods, people, capital, language, and waste. These operate within the networks of infrastructure constructed by urban societies, and in “natural” flow systems many of these operate like liquids and are subject to turbulence. Cities, as Jane Jacobs has argued, are also powerful economic innovators. (See Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities (New York: Random House, 1969). Cities are cultural constructs in that they engage languages, experience, and expression. Finally, cities are complex social systems defined by the interactions of classes, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, and the like. All of this infers Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the “assemblage” (agencement) which brings together content (material and bodies), expression (languages), and territorialities into functional and innovative mechanisms. (See J. Macgregor Wise, “Assemblage,” in Gilles Deleuze: Key Concepts, edited by Charles J. Stivale (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005), 77–87).
The operations of cities, from a design perspective, occur across scales from furniture to large infrastructure. Architecture and urban design play a key role in the continual reimagining and redefining of contemporary cities, and the continual development of cities is vital to the many challenges facing the world in an era of intense economic, political, and environmental uncertainty. The Journal of Architectural Education seeks “design as scholarship” submissions that explore the concepts of urban, regional, and global flows and the multiplicity of systems and scales these engage. These could be sole-authored or collaborative projects that explore the contemporary city, and its regional and global connections.
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Micro: Designed Objects, Equipment, and Systems

After more than a decade of small, repetitive digital fabrication experiments—produced by multiple-axis robots, 3D printers, laser cutters, and the like—architectural design espouses a product orientation in which prefabrication occasions a rethinking of space at the scale of the objects, equipment, and systems it envelops. This design research trajectory posits the immediacy of the “micro” as its currency. Yet, it now requires new and greater ambitions: both intellectual positioning within the discipline through the history of its practices, as well as alternate techniques and ends that exceed the confines of the gallery and the temporary installation. While intricate screens and small-scaled objects (often produced by punitive craft labor) have demonstrated a range of technical and aesthetic potentialities, these projects frequently suffer from an ocular bias, which cannot be the final ambition of architecture's engagement with alternative fabrication modes.
To raise the ambitions of these now pervasive digital appliances, this framework seeks design research on how digital fabrication is beginning to engage a broader, if not a more actual, set of fundamental architectural issues: construction, energy, practice, building delivery, and so on. The framework also invites explicit discussion on the contribution of cultural meaning by digital fabrication as well as deeper contemplation of its spatial implications. In its inherent object and/or surface orientation, is the “micro” restrained to a limited palette of spatial consequence? And what might serve as a more robust foundation from which such explorations posit themselves? The script must now script more than shape, and the fabrication must now fabricate more than aesthetic virtue. Likewise, digital fabrication has remained equally isolated from the reality of its own disciplinary history: the history of digital fabrication, the history of prefabrication, the history of labor, the history of practice, and so on. Should it achieve something more than mere technique, digital fabrication as an academic research endeavor now demands greater explication of its own modalities and capacities.
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Crossings: Interdisciplinary Research

Interdisciplinarity is inherent to the practice of architecture. Vitruvius argued that architects needed to know geometry, history, philosophy, music, medicine, law, and astronomy. Beyond the architect's individual expertise, Vitruvius also stressed the variety of technical knowledge needed for building, and the necessary involvement of a diversity of participants. At a time when architects' own command of the building industry seems more tenuous than ever, and the domain of design in culture has expanded far beyond the edifice, interdisciplinarity seems more necessary, and fraught, than ever.
In recent decades there has been a significant engagement by architectural theorists and practitioners with theories that emanate from other disciplines, from continental philosophy to computational biology. Are such frameworks a necessary “abstract machinery” to move the discipline into new, instrumental territory? Or, as argued for example by historian Kenneth Frampton, should architecture remain in a more narrowly defined theoretical scope, one defined by the discipline of architecture itself? (See Kenneth Frampton, “Rappel ã l'Ordre: The Case for the Tectonic,” in Labour, Work and Architecture: Collected Essays on Architecture and Design (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 2002), 90–103)
The Journal of Architectural Education seeks “design as scholarship” submissions that explore the concepts of interdisciplinarity, or disciplinarity. These could be sole-authored or collaborative projects that demonstrate engagements between disciplines, or those that propose that architecture should maintain its own discourses.

