Archiprint 9 - The Architecture of Design

Page 1

Archiprint \\ The Architecture of Design

June 2016 \\ Volume 05 \ Issue 01

AnArchi is proud to present to you the ninth issue of its architecture journal Archiprint;

The Architecture of Design As Study Association of the master Architecture at the Eindhoven University of Technology we strive to explore the current architectural polemic and contribute to it by means of the written word.

The Architecture of Design

Supporters of Archiprint:

Diederendirrix Rapp+Rapp Werkstatt Ector Hoogstad Architecten

Archiprint - The Architecture of Design June 2016 \\ Volume 05 \ Issue 01 Eindhoven Free publication ISSN 2213-5588 Revised edition \\ October 2016 Journal for Architecture, created by students and graduates of the Department of the Built Environment, Eindhoven University of Technology and architecture study association AnArchi. Editor-in-chief Justin de Witte

Final editor Margit van Schaik

Editors Jesper Baltussen, Jasper Brus, Luuk van den Elzen, Eva Gutscoven, Gülce Onganer, Wendy Verhoef Guest Editors Daan Jenniskens, Krist Vaesen Advisory committee Bernard Colenbrander, Jacob Voorthuis, Juliette Bekkering, Hüsnü Yegenoglu Layout and cover design Jesper Baltussen and Gregor Roovers Language correction D’Laine Camp Printing Meesterdrukkers, Eindhoven

Publisher AnArchi Eindhoven University of Technology Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning Vertigo Building, Groene loper 6 5612 AZ Eindhoven, The Netherlands Previous issues Archiprint1 Archiprint2 - The Research Issue Archiprint3 - It’s All About Competition Archiprint4 - Show Us What You’ve Got! Archiprint5 - Movement in Architecture Archiprint6 - Creating & Experiencing Identity Archiprint7 - Influence & Inspiration Archiprint8 - The Ideal Profession This magazine or any of its content cannot be republished or reproduced without the express written permission of the publisher.

Editorial ‘When designers – especially skilled, successful

tools that can help during the process, such as

represented the phases one has to go through.

designers – talk spontaneously about what

technical knowledge, drawing techniques or

Soon a collection of thoughts on the structure

they do, they talk almost exclusively about the

exemplary cases of urban and architectural

of the design process, propagated by several

outcomes, not the activities. They talk about

design. Other than that, project work is clearly

tutors, was composed. Another attempt at

the products of their designing, rather than the

aimed at learning how to design. But here too,

didactically describing design activity can be


designing is considered to be a skill that can

found in Design and Analysis by Bernard Leupen

be acquired by trial and error, not a form of

and his co-authors.4 In this book, the writers


knowledge that needs to be taught by the theories

provide insights into what they think the process

something peculiar about the design discipline,

of others, and during tutoring sessions the focus

encompasses, and connect this to the work of

that can be experienced in both the professional

is often on what students have designed, not on

analysing architecture.

field of architecture and architectural education.

how they designed it.






Discussions seem to focus on the design itself, but

On a more scientific level, there appears to be a

the question of how architects came up with their

Is this justified? I think partly it is. After all, our

research field called Design Thinking, of which

ideas often remains unanswered. Even in cases

goal in designing is not to have a good design

Cross is one of the prominent researchers. In this

where architects present their design process,

process, but to arrive at a good design. Besides,

field, the focus is on design-specific cognitive

such as in the lecture series Making Architecture,2

designing seems to be something so complex

activities, which means research is done into

they often present a sequence of diagrams that

that it might be easier to evaluate its results,

ways of thinking during designing. In general it

show how an idea is translated into a building,

rather than to try to explore each and every

seems the topic receives more attention in the

not how the idea itself came into being. The way

aspect of the process. And perhaps this process is

industrial design discipline than in architecture,

of thinking is evaluated through its results, and

so personal that communicating about it is found

but as Michael Arbib shows in his essay ‘Toward

most often the diagrams show a less complex

to be rather difficult. However, it could be useful

a Neuroscience of the Design Process’, the latest

process than what the initial design activity

to at least try to get an idea of what designing

findings in neuroscience can provide insights

must have been like. In some cases, ‘designers

encompasses and fortunately, there are different

into the work of a designing architect as well.4

can even seem to be wilfully obscure about how

ways to do so. As Cross shows, the process of

they work, and where their ideas come from’. As

Philippe Starck designing the lemon squeezer

As already becomes clear from the range of

an example, Cross explains how the renowned

can to some extent be reconstructed from the

literature that can be found on the topic, there

designer Philippe Starck claims that his ideas are

sketches he made, and observing architects at

are different levels at which one can speak of

spontaneous. His design for a lemon squeezer,

work or interviewing them can be useful sources

a design process. While neuroscientists are

like so many of his designs, just appeared to him,

as well. In fact, as Archiprint decided to devote its

interested in the most elementary forms of

in a seemingly magical way.

ninth issue to the topic, it became clear that much

processes that can be found in the brain, our

more research is done than we initially expected.







concerns more strategic steps such as the analysis

The avoidance of discussing design activity can be traced in architectural education as well. Even

As we discussed the issue within the editorial

of the problem or the collection of different ideas.

though designing is one of the core activities

board, different members could recall moments

The selection of articles in this issue therefore

of future architects, courses rarely provide

in which tutors actually did give an idea on the

encompasses variating perspectives on the topic.

strategies for designing. More often they offer

process of designing, by drawing diagrams that

With articles ranging from research into brain

activity to abstract models of design processes,

In ‘Imitation and Innovation’, Jacob Voorthuis

To close off the range of articles, Nigel Cross

and from interviews with practitioners to the

expands this theme and shows how a continuity

presents the most important research that

written word of scientists, we hope to give a

between the concepts of imitation and innovation

has been done in the field of design thinking

somewhat complete picture of what is known

is essential to being able to design. By doing

throughout the twentieth century and over the

about design activity today.

this, he puts in perspective the disapproval

last decades. He shows what influence brain

of imitation and the great value that is being

damage can have on the design process, and

attached to innovation nowadays.

what this tells us about how we design. As in the

To start off, Bernard Leupen contrasts two visions on how design ideas are conceived.

previous articles, Cross proves that design ability

He claims that, on the one hand, designs are

The centre of this issue is formed by an

is something inextricably human, embedded in

based on the examination of other works of


our brains as a natural cognitive function.

architecture. On the other, we need a certain

ten diagrams drawn by tutors of different

intuitive aspect to complement it. Leupen then

architecture schools in the Netherlands. Putting

Interestingly enough, there is a great variety

shows how these two ways of thinking are both

these perspectives together makes it possible

of connections that can be drawn between the

used by prominent architecture offices.

to compare them, and although some universal

articles, although the subject is reviewed by

elements can be found, it seems the idea of a

different writers from different disciplines. It

good design process takes many different forms.

shows there is a certain consensus on which

‘A Machine for Designing’ encompasses a report






of a discussion held by The Philosophical Table

themes play an important role in design activity.

Club. To understand what the club’s members

To get an idea of how these schematic design

The fundamental role of studying the existing

believe to be the fundamental nature of human-



environment, the difficulty of representing a

design activity, they virtually created a design-

discipline, Archiprint interviewed design critic

complex and creative process and the observation

robot, by thinking about what properties this

Lucas Verweij. In this article he claims prescribed

that designing is an essential human feature are

robot should have. The report forms a useful

design processes as they are often presented do

good examples of this. So although the process of

exploration of the overall subject, and shows

not lead to good designs, as they ignore the

designing is still far from being unravelled, the

how close the ability to design is to being human.

much more complex and chaotic way in which

discoveries in this issue will bring you at least

designing actually takes place.

one step closer.





This intertwining of design ability and human nature is further explored by Daan Jenniskens

Another perspective from the practitioners’ side

and Jasper Brus, who try to find out what an

is presented in a conversation with MVRDV

evolutionary understanding of heritable traits

architect Klaas Hofman, where it becomes clear

can teach us about the origin and development of

how the office uses representations of the design

our mental ability to design buildings. In doing

process to structure its own ideas, communicate

so, they question our common understanding

them to the clients and sell them to the public.

of designing and show the important role of

The emphasis on collaboration of rationality


in the form of Big Data and intuitive decisionmaking based on these data, lightly connects the interview with the ideas of Leupen and Verweij.

1 Cross, N. (2011). Design Thinking: understanding how designers think and work. London: Berg. p. 6 2 The lecture series Making Architecture took place in the spring of 2016 at Eindhoven University of Technology and consisted of presentations by, among others, Felix Claus, David Gianotten, Harm Timmermans and Liesbeth van der Pol. 3 Cross, N. (2011). Design Thinking: understanding how designers think and work. London: Berg. p. 6 4 Bernard Leupen et al., Design and Analysis (Rotterdam: nai010 publishers, 1997). 5 Arbib, M. (2015). Toward a neuroscience of the design process. In S. Robinson, & J. Pallasmaa (eds), Mind in Architecture (pp. 75-98). London: The MIT Press.



Designing Between Ratio and Intuition Bernard Leupen Jesper Baltussen (ed.)


A Machine for Designing


Design like an animal


Imitation & Innovation


Modelling Design Processes


Prescribed Design Processes: The End of Creativity?


