JCTV: diagrammeddesign





“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett in Worstward HO (1983)

The word design comes from the Latin designare which means “to mark out” or “devise," which is a combination of de- "out" + signare "to mark," from signum "a mark, sign." A design marks out in signs what is to be devised or made, what is envisioned. A designer attempts to predict a future state of affairs. This is not fundamentally different from natural selection. A designer has experience where evolution has the limitations and possibilities of a reasonably stable environment, the selective margin of sexual reproduction, and a coded set of operating instructions. A designer leaps from an understanding of what there is to what there will be if his design is realised. But this leap is always a leap into the unknown. It is just that, if his environment remains stable, his own experience will serve him well and he will to some extent at least, be justified in his hope. He has experience of the workings of that which is the subject of his special field of design: construction, architecture, machinery, household appliances, computer software, legislation, political processes, medical treatments, scientific experiments, you name it. Because he has this experience we trust him when presenting his vision of the future and may choose to help him realise it.
There have been many attempts to systematise design processes. The interesting thing is how design is always an architectural process, in that it structures the world for our use. It organises the world for our use. The activity of ordering for the purposes of use is what characterises any kind of architecture, architecture is what is possible when we acquire experience, whether it concerns the architecture of the computer, the architecture of a philosophical argument, the architecture of a theory about the world or indeed the architecture of the built environment.
//a philosophy of the BE{questionmark}//a philosophy of the design of the BE{questionmark}//
Politics decides upon priorities within a world that differentiates itself according to values and norms. Values are the subject of economics in its widest possible sense; norms are the subject of morality and law. Here then we have the three foundational pillars of any society: politics or the way we decide upon what direction to take in an economy which creates value and conflict and the legislature which tries to ensure that we live according to how we have decided to live through our political and economic system. There is a fourth coordinate that makes up the foundation of any society however, it concerns the space in which we perform: the built environment. All social processes take place in organised spaces, spaces organised by walls, openings and signs. When compared to the other three, it performs its role quietly enough. It imposes limitations and offers possibilities, creates places and atmospheres and thereby gently filters the processes of the world we live in.
One question that we have to address before we start on this philosophy of design of the built environment is how a philosophy of the built environment and more specifically a philosophy of the design of the built environment distinguishes itself from any other kind of philosophy. This is a moot question. The cameo picture of the place of the built environment I just offered would surely suggest that any philosophy of the built environment will need to take account of politics, economics and legislation. At the same time, let us not make it more difficult than it has to be. We can surely agree on a number of issues immediately. We can, surely without argument, acknowledge that the built environment concerns:

  • technology: technological and artistic issues are relevant to the making and changing of our environment
  • society: the built environment is something that the organisation of work and the structuring of our society takes account of. Winston Churchil famously said that we shape our buildings and then they shape us. This is true on an individual level, but also a collective one. Buildings are the filters helping to institute selection on all sorts of levels.
  • spatial quality: Like music, a building immerses the body fully, we enter buildings, and as the body is an aggregate of more or less coordinated organs reacting to the environment it finds itself in, the quality of a space goes beyond mere social structuring as mentioned under the previous point. A philosophy of the built environment must be concerned with the quality of its spaces from a bodily point of view
  • meaning: The body is able to think and remember; and as buildings are among the more stable of our products, whose presence moreover is difficult to avoid, they have inevitably become part of the language of social exchange. Buildings do not only impress upon our bodily capacity for spatial experience, but they speak to us through our own reading of them, they express things because we look for meaning in them. They express things intentionally and subversively, presenting a subtext of unintended and intended meanings. They tell us about our history, about what we find important, how society keeps itself ordered and how institutions speak of their own place in society but also of society relative to those institutions; they say things about themselves but also about society at large and about our own individual experience of them.
  • art: Architecture is not just meaning and significance, it is everything art is as well. And art is the exploration of the world by calling that world into question in whatever way it chooses to. The artist is the flea on the skin of society, preventing us from becoming too complacent and shaking us out of our somnolence. That is a crucial task of the built environment. The artistic anarchy of architecture is crucial to the very society it brings into being and calls into question. The built environment not only engages the artistic in that it gives a place to art, but it is, at the same time art itself.

