This is an exciting post for me as it will not only cover a topic that has framed most of my M.Arch education, but also because it is the first post of this blog's new format… the transition from education to profession and all the interstitial space in between. I can think of no better beginning to the blog's new format than to examine the idea of Design Intelligence as discussed by Michael Speaks.
I just finished reading Design Intelligence by Michael Speaks for the second time. The first time it was recommended to me by my Theory professor, Amy Kulper, and this time it was recommended by our visiting studio professor, Matias del Campo. The article starts like this…
“As postmodernism, deconstructivism, minimalism and super-postmodernism become more historical than contemporary concerns, professional trend setters in architecture are aggressively on the hunt for the next big thing”
Speaks then goes on to say that no dominant style looms on the horizon and that he sees a trend emerging whereby Globalization and the introduction of a “knowledge-based” economy is driving and defining new forms of architectural practice. Speaks draws on Peter Drucker to help clarify his argument. Drucker is concerned with the difference between problem solving and innovation. The main difference he sees is that problem solving involves accepting the parameters of a problem and then creating a solution within those given boundaries. Whereas true innovation is experimental, it is a rigorous analysis of the factors that led to the problem and discovers new opportunities and factors to be exploited.
The old paradigm of an idea which leads to a prototype which leads to a product is thrown out the window here and in its place is the notion that the prototype is the idea derived from the prototype. Innovation results in thinking through the prototype, innovation results in doing…making….creating.
Here at Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture, making is part of the game. Throughout my M.Arch education the idea of rapid prototyping and thinking through making has slowly began to transform the way I think about, and engage with design problems. Due in large part to this new way of thinking I have become increasingly interested in the design of small scale objects. This has materialized itself in a variety of ways including the fabrication of several furniture projects and other "architectural objects" as well as many more designs still patiently waiting their turn in one of my numerous sketchbooks. These endeavors have provided extreme amounts of joy and interest as they present a real and tangible avenue for design experimentation.
What I mean by this is that at this stage of my life/career there is no way anyone would let me actually build, and nor should they, full-scale architecture (or what is commonly referred to as architecture, meaning buildings, homes and other spatial containers). However, I can easily envision, sketch, re-sketch, detail, sketch again and finally fabricate any number of small scale objects or furniture pieces without applying for a single building permit.
After completing one of these projects, and after shamelessly self-promoting it all over the interweb, friends and family always ask the same questions...I thought you are in Architecture School?... So you are a product designer now?.... Do you not want to do Architecture anymore? And my answer to these questions is always the same….
When it comes to design and the process that goes into it, I do not see any difference between a building, a coffee table, a desk lamp and even the design of a company's brand identity. Design (and/or Architecture) as a creative endeavor should be scale less and lack a clear medium until absolutely necessary. These objects are prototypes of design ideas and my way of thinking through making. My way of testing out design ideas at a scale that is currently available and real. In the fabrication of a coffee table or a desk lamp I am able to think through design ideas that I hope if begin to shape how I practice architecture. These ideas are the foundation behind designGOOD, a new object design workshop born this summer out of a love of "making.”
Speaks concludes his article by stating that in order to adjust to changing and often hostile economic conditions, design practices must be able to move between multiple categories of design and scale. They must view design as dynamic, non-linear and as a process with no clear beginning or end. Only those practices that blur the lines between thinking and doing will be able to manipulate problems in ways that create opportunities to be exploited.
Closing Image of some of the hundreds of models MVRDV made for their Cloud City project
I am a graduate student and an entrepreneur at the University of Michigan Taubman College where my studies are focused on leveraging design ideas across multiple scales and platforms. Meeting at the intersection between design, tectonics and fabrication, I am continually exploring how a design idea can navigate complex material and production systems and evolve into fully realized architectural artifacts.