Sense in Simplicity


Understanding Design Thinking

A discussion by the Philosophical Table Club Margit van Schaik (ed.)

Jasper Brus and Daan Jenniskens

Jacob Voorthuis Margit van Schaik (ed.)

A collection of typical design processes by project tutors Wendy Verhoef (ed.)

An interview with Lucas Verweij, design critic Jasper Brus and Eva Gutscoven (eds.)

A conversation with MVRDV-architect Klaas Hofman Jesper Baltussen, Luuk van den Elzen and Justin de Witte (eds.)

Nigel Cross Margit van Schaik (ed.)


Designing Between Ratio and Intuition Bernard Leupen Bernard Leupen, the author of both Design and Analysis and Housing Design – A Manual, has been practicing in the field of architectural design for over 45 years. His books, which have been translated into several languages, function as an important source for design theory in architectural education. Leupen’s work discusses, among other things, the method of plan analysis, the idea of type and notions about the design process. Leupen graduated from Delft University of Technology and also finished his PhD there. Besides writing, Leupen worked with Rem Koolhaas and was a guest professor at both Delft University of Technology and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

Edited and translated by: Jesper Baltussen

The design process is taught throughout

beliefs was embedded in psychoanalysis.

In our book Design and Analysis (Ontwerp en

architectural education and constitutes the

The subconscious was needed to blend all

Analyse) we have tried to ‘capture’ this design

core of architectural practice. While I was

aspects of complex design commissions

process in a scheme.3 This scheme connects

studying at Delft University of Technology,

together in a harmonious way. There is an

the several influences we distinguished, and

two contradictory positions were embodied,

anecdote that Polak developed his design

relates these to the core elements of the process:

by Carel Weeber and Michiel Polak. Carel

for a community centre in Leiden while

the act of interpreting and the act of ordering.

Weeber, on the one hand, endorsed the



idea of setting up a mental library of decent

When looking closely at the scheme (image

buildings that functioned as a foundation

no. 1), we first of all notice the interpretation:

and source for the subsequent design

an architect usually starts his commission by

process. Consequently, design was an activity that could be mastered by anyone. Michiel Polak, on the other hand, stated that a design was a product of the subconscious and dreams, consequently, were a cradle for design.

the design process will most probably be something between dream and deed for most designers

Weeber based his beliefs on the works of

developing a vision that is an interpretation of the design brief and the demands that the location poses. It comes about by specific choices of the architect, which are in turn influenced by the society that surrounds the architect. If such a vision is established, and thereby a

French architect Jean-Nicholas Durand.

But, having considered these two ends of the

position is taken, the actual designing begins.

Durand taught at the École Polytechnique

scale, the design process will most probably

The subsequent process includes documents,

in Paris and proposed typological building

be something between dream and deed

drawings and models that reflect the process

solutions in his book Précis des leçons

for most designers, more of a mediation

and form the basis for the following building

d’architecture données à l’école Polytechnique.

between ratio and intuition.



The book had a great impact since a great need for public buildings followed the French revolution, and with it, a considerable need for a method that enabled architects to deal with this need. Durand’s writings therefore provided France with a multitude of architects, able to handle the comprehensive commission. The result is an abundance of governmental buildings throughout France, in a characteristic building-kit architecture. For Polak, however, the basis of his design




So far, this is a rather abstract story, but

is noticeable, whereby this repetition of

started with is rather peculiar, considering

to understand what interpretation and the

spaces makes up the church. The cluster

the great importance of the circle in his

ordering of material and space really mean,

of four octagons is flanked by two blocks

oeuvre. This rather intuitive and unusual

we will take a look at some examples of

that contain the serving spaces. Having

sidestep, which might have been taken to

design processes in the form of physical

drawn an ensemble of six octagons, his

explore new space configurations, is exactly

fragments, such as drawings and models.

interest in the octagon gradually changes

what typifies the design process: a process

into an interest for circular spaces, possibly






The image (no. 2) shows a composition of

erratically. It is only at the end that all falls

design sketches of the Wheels of Heaven, a

into place and the chosen path starts to

church-design by Aldo van Eyck in Doorn

make sense.

(never realized). Between the left top corner and the bottom right corner a part of the design process can be recognized. It progresses step by step in all its peculiarity. Based on the design brief and the position

It is only at the end that all falls into place and the chosen path starts to make sense.

of the architect, an idea of space, shape

In the end, Van Eyck shifts two of the circular spaces diametrically and this is the very moment that a clear structure is revealed in the plan: a system of double beams in two directions, supported by two

and configuration is established. Initially,


Van Eyck searched for a possible shape of

because he considers these to be more

spaces and a subsequent order. At the top

sacred and religious. But, taking Van Eyck’s

The developments of the Wheels of

left an interest in a repetition of the octagon

earlier work into account, the octagon he

Heaven is characteristic for the architect that designs and functions as an author. It all starts with thoughts that develop and manifest of








result in a certain order that determines mutual relations between spaces. Thus the wandering architect finds anchors and determines shape and structure. Finally, he refines, details and materializes his creation while testing its utility, appearance and structure (notice the resemblance to Vitruvius’s utility, beauty and durability: utilitas, venustas and firmitas).4 [2]

Although Van Eyck’s process is typified as a

with books, which was hollowed out, thus

and implicates a direction in which the

sequence of steps, with a single author that

creating very unique spaces. This selection

solution is to be found. The concept functions

wrestles himself through the challenges and

process is again something that encompasses

as an anchor point that rules out some paths

ends up with the right form, this is not true of

both the rational and the intuitive.

and favours others. In doing so, it strongly

all architects. Others work in a more parallel

organizes design decisions.5 Before even the

rather than a linear way, whereby different

first line has been drawn, extensive debates

ideas are developed simultaneously. This technique is used in offices like the Swiss Herzog and de Meuron and in that of the American Helmut Jahn. At the offices of OMA (Rem Koolhaas), it is the usual procedure. I remember seeing all kinds of blue foam

This selection process is again something that encompasses both the rational and the intuitive.

take place between designers and specialists in Nouvel’s office. The drawing doesn’t start until a description of the project – the concept – is clearly defined. This approach requires a thorough knowledge of possibilities, existing solutions and building types combined with

cubes there, occupying many tables at the

a considerable imagination.6 From the very

office. These were variants for the entry to

moment the concept has become clear, the

the Bibliothèque de France competition in

drawing starts: skething is of no use from

1989. After settling the cube as basic form,

Another procedure can be identified at the

this point on, since all important decisions

employees were asked to develop variants

architecture office of Frenchman Jean Nouvel.

have been made. An example of such a

for the embedment of the programme in

Here, the most important design decisions are

concept is Nouvel’s idea for the Tokyo Opera

this cube. Koolhaas eventually decided that

assembled into a vision resulting in a concept.

competition of 1988, a concept he developed

the design would consist of a cube filled

This concept is the basis for further decisions

with Philippe Starck. As a result of several




conversations in the office and with Starck,

development or innovation with such types

The theory one acquires will be stored

Nouvel chose the metaphor of the instrument

has played an important part in developing

somewhere; the more theory, the better.

case. The building was to be black and smooth

design skills. Students of architecture have

The mental library, that is constantly

on the outside, with a slight curvature near

been trained to draw the built environment

complemented, can function as a fruitful

the great hall. The inside would subsequently

for centuries. This tradition, which stems

source for design. Sometimes the architect

consist of three golden theatres (two with

from the Beaux-Arts academies, was still

consciously uses the organization of the

hall, stage tower and backstage, and one with

practiced in Delft during the 1950s and has

types he learnt and sometimes he will use

a flat floor), symbolizing the instruments

endured even longer at more traditional

them without consciously being aware of his

inside the case.

schools of architecture. During the 1970s,

usage. In the end, we might indeed dream

however, a different method began to prevail,

our buildings and these might, for that

Besides these architectural projects, there

a method based on analysing drawings and

matter, enrich the obtained rational theory


models called plan analysis.

with just the right gentle intuitive push.

A typology is considered here as ‘the

Without going into the differences between

1 Durand, Précis des leçons d’architecture données à l’école Polytechnique (Ecole Polytechnique, 1805).

reproducible system of design choices’.

these two, the awareness that is obtained in

Variations can be made according to situation

this way is much more than simply learning

and programme with respect to such types. A

buildings by heart. As for music: there is

type can be stored in a ‘mental library’ and

a difference between memorizing and being

can be retrieved when confronted with similar

able to play a sonata by Bach, being able to

design problems. The type is thus a carrier of

understand the sonata from its polyphony

design experience, a standardized solution.

and harmonics.







about building on experience or typology.