 So how does a philosophy of the design of the built environment distinguish itself from other kinds of philosophy? I would suggest that it does so in a number of ways:

  1. it must incorporate its own rich if contradictory and sometimes curious tradition in thought and practice. The theory of the built environment is as old as building itself as much of it lies implicit in the buildings we study. Perhaps those theories are not as accessible as we sometimes like to think. Our reading of them uncovers the many dilemmas of interpretation; a building lies folded within traditions of architectural thinking which range from the narrowly rational to the madly inconsistent. All have helped to generate not only wonderful buildings, but even a way of looking at and undergoing our built environment. Any philosophy of the design of the built environment that is merely dismissive of that curious tradition in thought is narrowly conceived and, as such, suspect.
  2. Furthermore it must incorporate, even though it cannot be fully represented by, the work of formal philosophy, with which I mean a purely analytical philosophy which has no other end but itself: the specialist and technical exploration of concepts as an end in itself. This is right for two reasons
    1. A philosophy of design especially one that concerns our environment, although it must be cognisant of and take account of the relevant findings of formal philosophy, cannot help being rooted in a theory of action that precedes the discussion of formal philosophy. Like Sartre’s adagio concerning human existence preceding human essence, design happens, whether we think about it or not. The designer may reflect upon what he is designing and then we can reflect upon what he has designed and we might do so with a sense that our ability to reflect on these things is adequate, or at least sufficient and we do so whether formal philosophy exists or does not. We cannot wait for formal philosophy to complete its task, if it ever does. We have to act, because we live now.
    2. Related to this is the fact that a philosophy of the design of the built environment must also take into account that a theory of design cannot be weighed down by the scrum of conflicting schools of thought if it is to be useful to a designer who has no desire to become a philosopher. As Paul Valéry rightly pointed out, people who act, need a cogent philosophie de poche.
  3. It must incorporate even though it cannot be fully represented by the philosophy of technology. A philosophy of the design of the built environment must concern itself with all aspects of the philosophy of technology as the design of the built environment is a matter of techné, of making. Although we use things in order to make our environment thereby affecting our environment by transforming it through that making, there are important aspects of the built environment that tread well outside the bounds of what are and should be the core issues for any philosophy of technology. The built environment and the design of the built environment is wider than the problem of technology, it is also the problem of the spatiotemporal organization of life and society and it is also the problem of the quality of social space to say nothing of the problem of traditional and new aesthetics.
  4. It must incorporate even though it cannot be fully represented by the phenomenology of space and spatiality. The organization and configuration of spaces and their construction may be said to be the core business of building. As such one could safely argue that a full understanding of the body and the space it moves through furnish far and away the most fruitful insights for the compelling design of buildings. Nevertheless the design and articulation of space has to be understood in terms of qualities that go beyond the bodily and reach into the spheres of the linguistic, complicating both by their simultaneous relevance.
  5. It must incorporate but cannot be fully represented by the problems of linguistic theory, interpretation and exegesis. No one would deny that an important function of a building is for it to be an intentional or subliminal expression of society, a text in a context, and although a building can be read as a message either subliminally, subversively or explicitly, that is not and can never be seen as the whole of any building’s or assemblage of building’s significance. Moreover aspects of linguistic interpretation and criticism in buildings cannot be seen separate from the other philosophical concerns mentioned above making the whole thing yet more complicated on a level that makes the novel seem relatively straightforward.
  6. It engages traditional and new aesthetics in that it is preeminently concerned with the realization of specified qualities belonging to traditional aesthetics such as beauty and sublimity, but also with the concerns of a wider pragmaticist aesthetics which tries to draw all experiential qualities and the issue of their desirability into the program of aesthetics
  7. Furthermore any philosophy of the built environment severely undermines itself if it does not incorporate the problems of the politics of space and place, the economics of space and place, and the judicial concerns of space and place.

How to make sense of all this without trivializing any one part of it? That is probably impossible except if we state at the beginning that if we lay an emphasis here and spend a little more time there, we do so knowing that we are thereby expressing a personal bias, choosing a perspective from any possible perspectives.