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One to One: Unmediated Practices

The design research of unmediated practices supplants drawings, models, diagrams, and all other forms of representation, for the sake privileging full-scale constructions and installations that are ends in and of themselves. Here, the communicative realm of the representation gives way to the efficacy of the built artifact, and the a posteriori documentation of its construction and occupation.
There is by now a productive prevalence of unmediated practices whose primary products are full scale: from design-build to aspects of digital fabrication and integrated project delivery. In these practices, the centrality of representation and narrative in architecture is migrating to more immediate forms of assembly and feedback. The procedures of architecture are no longer so cleanly bounded by design documents, construction documents, specifications, and contracts. This change to a less mediated process challenges our assumptions about the nature of practice and the generation of knowledge in the discipline. In turn, it also promises to engender greater capacity for testing, experimentation, and feedback in the discipline. This design research framework seeks work that reflects sustained engagement with the inherent disciplinary issues these alternate design and fabrication practices raise. The Journal of Architectural Education seeks design research practices that producenew disciplinary knowledge through unmediated practices. As contributions to the discipline, we are more interested in the knowledge produced than the objects, events, and buildings alone. Successful submissions will place unmediated practices design work in a disciplinary context, history, or argument and clearly state its significance in that context.
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Drawing Forth: Mediated Practices

If architectural design is predicated upon the drawing forth of ideas, then the design research trajectory of the mediated practice focuses on the agency and agility of the representation, and its capacity to cultivate architecture's spatial imaginary. Recognizing the tautology of representation in this age of digital cut-sheets and hyper-realistic renderings, “drawing forth” constitutes a form of design research that thickens the interpretive potential of architectural drawings, diagrams, models, and constructs.
Riding on the coattails of Robin Evans's groundbreaking work on translation and geometry, protagonists of this form of design research advocate for the agency of all forms of representation, not simply as surrogates for the reality they hope to conjure, but as effective mechanisms for drawing forth architecture's cultural and conceptual aspirations. (See: Robin Evans, Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays (London: Architectural Association, 1997). See also Robin Evans, The Projective Cast: Architecture and its Three Geometries (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1995). Here, the medium of the drawing is not fetishized as an end, but rather, its capacity for precision and evocation, exactitude and suggestion, is put to work.
What constitutes inventive engagement with drawings, diagrams, models, and constructs? To what extent is the appropriation of other representational formats beneficial to the procedures and vicissitudes of architectural design? How do the myriad forms of representation that constitute design research catalyze and unleash projective, speculative and hypothetical dimensions of spatial practice?
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Visible Data: Information Ecologies

Architectural design research is awash in digital numeric and spatial data sets, positing information design as a critical precursor to spatial design. “Visible data” maps information ecologies across territories, and considers the spatial implications of this social scientific demographic analysis to design in general, and architectural design specifically. The design research in this category moves seamlessly from the minute scale of a single piece of data to the regional scale that examines the relationship of multiple data sets through the lenses of ecology, economy, and geopolitics.
If the understanding and analysis of “sites” is a fundamental aspect of architectural practice, then GIS—geographic information systems or geospatial information studies—provides designers with geospatial information including landform, aerial photos, and demographics, constituting new forms of site knowledge. Critical to this accumulation of data is the question of how the information can be designed, how the data can be made visible, such that it anticipates future spatial interventions.
Contemplating architecture's role in the filtering and prioritizing of information, Rem Koolhaas writes:

It [architecture] embodies the lingering hope—or the vague memory of hope—that shape, form, coherence could be imposed on the violent surf of information that washes over us daily. Maybe architecture doesn't have to be stupid after all. Liberated from the obligation to construct, it can become a way of thinking about anything—a discipline that represents relationships, proportions, connections, effects, the diagram of everything. (See Rem Koolhaas, Content (Köln: Taschen, 2004).

Given these nascent technologies, what is architectural design's role in catalyzing, shaping, and propagating information ecologies? How do architects leverage spatial knowledge in a culture inundated with visible data?