The study and the subsequent imitation,

2 Leen van Duin, Blok Architectuur, Inleiding (Delft: Faculteit Bouwkunde TH Delft, 1982), 41. 3 Bernard Leupen et al., Design and Analysis (Rotterdam: nai010 publishers, 1997). 4 Vitruvius (± 85-20 BC), De architectura libri decem. Dutch translation: Atheneum-Polak & Van Gennnep (1997), Handboek bouwkunde, 38. 5 See: Leupen, op. cit. (note 3), 12-13. 6 Bernard Leupen, ‘Een Nouvel concept’, de Architect 12/1989, 85. 7 Hubert Tonka, Opera de Tokyo (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 1986). 8 For an elaborated explanation of type and typology, see: Leupen, op. cit. (note 3), 131-150; Leupen en Mooij, Housing design (Rotterdam: NAI Publishers, 2011), 35-58

[1] The design process, from: Bernard Leupen et al., Design and Analysis (Rotterdam: nai010 publishers, 1997), 17 [2] Aldo van Eyck, Design sketches of the Wheels of Heaven, from: Domus, May 1965, 2-3 [3] Aldo van Eyck, model of Wheels of Heaven, from: Domus, May 1965, 5 [4] Jean Nouvel, competition entry Tokyo Opera, from: Office Nouvel



A Machine for designing A discussion held by the Philosopical Table Club This article forms an exploration of the subject, in the form of a discussion held by the Philosophical Table Club, who met at Café de Spijker on 1 April 2016. The approach for the evening was as follows: as Nigel Cross states in his book Design Thinking, architects often talk about the end results of their designing, and not so much the processes. It seems the question ‘How do you design?’ is a very difficult one, and we tried to get one step closer to the answer by doing a thought experiment. In this thought experiment, we tried to create a robot that has the capacity to design. If we could find out what features we would need to give this robot, we might also find out what it means for a human being to design.

People present: Justin Agyin, Kiana Aryankia, Sahand Asgarpour, Jesper Baltussen, Hugo Beelen, Rik de Bondt (moderator), Mandy Booijink, Jasper Brus, Damion Dietz, Eva Gutscoven, Renée van Kemenade, Vincent Mulder, Margit van Schaik, Andreas Spahn and Jacob Voorthuis.

Edited by: Margit van Schaik


Our moderator opened the discussion

A node will be activated if these weighted

As our discussion continued, it became clear

by posing the statement made by Nigel

values satisfy the thresholds. This might be

that the robot needed something else to

Cross: ‘When designers – especially skilled,

an oversimplified version of reality, but it

keep it from making endless and inefficient

successful designers – talk spontaneously

was enough information to use in the rest of

calculations. The decisions designers have to

about what they do, they talk almost

the conversation.

make seem to be more complex than those of

exclusively about the outcomes, not the activities.’ Some of us noted that we, as 1

designers, sometimes make decisions in quite an intuitive way, which makes it harder to talk about it. We often rationalize our choices later, when we see the result. However, we realized we did not really understand what we meant by ‘intuition’, let alone ‘intuitive decision-making’. But we could agree on this: as a designer you make decisions that are often based on personal aspects (such as experience), and as a consequence one designer can make

chess players, as more options are available and not every variable is clear. As Cross

As a designer you make decisions that are often based on personal aspects (such as experience), and as a consequence one designer can make very different decisions than another.

explains in Design Thinking, designers not only have to find a solution to a problem, they often also have to find the problem itself.2 To create some order in this complexity, we need to give the robot a strategy or taste, or an end in view, according to which the designing can continue. But what does it mean for a robot to have a certain taste? How can we let it make decisions about what is preferable and what is

very different decisions than another. So

not? It seems the robot will need the capacity

the focus of our conversation shifted from

At this point Spahn told about a game

to register features of its environment. In

intuitive decision-making (whatever that

of chess that was played between world

other words, our robot needs experience

may be) to the role of these personal aspects,



in its other definition: it needs emotions.

and very soon our design robot began to

chess computer Deep Blue. The latter

It somehow needs to feel something about

play its role.

won the game, because it based its moves

what it registers around it. But how could




on a database of previous games, which

we design emotions? That seemed like a

As a start, Asgarpour explained how the

you might call experience. In that sense it

challenging question. Fortunately, some of

creation of a robot usually works. One

worked differently from most computers,

us had some ideas on this as well. When you

generally starts by calling the processes

which make endless calculations on what

have an emotion, you react in a certain way.

it needs a black box, and clarifying what

move will provide the best odds of winning

When, for example, you see someone you

inputs the robot needs to deal with and what

the game. It seems experience plays an

like, you become happy. It seems possible to

outputs it needs to produce. The inputs and

important role in designing as well, as some

program this into a robot, as you can tell it

outputs are then connected by a network of

choices can be made quickly because of

that seeing this person translates into being

nodes, in which relations are determined

remembered previous situations and their

happy. However, emotions can be much

by certain values, weights and thresholds.


more complex than this. One might even

feel emotions when hearing a song that

be continued, as they serve other goals. It

with these two robots? And would one be a

was played during an emotional event in

seems the robot needs to be self-learning to

more successful designer than the other?

the past, and the processes needed for this

do so.

cannot be overseen.

Experience plays an important role in designing as well, as some choices can be made quickly because of remembered previous situations and their consequences.

Our first guess was that the first robot would Now that the focus shifted back from

be much better off than the second. You need

talking about babies to talking about robots,

real emotion to imagine what it is like to be

some attention was paid to a fundamental

in a building. However, one might wonder,

difference between the two. Whereas the

if the second robot is always pretending,

baby cares about what happens in its

how does it know how to pretend? And how

environment, the robot does not. No matter what its actions are, no matter how many days you cease to plug it in, it just doesn’t care. And this is rather problematic. Because if it does not care about this, how could it care about what it designs? How can it understand that one experience is better than another, that one design decision is better than another? Without being able to care, our robot would never be able to

To make our task a bit easier, Voorthuis


proposed to shift the focus of our thought

There are scientists who say that at some point in evolution, inner life came to exist. Nothing magical was added, it was a continuity in the process of evolution.

experiment from a design-robot to a design-

So what does caring really mean? Just like

baby. If we could have a baby that would

emotion, it means that you react in a certain

become the best architect possible, what

way to certain situations. But is reacting

could we ever tell the difference between

special talents should it have? One of the

in a certain way enough? Here we found

the two? What kind of magical black box

first things a baby learns, is a simple causal

ourselves in a very profound discussion.

separates the first robot from the second?

relation between crying and getting milk.

Spahn asked us to imagine two robots: the

The answer became clearer as we thought

The nice experience of getting milk is then

first has comparable emotions to us human

about it: there probably isn’t a difference.

connected to the act of crying. In that sense

beings. It has a mental life, it truly feels

From an evolutionary point of view, there

our baby, and therefore our robot, needs

emotions just like we do. The second robot

are scientists who say that at some point in

to be able to make a posteriori causal

looks exactly the same from the outside,

evolution, inner life came to exist. Nothing

connections between actions and results.

but does not have this inner feeling. It looks

magical was added, it was a continuity in the

But more than that, even without a reward

happy when it should be happy, but it is

process of evolution.

such as getting milk, some actions should

always pretending. What would happen



It seemed right to take a moment and

In his book What Computers Can’t Do,

humans. Now what kind of paradise might

summarize the necessary properties we

Dreyfus explains what is keeping artificial

this computer be able to design for us? The

found for our robot so far. A design robot

intelligence from becoming like human

answer is as simple as it is paradoxical: it

needs to be: 1) able to acquire experience;


Humans developed their

would not change that much. Because as

2) able to give value to that experience, by

consciousness and states because of their

designing is such an integral function of a

attaching emotion; 3) able to make good design decisions, on the basis of those weights; 4) self-learning, so that it can create new emotions and improve itself; 5) empathic, so that it can also feel emotions towards situations of others. Now that we know this, what does it tell us about designing? There is one clear conclusion to be drawn from this: that being a designer is

human being, the imperfect world as we

There is one clear conclusion to be drawn from this: that being a designer is very close to being human.

very close to being human. Then, our conversation took a sidetrack on

so-called situatedness, the complete set of

the difference between consciousness and

characteristics that describe how they exist

subconsciousness, as some noted that ideas

in the world. For robots to achieve something

can come up spontaneously, after a night’s

like human intelligence, one would have to

sleep. It seems the edge between the two is

build in properties like mortality, a front

not a very sharp one. Again we approached

and back side, etcetera. Our conclusion that

the problem from an evolutionary point of

being able to design is to be human, and that

view. Spahn believed that once a system

to be human means being able to design,

becomes complex enough, consciousness

was only strengthened by this argument.

emerges. The ability to plan ahead, closely bound to having consciousness, is what

In the end we talked about the creation of

pushed evolution. For a moment it seemed

a supercomputer for designing. Because if

we were back to the necessity of a self-

we were able to create a robot that could

learning capacity, but then Brus noted

design as well as humans can, than we could

that the self-learning capacity of a robot is

maybe also create one that is even better.

fundamentally different from the process of

This computer would be superior to us in


every way, including ethically, which is why it would even bother to design for us

know it is in fact quite perfect. We felt that this was the right moment to end our discussion. Satisfied with our surprisingly concrete answers, we paid for our drinks and left.

1 Nigel Cross, Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work (London: Berg, 2011). 2 Ibid. 3 Hubert Dreyfus, What Computers Can’t Do (New York: MIT Press, 1979).


