Standards = Design Hindrance?


I've been told (repeatedly) that the reason Architects don't adhere very well to Standards is that they are a hindrance to their design-ability.

  • Can someone kindly defend this position?  With practical (non-theoretical) examples of where standards have inhibited their ability to do good design?

As much as I have heard this, I haven't seen the effects in practice.  It is unclear to me 

  • How I document my design impacts my ability to design
  • How I manage the project information impacts my ability to design

​While waiting to hear a viable counter-argument, I provide that the real unspoken truth to being against standards are elements of the following:

  • Doing something in a different way is scary.

​Having to change the way your document and manage -approach- your project can have a detrimental impact - on your TIME.  Anything new takes time to learn.  Moving from hand-drafting to CAD took time.  Moving from CAD to BIM took time.  But to say that learning new tools and software "inhibits design" is not quite truthful - yes, it is indirectly inhibited due to the fact that you have initial downtime to learn a new method/approach.  But once that hurdle is overcome, I'm not seeing how new tools and standard approaches inhibit one's ability to synthesize the information and provide a quality design to the client.  Documentation and Project Information Management are but the tools, the containers, the conveyors of what we are really selling - our design to the requirements at hand.

  • Accountability is scary.

​I don't think it can be denied - Architects have, and have had, an incredible amount of freedom to decide how they do their jobs.  And I'm not sure how necessary that level of freedom is - especially from a business standpoint.  Abiding by standards by default provides an opportunity for measurement, and comparison.  Frankly, no one in general wants to be accountable, but I've seen that architects in particular are an especially anti-accountability bunch.  Given the model that 20% of fee and time is spent in CA, architects then spend 80% of their time in "the grey" - the theoretical, the "we'll-decide-later." It is apparently quite difficult to turn the switch to the practical and accountable.  That's what standards are intended to do - up our game, quality assurance.  Yet if we are able to spend 80% of our time with loose rules to keep us accountable, and the office culture allows it/doesn't promote accountability/quality assurance via standards, then why change?

I believe I've ran out of gas here at the end, but I humbly submit this initial query with the intent to refine my thoughts.

Jan 16, 13 12:00 pm


Graphic Standards? Building detail standards? Construction material dimension standards? Code, zoning, and fire protection standards? 


There are alot of standards out there, are we talking about all of them?


In many areas of the country, non-traditional building materials are still not permitted in commercial construction, including rammed earth, straw, composites of the above, etc. This clearly has a detrimental effect on the range of possiblities on a given site, but reducing creativity? I don't know about that. There is always multiple solutions to any design problem, so having to re-calculate based on an external constraint doesn't affect the final quantity of "creativity" in the project, it just makes it different. 

What you are trying to measure (Ability to design) is not quantitative.

Jan 16, 13 2:48 pm

Thanks for the clarification request - I am referring most directly the standards of "how" we do our work, and how each project, and each project manager, has each their own method to manage and document their project.  Their little tics and quirks.  At its core, we are selling design services.  At the end of CDs, we convey that design (historically and currently) on 2D black and white sheets of paper.  A plan is a plan is plan; an elevation is an elevation; and sections and details.

I'm most directly questioning the reasons behind not streamlining our own in-house processes.  We can take this from an individual firm, all the way to a national standard.  It is curious to me how we convey our design has not been standardized.  I'm sure the contractors, who read our instruction booklets, would greatly benefit from it.  

We do so much that makes very little economic sense.  I'm trying to get to the reasons behind it.  I've been told that streamlining and standardizing our in-house processes inhibits design capability.  

Your statement "What you are trying to measure (Ability to design) is not quantitative" further enhances my argument - that design ability is not affected negatively by following a standardized process.

Jan 16, 13 3:15 pm

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