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Word + Image: Critical Practices and Discursive Projects

Word + Image is a category of design research that privileges the discursive dimension of architecture. Its products are mainly written and graphic, in which both the presentation of the design practice and the formatting of its discursive projects constitute the research. Accordingly, this aspect of design research contemplates a deep, reciprocal engagement of texts and images that provides a counterpoint to the reductionist tendency toward diagrams in many contemporary projects. The framework offers opportunity to reveal meaning and contexts, both transparent and hidden, which informs a rigorous grounding for the work (i.e., theoretical, practical, historical, situational, etc). It also offers the opportunity for conjecture on the poetic dimensions of architectural practice.
David Leatherbarrow suggests that “complementing the critical aspect of design and scholarship, then, is a poetic dimension through which knowledge and practical affairs obtain renewed relevance and meaning. The types of projects worth undertaking are those that promise to yield concepts and images that will guide or orient our lives and our civilization toward wellbeing. They are the projects that promise to open up a horizon of possibilities." (David Leatherbarrow, “Squaring the Circle, or Connecting Critique and Conviction,” in Sense and Nonsense in Contemporary Architecture (Herzliya Pituach, Israel: The Azrieli Foundation and others, 2010), 90.) As a corollary, this aspect of design research requires an acute attention to visual argumentation of the project, which advances the reflective relationship between the word and the image.
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How: Techniques and Protocols

The current critical mass of digital design practice in architecture has produced an attendant discourse of the “how-to,” shifting disciplinary focus from questions of “what does architecture do?” to questions of “how does architecture do?” This trajectory of design research focuses on the techniques and protocols of the process of design, privileging the “how” over the “what.”
As the philosopher George Grant once noted, “We can hold in our minds the enormous benefits of a technological society, but we cannot so easily hold the ways it may have deprived us, because technique is ourselves." (George Grant, Technology and Empire (Toronto: House of Anansi Press Limited, 1969), 137.) With the emergence of so many digital techniques in architecture (digital fabrication, energy simulation, visualization, etc.), there is a recurrent tendency to reduce architecture to mere technique. Technique is never neutral. When the discipline unwittingly engages the promises of such techniques uncritically, it often capitulates to a range of para-disciplinary consequences. This design research framework seeks submissions that critically evaluate what these techniques do: the ways in which technique might amplify or deprive architecture as a discipline and as a practice. Rather than working to incorporate techniques into the discipline of architecture, this framework seeks design research that begins with disciplinary specificity, questioning in order to develop new techniques, protocols, tools, and practices in service of its ambitions. As such, clear and compelling visual communication of the work is but one layer of explication. The framework also welcomes integrated formats which may oscillate between texts and representation and/or which may propose new forms of communicative media born from the question of “how-to.” As these various digital techniques become more familiar in the discipline, their role must be more critically understood: their capabilities and culpabilities, their insights and oversights, their products and pollutions, and so on. The discipline must design technique as much as we engage technique to design.
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Exhibitionists: Curators, Collectors, and Connoisseurs

Here we seek to provoke the aesthetic propensities of the architect, and the disciplinary desire to assert this expertise through the disparate guises of the curator, the collector, and the connoisseur. “Exhibitionists” are architects actively engaged in practices of editing, evaluating, blogging and tweeting, curating and collecting, whose design research consists in the creative documentation of these taste-making activities.
Collecting, parsing, and disseminating the work of others is fundamental to architectural education; indeed, the act of curation began the moment that architecture became self-aware as a discipline. In the architectural academy, formalized practices—precedent, case study and critique—solidify this practice even as they seek to standardize the rigorously unsystematic motives of the curatorial gaze. While the tendency of curation towards systems of fashion and taste can bring the stigma of superficiality, it can also provide us (to paraphrase Walter Benjamin on fashion) “an eye for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets.”
Made literal in architectures as diverse as Soane's Museum and the Weißenhofsiedlung, curation itself creates a meta-architecture, a synthesis which—however transitory or fragmentary—points towards sometimes new, and often urgent possibilities revealed in the fabric of historic and contemporary practice.
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