Design Like an Animal Learning from Evolution

Jasper Brus and Daan Jenniskens Jasper Brus (1993) and Daan Jenniskens (1992) are Master students of ‘Architecture, Building and Planning’ at Eindhoven University of Technology. They are interested in studying architecture within a broader framework of knowledge, and wrote this essay in a modest and far from comprehensive effort to better understand the human design ability from an evolutionary point of view. Krist Vaesen (1976) – an assistant professor of philosophy at Eindhoven University of Technology and research fellow at the Faculty of Archaeology, University of Leiden – played an important advisory role in this interdisciplinary exploration. He conducts a research programme on the Darwinization of cultural sciences. Furthermore, the present paper was motivated by two articles (co-)authored by Vaesen.


What can the evolutionary idea of heritable

Later, this notion was elaborated upon

that the discovery of these types of brain cells

traits teach us about the origin and

by French priest and architecture theorist

will help in understanding empathy, emotion

development of our mental ability to design

Marc-Antoine Laugier in his 1755 Essai

and feeling in relation to the phenomena

buildings? When and how did architectural

sur l’Architecture. In this essay, Laugier

that constitute our habitat. Mirror neurons,

design start? Is the ability to design solely

published the famous image of the primitive

as the name suggests, are neurons that fire

a human trait? And how did this ability

hut, which represented the supposed origin

both when an animal acts and when the

develop? We will try to answer these

and essence of architecture. Again, the origin

animal observes the same action performed

questions with the help of contemporary

of architectural design is described as the

by another, playing an important role in

insights from the fields of primatology,


inventive imitation of nature by humans.

imitative processes. Pallasmaa suggests that

evolutionary anthropology,2 neuroscience3

As a direct continuation of this, Laugier

these brain cells are also essential in the

and cognitive science, which we will link

connects the imitation of nature to the

experience of our environment. If we would

to prominent architectural theories on the

process of typification in architecture:

follow Pallasmaa’s interpretation of mirror


neurons, then their discovery might confirm

origin and essence of architecture. He wants to make himself a dwelling that protects Mud and Twigs

but does not bury him. Some fallen branches in

If we try to imagine what the earliest

the forest are the right material for his purpose; he

buildings made by humans might have

chooses four of the strongest, raises them upright



and arranges them in a square; . . . Thus, man is

structures made out of trees and rocks might

housed. . . . Such is the course of simple nature;

come to mind. Hence, it is not surprising

by imitating the natural process, art was born.

that the foundations of many architectural

All the splendours of architecture ever conceived

theories contain the notion that architecture

have been modelled on the little rustic hut I have

originated when humans started imitating

just described.6





Vitruvius and Laugier’s theories, which

nature in order to build shelters. This is what Vitruvius wrote in his De architectura


(around 15 BC):

the importance of imitation of nature in





architecture, and recent findings from the They began . . . to construct shelters. Some

field of neuroscience might strengthen this

made them of green boughs, others dug caves on

idea. Architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa

mountain sides, and some, in imitation of the

believes that findings in neuroscience will aid

nests of swallows and the way they built, made

us in understanding ‘the deeply biological

places of refuge out of mud and twigs.5






Pallasmaa discusses the copying of feelings and behaviour by mirror neurons, believing



explain architectural design as an imitation of our natural habitat. Our primary aim here is not to assess the correctness of age-old architectural theories in the light of modern science. Instead, we seek to expand our knowledge by investigating the origin and development of architectural design within a longer timeframe than these architectural theories can offer us. In order to do so, we will construct a relatively neutral and everyday notion of architecture. Architects occupy themselves with the planning, design and construction of buildings. Architectural design, then, must be about the design of

When the chimpanzee starts stacking these crates in order to reach the banana, she displays the mental ability to design, plan and construct an object.

[10] is constructed in reality. Nigel Cross chiefly

Animal Architecture

understands design as a mental ability, and

Are there other animals with the mental

we will try to consider architectural design

ability to plan and construct objects similar

in the context of the mind as well.

to buildings? A convincing example is given


by Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal. In Darwin’s evolutionary theory has cleared

his book Are We Smart Enough to Know How

the way for understanding humans as a

Smart Animals Are?, De Waal describes an

species that has evolved from other species.

experiment in which a chimpanzee is put

Consequently, in this new conception of

in a cage with a banana that is hung from

continuity, specific human traits can be

a string and a number of crates.11 When the

viewed as genetically inherited. Thus,

chimpanzee starts stacking these crates in

recent insights from contemporary science,

order to reach the banana, she displays the

buildings, and the deliberate planning of

in particular the fields of primatology,

mental ability to design, plan and construct

their characteristics as objects. We believe

evolutionary anthropology, neuroscience

an object. The structure is stable enough to

that the word planning is of paramount

and cognitive science, may help us trace

serve her needs, and the ability of planning

importance, because it implies that you

the origin and development of our mental

is present in the fact that she is only awarded

construct the object in your head before it

ability to design.

after the tower is realized.


One might dismiss this example by calling it a simple utilitarian object, without the richness and refinement that we appreciate in human architecture. The structure of this tower is quite plain, and its construction does not demand a large amount of time and dedication. Let us then look at a strange bird that should weaken our condescending attitude. The Vogelkop bowerbird builds structures known as bowers or arbours, of which the main function is to attract female mating partners. The female birds inspect the nest, after which they decide whether they are willing to mate or not. The bowers


are usually about 100 cm high and 160 cm in width, and their structure is quite advanced,

our mental ability to design – or at least a

design efforts of other species? De Waal

with one or two supporting columns in the

substantial part of this ability – lies with our

shows, through a multitude of examples,

middle, supporting a lot of intertwined twigs.

predecessors. When we apply this insight

that the human brain is not superior to

The lawn in front of this arbour is decorated

to Vitruvius’s and Laugier’s theories, we

brains of other animals in many ways. For

with a multitude of small objects, sorted by

find that it is exactly this mental continuity

instance: the parts of the brain that support

colour. When looking at different bowers,

that is missing: Vitruvius and Laugier do

empathy, an ability that we believe to be

we can see that the choice of these objects is

emphasize the continuity between human

vital in architecture, are so old that we

not fixed, but that it is their composition that

architectural design and nature, but to

share them with animals such as dogs,

typifies them. The bowers have a complex

them this continuity only has the form of

elephants and apes. However, there is one

structure that requires rigid and long-term

inventive imitation of nature by humans.

thing that De Waal believes to be unique to

planning. The absence of some structural

In fact, however, this relationship is much

our species: language. ‘Outside our species,

parts could result in a collapse. Moreover,

more comprehensive and complex than they

we have found no proof of manners of

the bowers only serve their function after a

paint it to be.

communication with symbols, that are so rich and functional as ours. It appears that

long construction period. Language and Imitation

language is our magical source.’13

The ape’s tower and the bird’s bower

If the ability to design itself is not unique

provide us with examples that meet our

to humans, then what has caused human

Language supplies us with a clear and

description of design ability. Therefore,

design to – quite obviously – be so much


we must acknowledge that the origin of

more complex and widespread than the

complexity and extensiveness of human





design compared to that of other animals.

In Vitruvius’s description of the origin

powerful couple, as language assists refined

An emphasis on language is also notably



imitation. Furthermore, both the recently

less anthropocentric14 than the widespread

fundamental importance. So let us reflect on

discovered existence of mirror neurons

belief that the human brain is fundamentally

the role of language in architecture. De Waal


different from animal brains. De Waal

explains that the human use of language

learning processes suggest that imitation

describes this belief as a phenomenon of

supports the storage and communication

is of fundamental importance. When we

neo-creationist thinking. People who think

of functional, detailed knowledge. With

thus combine the aforementioned ideas

in a neo-creationist manner tend to accept

this in mind, we can commit to the idea

about culture, imitation and typification

evolution when thinking about our bodies,

that language plays a major role in cultural

with De Waal’s stress on the uniqueness

but will simultaneously regard our brains

evolution18 within architecture, for example

of language, it becomes probable that

as a unique creation, unrelated to any sort

with the accumulation of ever more

the development of humankind’s more

of evolution.15

intricate and effective ways of constructing

complex design ability compared to other

buildings. In genetic evolution, genes

animals is, in fact, due to the interplay of


language and imitation.

‘It appears that language is our magical source’













accumulation of information, whereas in cultural evolution, the transmission of behaviour, or information, is believed to be supported by social learning, language, or other cultural replicators.19

Did our ability to design develop with the aid

when we consider language and imitation together, they make a powerful couple

of our ‘magical source’, language? Vitruvius

It is this process of cultural development

did not fail to recognize the importance of

supported by language that many theorists

language when he described how men began

– including Vitruvius – regard as essential

to talk during their early gatherings by the

for architectural design. Rafael Moneo, for

fire, even before they started constructing

instance, stresses that the importance of

Culture and Evolution

their primitive shelters:

language lies in the fact that it is used for

However sympathetically biocentric21 De

naming classes of artefacts with similar

Waal’s language-centred stance may be,

In that gathering of men, at a time when utterance

characteristics, leading to architectural

its plausibility has been put into question

of sound was purely individual, from daily habits


by Vaesen. In an article about the cognitive

they fixed upon articulate words just as these


had happened to come; then, from indicating by


name things in common use, the result was that


in this chance way they began to talk, and thus

evolution. And when we consider language

tool use.22 These abilities range from hand-

originated conversation with one another.

and imitation together, they make a

eye coordination to causal reasoning and



Language thus supports the of



architecture use




bases of human tool use, Vaesen shows


quite a few higher cognitive abilities in


humans compared to apes with regard to



social intelligence. We believe that the same

If Vaesen et al. are correct, then perhaps

be the oldest architecture by humans. Terra

cognitive abilities also play an important role

a consequence of this could be found in a

Amata is contemporary to the Acheulean

in design thinking. Thus, the development of

widespread tool called the Acheulian Handaxe.