  Do the philosophical design questionnaire! and win guaranteed happiness for you and your family!!  
  Try to imagine a function without a form and try to imagine a function or a form that has no force...  
  Architecture is Product and Process. Architecture is the plane of consistency that forms as a diaphragm in the meeting of product and process. This idea was taken from Bill Hillier's book, Space is the machine.  
  Design is a dirty activity, a leaky system. Designers do not have to justify what they use in their designs. They have to justify their designs. A fundamental difference.  
  Design is a complex toing and froing within the theoretical space of a GOD BOX  
  The creative potential of architecture lies in the collision of the intentions of the architect, skillfully wrought from the four generators of architecture (Bill Hillier) and the brilliant and generous reading of the architecture by the observer based on his means of judgment.  
  Make a decision about one aspect of a building and see how it affects every other concern articulated within the rhizome  
  Pulchrum is the latin word for beautiful, Venustas is more primal than that, it refers to our feelings for a beautiful woman. It engages desire more directly..  
  If form were to swallow its function it would digest it. Forms function might be to swallow, but swallowing is a function that requires form and force. Form, Function and Force are constantly de- and re-territorialising each other...  

I once tried to picture design as a chaotic activity and tried to put that chaos into a loose sequence of imperatives. I called it a chaotic activity because the same concerns and the same acts often return but in a different order. Do you feel I have forgotten one or more?

  1. Design! ASK: What? For whom? How? Where? When? Why? To what end? To what purpose? For whom? Who are the users? Have I taken all of them into consideration, do I need to? Are there hidden users whom I have not considered? Are abstract concepts like “Architecture”users of architecture?  
  2. LEARN! from nature and nurture: look [AND] watch [AND] touch [AND] taste [AND] smell [AND] hear [AND] listen [AND] believe [AND] doubt [AND] think [AND] find  [AND] know [AND] feel [AND] imitate [AND] explore [AND] do [AND] practice [AND] practice [AND] practice
  3. DECIDE upon values [AND] norms
  4. PRACTISE your knowledge, your ideas, seek out inconsistencies and conflicts
  5. PRACTISE your attitude
  6. PRACTICE what you preach and don't preach too much
  7. PRACTISE your skills
  8. DEVELOP a vision by imagining possibilities
  9. EXPLORE your limitations [AND] possibilities well
  10. CONCEPTUALIZE principles
  11. BE critical, understanding, overstanding,
  12. USE a misunderstanding to good effect
  13. USE your means well and athletically
  14. UNDERSTAND how and when you are abusing your means
  15. ALLOW yourself to be shown, to be told, to be criticised
  16. INDUCT, from experience to possible and cogent principles
  17. DEDUCT from principles to possible consequences,
  18. ABDUCT by seeking relations between apparently unrelated things
  19. PRACTICE, rehearse, and practice again
  20. EXPAND your frame of reference by looking, undergoing, reading, writing, teaching
  21. DECIDE when it feels right/when it feels wrong
  23. INTERPRET without losing sight of the fact that that is what you are doing
  24. NEGOTIATE problems
  25. TELL, retell
  27. ZOOM in/out
  28. HIP HOP, (do the exact opposite of what you intended inorder to test your idea)
  29. FORM habits
  30. REFORM habits
  31. KILL your darlings (dare to get rid of banal metaphors and favourite ideas that have started getting in the way of things)  
  32. BREAK habits [AND] BUILD new habits
  33. REDO
  34. SWITCH scales and relate them
  35. SWITCH perspectives and relate them
  36. CHANGE your mind? Or change your approach without changing you mind. Or change your mind without changing your approach
  37. PERSEVERE when you feel it is right but it doesn't yet look it
  38. START AGAIN? No.
  39. MUDDLE ON? Try to remember what it was you set out doing.
  40. DON’T WHINGE, boring
  41. LOOK back and REFLECT: what have you actually done do you think?
  42. DESIGN the next thing! And the next and the next.
  43. ……………………………….
  44. ……………………………….
  45. ……………………………….


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