Wednesday, July 13, 2016

PROCESS MATTERS 02 (the evolution of an idea)

Yes, I am still writing about the design process.  I am interested not only in the final product, but how as a design studio we arrived at that solution.  And I think the design process matters – like REALLY matters.  How a design project develops and evolves is critical for design excellence.  It is important to understand how a design concept evolves, and what is explored and tested along the way.  Often, the first study has a fragment of something that will eventually become something important to the design, but in this early beginning it is often only a hint at something.  Great design requires a rigorous design process to move a project from that initial spark into something of value.

This post will take a closer look at the design process specifically related to the project we are constructing this summer.  Looking backwards, you can easily trace the thread of the idea all the way through.  The challenge for the designer, of course, is that the creative process often only makes sense looking backward. 

Or as the author E.L. Doctorow says about the writing process “Writing is like driving at night in the fog.  You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” 

The Architectural design process is like that too.  In real time, it is impossible to see the end of the journey.  But looking back at the process reveals the embedded logic that is often present, The strands of thought that link the studies together, and it can be an informative process of self-reflection.  For a designer, an awareness of how we work creatively is crucial for producing work that is authentic and meaningful.

Here was the first design sketch.  

Not great right?  But the idea was born here.  These first models, even in their crude diagrammatic form, were exploring something important.  The exploration is about a roof pattern.  A repetitive pattern or geometry, creating a mosaic of sorts, casting shadow patterns that move across a space.  This was the beginning, and an important start indeed.

One initial critique was concerned with connecting the roof form with the seating elements below.  This next study, while incomplete, attempted to address this concern. It also foreshadows a potential solution for the integration of structure and roof pattern that would be an essential design improvement later on.

As the project evolved, the explorations began to focus more directly on the relationship of bench and seating to roof form.  These studies attempt to tie the project into one single gesture.  The relationship between structure and pattern is also a growing concern at this point in the process, as these studies attempt to preliminary resolve these issues.

These next studies begins to focus more on the idea of creating a space defined by shadows.  The big design move here is to wrap the roof element into the south wall to create a continuous form that modulates light throughout the day.  This study also gets serious in attempting to resolve the roof structure, integrating the pattern of boxes into the 2x6 roof grid. Design is always a sort of give and take and as the structural grid regulated the geometry, some of the rhythmic quality of the design began to get lost.  The solution was to transfer the rhythmic pattern of the roof from the plan into the section. By varying the heights of the boxes slightly, the rhythm of the form is retained for the space below, while the plan geometry simplifies to address the structural concerns of the scheme.

During the final selection process, some of the class felt that this scheme (above) was too monolithic.  So, during the final critique I sketched a quick idea to discuss the possibility of a formal shift, splitting the form into two half to open up the space to the south and west approach.  

This sketch lead into the final development of the structure.

And eventually to a final model and renderings.

What this illustration fails to address is that simultaneously in the studio, other unique schemes were being pursued in the same manner.  Some of these included roof forms and shadow patterns.  As these other ideas evolved, they of course began to influence this scheme.  A good studio is a fertile ground for ideas, students all influencing each other, allowing for cross pollination to occur.

What is illustrated, I hope, is the importance of process in creative work.  It would have been impossible to start at the end.  As a studio, we needed those initial studies, even as fragments of ideas, to eventually get to the more developed and sophisticated final solution.

Sometimes, in a design studio, I think students feel like the initial studies are errors, or something they have done wrong.  Students are always quick to want to solve the problem "correctly" the first time.  But the creative process doesn't quite work that way.  The initial studies are a necessary (and perhaps most important) part of the process, because you cant get to the end without them.

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