Handaxe. If the design of the Acheulean

humans’ greater design ability compared to

Used by early hominins in a time period

Handaxe was controlled by evolution,

other animals may not be due to language

between 1.76 million and 200 thousand years

then maybe some aspects of the earliest

alone, but to a range of cognitive functions

ago, it is often considered to be an object

human architecture were too. The fact that

that are enhanced in comparison to other

of culture. However, there are convincing

the structure is similar to that made by the

species; language is only one of multiple

arguments that support the hypothesis that its

bowerbird supports this idea; the borders

distinctive traits.

form was at least in part under genetic control.

between nature and culture are blurring.

Vaesen et al. argue that the assumption that it Considering this evidence from cognitive

is an object of culture, merely because it was

With all this in mind, let us now return to the

science, do architectural theorists perhaps

used by early hominins – and not animals –

context of this Archiprint, and try to reflect on

overestimate the importance of cultural

betrays a form of anthropocentrism that does

Cross’s understanding of design thinking.

evolution? Vaesen et al. give examples of

not fully recognize the rich behaviour shown

Cross has a very wide and all-encompassing

animals that exhibit design-like behaviour.

by species other than humans.

view of design and design thinking, but






structures are usually considered to be primarily genetically controlled.23 This is furthermore observable in nature all around us: birds build nests, ants build ant hills and bees construct beehives. Given this, it is not entirely improbable that some essential roots of our ability to design buildings are, or have been, partly under genetic control.

when we consider the scientific findings

when we consider any thinking being chiefly as a designing being, could our conception of design acquire a new depth and richness?

discussed in this essay, we have to admit that his understanding of design thinking is still rather anthropocentric: Everyone can – and does – design. We all design when we plan for something new to happen, whether that might be a new version of a recipe, a new arrangement of the living room furniture, or a new layout of a personal web page. The evidence from different cultures around the world, and from designs created by children as well as by adults, suggests that everyone is capable of designing.

In complexity, early human architecture

So design thinking is something inherent within

does not exceed the animal design that we

human cognition; it is a key part of what makes us

have shown. The archaeological site of Terra


Amata in France, dated a stunning 380


thousand years ago, consists of the remains


of a small wooden hut that is considered to

anthropocentrism in Cross’s conclusion,







we come to the slightly altered but highly

we might well be standing on the brink of a

interesting hypothesis that design thinking

new architecture. An architecture that unites

is something inherent to cognition in

knowledge of culture and nature, and benefits

general. This reminds us of Daniel Dennett’s

from and excels through this union.

description of a tiny creature called the sea squirt:26

1 Primatology: the scientific study of primates.

The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to

2 Evolutionary anthropology: the interdisciplinary study of the evolution of human physiology (bodily functioning) and behaviour and the relation between hominids and nonhominid primates. Evolutionary anthropology is based in both natural science and social science.

18 Cultural Evolution: the collective and continuous accumulation and development of knowledge within a culture. 19 Richard Dawkins applies the theoretical framework of biological evolution to culture. 20 Rafael Moneo, ‘On Typology’, Oppositions, no. 13 (1978). 21 Biocentrism: the belief that not just humans, but all living things, have an intrinsic value. Biocentrism is basically the opposite of anthropocentrism. 22 Krist Vaesen, ‘The Cognitive Bases of Human Tool Use’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, no. 35 (2012), 203-262.

3 Neuroscience: the scientific study of the nervous system.

23 Raymond Corbey et al., ‘The Acheulian Handaxe: More Like a Bird’s Song Than a Beatles’ Tune?’, Evolutionary Anthropology, no. 25 (2016), 6-19.

its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain

4 Cognitive science: the interdisciplinary scientific study of the mind.

24, figure: The Terra Amata Hut. [http://whitenoise.kinja. com/otters-oddities-1625365421]

anymore, so it eats it! It’s rather like getting

5 Marcus Vitruvius Pollo, De architectura (15 BC).

25 Cross, Design Thinking, op. cit. (note 9).


6 Marc-Antoine Laugier, Essai sur l’Architecture (1755).

26 This anecdote was introduced to us by Jacob Voorthuis in his lectures on philosophy and architecture.

7 Juhani Pallasmaa, Body, Mind and Imagination: Neuroscience and the Mental Essence of Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016).

27 Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown and Company,1991).

8, figure: Frontispiece of the second edition of Essai sur l’Architecture (1755) by Charles Eisen.

28 Göran Schildt, Alvar Aalto In His Own Words (New York: Random House, 1998).

cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds


Maybe the sea squirt not only shows the intricate relationship between designing and placing, but also that design is the main issue that a thinking being thinks about. And when we consider any thinking being chiefly as a designing being, would our understanding of design lose its essential meaning? Would we





undesirable ‘designer-centrism’? Or could our conception of design acquire a new depth and richness? In this regard, we would like to point to Alvar Aalto, for whom a biological understanding of architecture was of great personal importance in design.28 Aalto’s work

9 Nigel Cross, Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work (London: Berg, 2011). 10, figure: Grande the chimpanzee stacks crates in order to reach a banana. Picture by Lilo Hess. [http://] 11 Frans de Waal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2016). 12, figure: A Vogelkop bowerbird in front of his nest. [ Nest-display-of-Vogelkop-bowerbird-used-to-woo-female. html] 13 Frans de Waal, Our Inner Ape: The Best and Worst of Human Nature (London: Granta Books, 2005). De Waal, Are We Smart Enough, op. cit. (note 11).

biological conception of architecture. Given

14 Anthropocentrism: the belief that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet, or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective (source: Wikipedia).


15 De Waal, Are We Smart Enough, op. cit. (note 11).

proves that there are great opportunities in a continuously



of humanity as a product of evolution,

16 Vitruvius, De architectura, op. cit. (note 5).

through neuroscience and related fields,

17 De Waal, Are We Smart Enough, op. cit. (note 11).



Imitation & Innovation The study of an irksome relationship

Jacob Voorthuis Jacob Voorthuis is an associate professor Philosophy in Architecture at the Eindhoven University of Technology. After completing his doctorate in Art History, (architectural theory and aesthetics) at Leiden University in 1996, he has worked at different institutions, such as the University of Technology in Jamaica and the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture. In the following article, he shows how both imitation and innovation are not to be seen as goods in themselves, and how design presupposes a continuity between the two.

Edited by: Margit van Schaik

What I am concerned with in this essay is

political and juridical advantage. That process

Innovation is certainly no good-in-itself. With

the problem of a conceptual interruption

is as old as Jericho whose inhabitants invented

this I mean a good that is good without

in the continuity between imitation and

the city wall 9,000 years ago to protect their

reference to some higher or further good. It

innovation. The thesis that will be defended

exclusive claim to a scarce commodity in a

is not that we can sensibly or convincingly

is that any ability to learn and explore and

desert, namely water. What is probably just

say that we innovate for innovation’s sake. If

therefore to design must presuppose a

as old is the way some, often those who have

we say that someone is innovative, we are

continuity between those two concepts.

an advantage to protect, present the world as

certainly paying her a compliment but for the

they find it as a fait accompli, a ‘just so’ story that

compliment to stick we would need more.

René Girard convincingly argued that to

somehow justifies the status quo and seeks

What improvement did she bring about?

innovate, as we commonly understand the

to keep things stable and in place. During

How did the innovation make things better?

verb, came to be seen in the positive light

the hegemony of Christianity in Europe for

We innovate in order to achieve a greater

it is seen in today only after the model of

instance, all innovation was, according to

good. It would be silly to say: I see innovation

God’s perfection was discarded in favour of

Girard, looked upon as destructive to the

as the ultimate reward. There is no doubt

the more dynamic model of technological

perfection of God’s creation.

‘progress’ and ‘perfectibility’.1 It was the

Innovation has become a selfevident necessity, apparently.

consistent improvement of technology that

But all that has changed, innovation has

gave new impetus to the age-old economic

become a self-evident necessity, apparently.

model whereby those who had an artisanal or

That is not to say that the word is free of a

material advantage made a secret of it so that

certain aftertaste. Its overuse in slogans

they could derive the benefits of an exclusive

advertising this university or that company

privilege of use. In this way the Venetian

has made many people understandably

glass-blowers protected the secrets of their

fed up with the word. It is everywhere, the

that innovation is a virtue under certain

extraordinary craft; in this way the masons of

word is pushy, glib and quite frankly too

conditions, but it must serve a purpose

the middle ages protected the secrets of the

much concerned with the money to be made

beyond itself; we innovate in order to . . .

pointed arch, the rib and the flying buttress;

in the unattractive world of cut and thrust

improve our technology, improve our social

in this way the inhabitants of Çatalhüyük in

competition. But here we have to be careful. If

institutions, to become rich, to have fun,

Turkey some 7,000 years ago sought to protect

we were to turn against the idea of innovation

because we enjoy the process of designing

the secret of their source of natural obsidian

what would we be turning away from? And

and improving things, etcetera.

glass, which they exported to the four corners

why, with the birth of modernity, did we so

Innovation would not be needed if we would

of their known world. To learn the secrets was

tortuously turn away from imitation as an

be able to say, with conviction, that our world

akin to being initiated into a cult. Imitation

intrinsic good? It might be worthwhile to look

is perfect as it is. In fact, if we were foolhardy

was a sacred act. A technological or material

at our ordinary use of language here to test

enough to say that at this moment and tie to

advantage gives an economical and perhaps

some of our assumptions.

it the idea that we need do nothing to change,

military advantage and these in turn lead to a

we would be sure to destroy the world as



we know it. We have ourselves created the

to mental exhaustion or atrophy and to give

The problem is not imitation itself, but

conditions that make innovation a necessity

up on our quest of ceaseless innovation.

rather what is being imitated, how it is

a posteriori. The irony is that it is precisely

Those who imitate are dismissed by others

being imitated and what this says about us

our innovative minds that got us into that

as no longer able to think for themselves.

in the minds of others. The metaphysics of

predicament. We now need to innovate to

Imitators are thought of as not autonomous,

imitation is complicated, very subtle and

survive our earlier innovations and their

they have given themselves over to walking

rich in potential hypocrisy. Part of the reason

effects. We could have quite happily survived

in the shadow of their models. And even

we get ourselves into such a muddle about

for millennia in the way we exploited the

the models find this irksome if they are

imitation is that we do not have a clear model

earth before the emergence of modern science

not paid copyright. The problem with this

of how imitation fits into the bigger picture of

and technology, but there is no longer a way

commonplace view is that it is banal and itself

learning. How then can we restore our own

back: we need further innovation to survive in

the product of uncritical imitation. Ironically,

awareness of the continuity that always exists

a world that, as far as our habitat is concerned,

we imitate each other’s norms and values

between imitation and innovation, whatever

has been brought to the edge of disaster by our

with a vengeance whenever we look down

we think, and show that the one cannot in

very urge to innovate. The important point to

on imitation. We have imitated each other’s

fact do without the other? Girard rightly

make is that innovation can be shown to be

dislike for imitation without really having

points out that imitation, when looked at

a necessity a posteriori: because the world is like it is, we now need to innovate to flourish, that is, to stay alive, happy and healthy. We might even call innovation a necessary evil in that innovation has brought us to the abyss and now, standing at the edge of the abyss (just to overdramatize the image for the sake

historically, appears to be a necessary condition

Those who imitate are dismissed by others as no longer able to think for themselves.

for innovation. It is important to familiarize yourself with something thoroughly through imitation before you can even hope to innovate. He cites, among other things, the clear example of the Japanese who, after the Second World War started by copying the

of romantic effect) we look to innovation to

technology they found in Europe to become

show us a safe way forward.

one of the most innovative economies of taken stock of what we are doing. The fact is

the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. How would this

Another anomaly that Girard’s essay shows

that we are all a little two-faced when it comes

have worked? To get a clearer idea about the

up is a conceived discontinuity between

to such things. We positively encourage

process of imitation let me tell you a personal

imitation and innovation. In the time of

imitation as long as those we advise are busy


Thomas a Kempis it was considered good

copying the right models. We are very happy

to imitate a model of perfection. Thomas a

for people to imitate a particular procedure

I have a colleague who is extremely good

Kempis encouraged us to imitate the way

if it is the right one. Most blatantly, we are

at sketching 3d objects that we use in our

that Christ lived his life.2 Today the politics of

ecstatic when someone is happy to adopt our

discussions when supervising the students of

imitation and innovation has become more

ideology regarding a particular topic.

our graduation studio. The sketches are neat,

complex. To imitate is, apparently, to admit

elegant, clear and informative, little works [1]

of art, the purpose of which is to illustrate

which I had previously thought made up

You could say then that imitation describes

and explore possibilities. A sheet of paper

part of the sketch I was trying to copy. But

a collection of activities that starts with

scrawled on by him will generally show a

watching him draw shows me how much of

the act of trying to copy, to repeat. But do

few alternatives thought up as the discussion

his sketches are in fact completed in my mind.

not underestimate this activity, it is where

unfolds, regarding solutions about where, for

Now when I try to sketch like him, it becomes

analysis and critical reflection take their most

example, to put a door or a window, how a

an interesting mess. At first it does not work

important first steps. The appropriate critical

set of stairs might be arranged, how a façade

so well, but as I persevere, it is not that my

question to ask yourself when copying is ‘Did

could be composed. It is not easy to copy the

sketches begin to look like those by him

I get it right?’ To get an answer you will need

sketches. To do this I take out my pencil, look

(if only!), but rather that my own sketches

to analyse the object to be copied by asking

carefully at the form in front of me and copy

acquire a confidence, clarity and structure

questions about what it is you are presented

those forms I see and select those lines and

they never had before.

with in terms of form, colour, proportions, texture, light and shade, and so forth. At this

surfaces that I feel help to shape what I want to shape. In order to make a successful copy

Can we generalize this? I believe we can.

point you are looking at the object as it appears

of my colleague’s sketches, I have to look

Imitation and innovation are both ways

to you. A next level of complexity is reached

analytically and critically at the forms that

of typifying explorative excursions into

when you ask the critical question: ‘Is that the

have been generated by him and lie there,

our environment. The exploratory process

only way it might work, are there alternatives,

visible to me, on the surface of the sheet of

ricochets between an analytical stance asking

why do we need such things anyway, what

paper. If I am very keen, I might even consider

a ‘What have we got here?’ kind of question,

is the good they are trying to serve, can we

the way the sketches are composed on the

to a critical stance that asks a ‘What do I think

arrive at that good any other way?’ To answer

page and take all that into account. When I

of it?’ kind of question, to eventually reach

these you need to ask analytical questions

compare the result, his sketches are elegant

a normative stance that might ask: ‘What

such as: ‘What is this bit for and how does it

and crisp and mine are hesitant and botched.

should I do with this knowledge?’ Needless

connect with that bit? Why is it shaped that

But then, in my disappointment, I try another

to say, this process of exploration is rarely

way? How does it all work and why does it

approach. Instead of concentrating on the

linear in a neat and tidy way. I think the word

work that way?’ This is the point at which

end product, I now watch him sketch. I no

ricochet is well chosen because it models

innovation enters the equation. Soon enough

longer look only at the forms he generates

our attentive and selective gaze, which picks

you will be happily absorbed in thinking of

with his pen, but I look critically at the way

out and focuses on what is of interest to it at

ways to improve a particular system or object

he holds his pen, the angle at which he holds

any given moment. This gaze moves about

relative to some point of view. When you

it, I look at the movements he makes, how

from one point to another and might switch

then start questioning the point of view from

his hands and his eyes work together. I am

from one way of looking, say analytically, to

which you take your analytical and critical

absorbed in studying his movements and his

another way of looking, say critically and so

stance, you arrive at a yet more involved level

conversation, what he is doing and how he is

gradually complete the picture.

of abstraction. At this point you might even

doing it. Suddenly I discover that he leaves

decide to do things altogether differently,

out information that I thought essential and

decide to pursue different goods. It is at such



intersections that we often speak of paradigm

my goal in life is to make the most exact copy

correct those whose analysis is slovenly and


of the Mona Lisa. And while he is absorbed in

whose critique is unhappy and whose norms

this task and books some success on the way,

cannot be properly justified. All phases and

Now the important bit is that we cannot

he is flourishing and if he succeeds he will

aspects of imitation and innovation can be

dismiss any part of the process as ‘bad’

triumph. And who are we to question his goal

useful in our efforts to flourish. Imitation

or unimportant. It is important for me to

in life? The same can be said for the innovator.

has acquired a bad name, but not because

familiarize myself with the shapes and

While he is absorbed in his task and booking

imitation is a bad activity in the formation

configurations of the sketches I find attractive

the occasional success we can say that he is

of a healthy and flourishing human being,

enough to wish to learn from. At the same

flourishing. He is enjoying himself. And if he

it is rather that imitation, like innovation,

time I discover it to be useful to look not only

succeeds he will triumph. And that is what it

should not be seen as an end in itself. When

at the forms themselves and their disposition

is all about.

they are, things become a little silly. When

on the paper, but to also observe the process of the master at work. By trying to do what he does I fail to become like him, but I do learn a lot and discover a new me. Now, as I continue to practise, I start exploring hopeful paths in my own development and frequently test them against other examples. Perhaps one day I shall become a great and original sketcher. We can run through that process of repetition to innovation on various sorts of

we disapprove of imitation we disapprove

We should not worship at either altar, instead we should learn to analyse and criticise in copying, imitating and innovating.

things. We can do it with objects and systems,

of imitation as an end in itself, which is justified. When we disapprove of innovation we disapprove of it being seen as an end in itself, which is quite right. The only proper end of human beings is to create a world in which we can flourish and live good lives. This requires us to understand ourselves, our bodies and our environment in their relation to each other. We should undertake to copy, imitate and innovate without shame and

we can do it with processes and procedures

If, as Girard argues, we used to worship at

always consider critically what it is we want

and we can do it with ideologies. In every one

the altar of imitation to vilify innovation and

and how we want to achieve it in order to

of them we go through the whole process. But

we now worship at the altar of innovation

flourish and for that we need to start talking

what happens if we get stuck on one stage?

and vilify imitation, we are doing something


There is one more point to make before we

that might fairly be described as absurd,

can call our model complete. It is that none of

stupid and destructive. We pay a high price

the excellences we pursue as we imitate and

for our stupidity, not least that of hypocrisy.

innovate are a good in themselves. Innovation

We should not worship at either altar, instead

is no better than imitating or copying, in itself.

we should learn to analyse and criticise

They become virtues only in the service of

in copying, imitating and innovating. We

some greater good. It is possible, theoretically

should not look down on copying, imitation

at least, for a copyist to say quite sincerely:

or innovation, we should gently and kindly

1 René Girard, ‘Innovation and Repetition’, in: Robert Doran (ed.), Mimesis and Theory, Essays on Literature and Criticism, 1953-2005 (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008). 2 Thomas a Kempis, De imitatione Christi (1441 and many later editions).


Modelling Design Processes A collection of typical design processes by project tutors The next two pages show a collection of ten diagrams that represent the design process, drawn by tutors from different architecture institutions in the Netherlands. To give an idea on the great amount of ideas on good design processes, Archiprint decided to collect and present them in a way that enables the reader to make comparisons. The collection is meant as a source of discussion, therefore an extensive analysis and interpretation has been omitted. However, a few recurring themes can be distinguished. First, the most recurring idea is iteration, which represents designing as a non-linear process, whereby there is a need to go back to earlier decisions. In some way this idea contradicts with the idea of diverging and converging, here there is an increase and towards the end a decrease of design options during the process. This decrease of options is also visible in the diagrams that represent how the design becomes more concrete towards the end, and consequently the space to make decisions shrinks. Despite these recurring aspects, however, the diagrams differ in many ways. Apparently architects do have ideas of what a good design process is, but are quite personal.

Edited by: Wendy Verhoef


Wouter Hilhorst

Pierijn van der Putt Alijd van Doorn

Wouter Hilhorst

Alper Alkan

Arjen Oosterman

Pierijn van der Putt

Reinder Rutgers

Alijd van Doorn

Reinder Rutgers

Pierijn van der Putt


Ruurd Roorda Jarrik Ouburg

Alper Alkan Ralph Brodruck

Arjen Oosterman

no predeter Ruurd Roorda

Tom Bergevoet

Tom Bergevoet Alper Alkan

Ralph Brod Jarrik Ouburg

Alijd van Doorn (Delft University of

Tom Bergevoet (Academy of Architecture




Designing is an iterative process that largely

The spiral of Zeisel has an iterative character

The design process looks like circles that

consists of divergent thinking. In this way the

and is based on new insights gained during

move bit by bit towards the end goal. Every

designer can alter his focus and collect the

the design process. One must first properly

time you’ve drawn something you should

data he or she needs.

analyse the problem before looking for

step away from it and reflect. Does the






solutions. Then, as the designer gets closer

drawing fit your intentions? Intuition plays

Wouter Hilhorst (Eindhoven University of

to the solution, the space to make decisions

an important role in these decision-taking




of all the relevant information. Subsequently,

Jarrik Ouburg (Academy of Architecture

Ruurd Roorda (Eindhoven University of

this information is structured and a direction



is determined, although the direction might


change in a later phase of reflection. Towards



the end, the design becomes more concrete.



The design process starts with the collection






converging, with


In the beginning of design process, I am in


a hyper-associative state and I would like to



integrate virtually everything in the design.

concentration in my opinion.1 This means a

After some time I am going to start with the

Pierijn van der Putt (Delft University of

designer first has to open up to new ideas,

form in which I intuitively proceed, applying


and then has to adopt a certain stance. At this

and testing certain ideas and rejecting others.

Designing is an iterative process that requires

point the design concept is determined.


reflection on earlier decisions. Still, there is






ineffective concepts need to be out of my

some linear element in the design process

Ralph Brodruck (Eindhoven University of

to keep it manageable, often in the form of


different working scales.

A good design process is not predetermined! There is no action plan that can be used for

Reinder Rutgers (Eindhoven University of

every project. As the designer is working on


the design, ideas often change.

The designer starts with islands of knowledge that he has obtained in previous experiences.

Arjen Oosterman (Academy of Architecture

These islands function as a foundation for


generated ideas, and they are expanded and

Designing is an iterative process that goes

connected until the design is finished.

up and down. The designer is constantly testing and evaluating new ideas, which can subsequently be implemented in the design.

head. 1 Jarrik Ouburg, De witte ruimte / The White Space, inaugural address held on 6 September 2012 (Amsterdam: Architectura & Natura, 2013), 8



Prescribed Design Processes: The End of Creativity? An interview with Lucas Verweij, design critic The main field of Lucas Verweij, a Berlin-based design critic, is design in its broadest sense. His educational roots and first practical experiences lie in the field of architecture, as he studied construction at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht and public space at the Design Academy of Eindhoven. He founded his own design studio Schie 2.0 in 1996. Furthermore, he was dean of the Academy for Architecture and Urban Design in Rotterdam. Nowadays, Verweij writes for offline and online architecture magazines and tutors students in designing and communicating their designs at various design schools throughout Europe.

Edited and translated by: Eva Gutscoven, Jasper Brus

Verweij noticed how publications in the

clear-cut what design was about. During the

There are many books about architecture

design industry seem to agree on how

last 20 years, however, the scope of what we

and design, but most fail to describe the

design processes work, even though there

understand as design has become incredibly

process with greater precision than these

is little agreement on what designing

broad. Nowadays, there is experience design,

five distinctive phases. We can intuitively

actually is. As a reaction to Verweij’s article

social design, and approximately more than

feel that this is a simplified representation,

‘Prescribed Design Processes Are for Bad

20 other branches. And ever since design was

but nonetheless, there is a certain consensus

Designers’, Archiprint asked him to explain

separated from industrial manufacturing

on what a design process encompasses.

his perspective on the subject, based on his

processes, it has been all over the place. It has

When I reflected on these representations,

experiences as a designer and his presence

become unclear what design is. Consequently,

I began to realize that I and the designers I

in the ‘world of design’. What is the role of

we – designers – believe that nobody knows

am surrounded with do not work like this.

creativity during design activities? And in

what design is, but think we know what a

Creativity is not something that is locked

which kind of contexts and conditions can

design process is.

up in the middle phase, it is present during


the whole process. Many representations

it thrive? If you look critically at what is often

of the design process fail to fully recognize

considered to be a design process, you can

this creative dimension and the complexity

see that what you’re looking at is actually a

it brings. When you talk to architects, you

Design, as a discipline, is really difficult to

project management process. More precisely,

realize that this is true. When I worked

describe. Compared to design, architecture is

a design process is considered to be a project

for Willem Jan Neutelings, he told me that

more thoroughly defined. Not everyone can

management process with an element of

they once drove to a client with a model

call himself an architect, while everyone can

creativity in the middle. In general, if you

in the back of the car. The model fell, and,

call himself a designer. And in practice, there

break up the design process into different

on the spot, they decided to present it the

are often relatively concrete ideas of what

phases, you can distinguish five clear phases

other way around. Everyone knows these

architecture is. In the field of design, you

(see figure 1).

kind of stories, and they do not fit in any

How would you define a design process?

don’t have anything like this, nor is there a regulated mandate. Right






design formed an alliance with industrial production, hence the term industrial design. Industrial designers designed products that were industrially made and mass produced. So, when we – from a contemporary perspective – try to understand the meaning of design in this period, it may seem pretty

[1] The five stages of the architypal design process



known description of the design process. In

and so on. We attach so much value to

to be open to the unexpected, to work

addition to this, designers agree that when

creativity, but we don’t really have an idea

without a plan and to accept accidents and

you don’t open up to these kind of moments,

of what it actually is. Therefore, trying to

arbitrariness. So, for everyone who already

you are a bad designer. We consider such

gain a better understanding of creativity is

knows beforehand precisely how he is going

moments as an essential part of design. You

worthwhile. What is this? In what are we

to spend his vacation and how he will do his

should be open to the unexpected and to

investing so much money? Of what do we

grocery shopping: the more you know about

taking alternative mental actions. The design

have such high expectations?

how things will go, the smaller the opening

process is much more chaotic, unstructured and unplanned than is told and taught to us. Besides, there are as many design processes as there are people and this is a good thing, too. Why are design processes this chaotic and unpredictable? According to me the answer has something to do with creativity.

for creativity.

Creativity is not something that is locked up in the middle phase but it is present during the whole process

Why should we attempt to further explore the

What you can learn from research is that creative people don’t earn that much compared to people who have other college degrees. At the same time, these ‘poorly paid’ designers are happier than their college counterparts with higher incomes. This implies that creativity has a bigger

creative aspect of the design process?

cohesion with happiness and satisfaction. So design, and consequently creativity, is all over

It is sometimes said that creative people are

I am currently writing a book about design.

the place. But what does ‘being creative’ actually

more resilient because they can better cope

Its relevance lies in the fact that the creative


with uncertainties. And this, of course, is

industry is growing really fast. Some people

very important in the design process.

even say that it is the economy of the

First of all, according to me, the drawings

future. There are big European subsidiary

or little paintings in the art academy don’t

programmes to contribute to the flourishing

tell me anything about creativity. I think that

of the creative industry. The strategy behind

creativity is something that is independent

this is that when everything is, more cheaply,

of artistic expression. I was not very good

produced in China and engineered in India,

at sketching, and this was a problem, since

the thing of distinctive added value we have

I wanted to go to the design academy. So, I

in Western Europe is creativity.

attended drawing courses. I became better at it, but I never truly excelled. Talent for

The power of a creative designer is that, every time, he opens himself up again to another manner of solving a problem

The value attached to creativity increases

drawing and sketching is not the same

daily. Nowadays, we think that we will solve

thing as creativity. Being creative is about

Is there any way that a person can enhance his

all the big world problems with creativity,

being bold enough to think differently, to

or her creative capability? Or are there certain

like the smog problems, mobility problems,

do something that is not socially accepted,

conditions in which creativity has more chances?

Learning to be creative is difficult, but the

project management is needed to function

personal agenda or obsession. For Zaha

context and the conditions that support it

in practice, but design and creativity should

Hadid, this was her formal vocabulary. And

are manufacturable. In a free society, or a

never be limited by a prescribed process.

people knew what they got when they hired

democracy, you will find more creativity.

And in practice, a question is never the

her. It was her right, and you certainly don’t

But even within free societies, there are

same. The design process will be completely

have to be a starchitect to claim that right as

differences, I think. For example, a less

different if the commission comes from a


strict household can already provide a

big company or from – for example – the

better environment for creativity to thrive. Also, cultural values that limit the role of the individual are not favourable for creativity. For example, in some cultures it is better accepted to acknowledge your own ego, while other cultures are more focused

Creativity is something that is independent of artistic expression

on the group or family. Individuals in the latter group will try to avoid conflicts and sometimes limit their input in collaborations.

Serpentine Gallery in Milan. And even in

This is not good for creative processes.

case of the same commission, sometimes one can be interested in a certain material

‘Prescribed design processes are for bad designers’

and sometimes one can focus on a specific

is one of the statements you make in an article on

method. On the other hand, there has to

Dezeen. What is the reasoning behind this?

be some structure: When do you meet with clients? When and how do you carry out

Some people say that they only became good

experiments in the factory?

architects after developing a kind of fixed process, or method. They then plead for a

But even in this context of practice, I think

fixed design process as a supreme ability.

that we, as designers, need to claim the right

Well, if a design process could be modelled

to refurnish the design process over and

and thus simulated, then there would be

over again, depending on the question and,

no room left for creativity. The power of a

equally important, on your own fascinations.

creative designer is that he opens himself up,

Letting the organization of the process

over and over, to another manner of solving

depend solely on the question of the client

a problem. This is something different than

is still too obedient, or too craven, maybe.

project management, which has a regulated

Instead, a powerful designer refurbishes

form of dealing with problems. Of course,

the process continuously according to a

1 The architypal design process, from: EDEO, Design Thinking for Educators (2013).



Sense in Simplicity A conversation with MVRDV-architect Klaas Hofman

Klaas Hofman has been working at MVRDV for eight years, and is currently both architect and senior project leader. The projects he has worked on include the Roskilde Rock Museum, Cultural Centre Zaanstad and urban projects such as the Master Plan Floriade 2022 in Almere and S(L)IM CITY in Moscow. Archiprint is curious about the role of the design process in the work of MVRDV, especially since their diagrams seem to suggest a connection to both their buildings and the design process. Nevertheless, the exact use and the connection of these schemes to the actual complexity of the design process is still rather unclear to us. Klaas Hofman explains the function of the design process diagram in their work.

Written by: Jesper Baltussen, Luuk van den Elzen and Justin de Witte

Nigel Cross, the writer that inspired us to

subsequently used to create and compose an

also communicate the work we do. Apart

choose our theme, states: ‘When designers

innovative whole that establishes something

from publishing and organizing lectures,

– especially skilled, successful designers –

unexpected. The strength of MVRDV is

they also provide our customers and the

talk spontaneously about what they do,

thereby to have fun in interpreting this data,

public with information about how we

they talk almost exclusively about the

to make sure the process will not result in a

work. Developers and other commercial

outcomes, not the activities.’ We wonder

high-tech, largely complicated building that

parties receive a booklet that explains the

what you think, do you agree?

is composed as a collection of parameters.

MVRDV methodology. It illustrates our

We always aim for a simple design process

research-oriented way of working and

I disagree 100 per cent with this statement,

that results in a clear building. With simple

the use of diagrams, something they will

especially for our office. I do have to add

we mean: easy to explain and motivate. It

consequently expect from us.

to this that I don’t precisely know how

should be explainable in a diagram, no

this works at other architecture offices,

personal aesthetic judgements or biases that

What are the consequences of working with such

but for us I would say that the process is

are not clearly and logically justified should

a diagram?

as important as the result. We do, in fact,

be involved in arriving at such a design.

communicate and talk about this very

Well, as I said, the diagrams really are a way

process. As part of this, a lot of our time is

to clarify an idea, as opposed to renderings

spent on research: in studying options and looking at all possible solutions that are applicable to a brief. This always results in

For us, the process is as important as the result.

plenty of options. Although this sometimes

that aim to give more of a general impression or atmosphere; they really go hand in hand. Complications happen when one is viewed while the other is ignored by the reader. Our project The Cloud, in Korea, for example,

leads to discussions about the sense of such extensive documentation, we all realize

So the diagram is used to simplify, thereby


that such a study, researching such a broad

creating an understandable process that does

diagrams that illustrated our building were,

variety of options, is part of the DNA of

not involve any vague, intangible steps. Is it

by a small group of readers, overlooked and


true, then, that the diagram can also be read as

only the images were taken into account. As

something that supports the result, something

a result the project was perceived as two

I would like to think that we work with a

design-oriented that provides insight to the

towers with an explosion in between them,

strong sense of intuition on the one hand,

result, maybe even ‘sells’ the result in a way?

while the schemes we provided explained

and an extensive amount of input and data





that this cloud was the result of a process

to guide that intuition on the other. The

I think it does both. The diagram can indeed

in which we wanted to design a village-like

term Datascapes has been used to identify

help to sell a certain design. We have our

atmosphere, a liveable neighbourhood, in

these amounts of data: everything that

own PR and business department, which

such a highly urban context, something that

adds important knowledge to the design

is constantly obtaining new commissions,

would normally be impossible because of

process is eagerly applied. The intuitive is

new projects and new customers. They

the small footprint of such towers. The



village was lifted for a nice view, and by

yet our earlier projects seem more complex

The simplification of a design process does,

taking small ‘bites’ out of it we created a

to me than the projects we work on today.

of course, play an important role, for it is

multitude of terraces that resulted in the

I would say this is something we need to

impossible to tell everything. In some cases

pixelated cloud-like shape.

reflect on, to see if it is an intuitive answer to

therefore, diagrams are made afterwards,

an architecture that is becoming more and

to show the simplified design process.

One could almost state that the diagram was

more complex because of developments

This is done in order to keep track of the

even more important than the iconic image,

in technology; almost making all of these

concepts in your schemes: Are they still

which unfortunately was read differently than

things simply easier to digest. But, whether

understandable and justifiable? A design

intended and thus seen as a provocative image

this is a result of the avoidance or the

should not be too complex to explain. When

by the public.

encasement of this complexity, I dare not say.

I am working on a project, and notice that

Indeed, and similar discussions gather

The Almere Oosterwold project (see fig.

in eight comprehensible steps, I think

around the function of the rendering.

1) is in fact a good example to illustrate

something is wrong.

Although, of course, it’s great to see the

the function of encasing the complexity

ongoing debate that questions the role

that accompanies a design process. This

of the rendering, the discussion of the

project needed diagrams to make the

use of trees and playing children as a

design comprehensible to the municipality.

‘happiness filter’, I also think the rendering

The blue stripe, for instance, represents

has a different function than the diagram.


We often generate such images at the end


of a project, for a different purpose. The

At this very moment the project is being

diagrams should always be included. It is

implemented; people are building their

an important rule here, a project without

houses and roads while trying to organize

any diagrams cannot be.

their garbage collection systems.

So, given that a design process becomes too

I do, however, think it is interesting, to

complex to capture in a scheme, would MVRDV

oppose all possibilities and to take limitation

then take a step back, reconsider and try to do

and simplification as a challenge. The

it differently or do you abstract that complexity

Markthal (Market Hall) is becoming an icon,

into an understandable representation?

a known form within the skyline of the city,

I am not able to explain what I have done


discussion and





and is therefore a good example of a simple That is hard to say, for I think this office has

thought. The building has become a diagram:

developed and changed over time. I have

How to make a hall with a programme, and

been working here for eight years now and

how to use the space underneath? (see fig. 2)


Sometimes you want to add a certain step

Well, that schematic approach of parameters

Will MVRDV ever design a building that cannot

that does not fit the storyline. The term

is actually continued throughout the process

be captured in a diagram?

storyline is used a lot here. Every design

at many levels. In that sense it can therefore

should consist of a clear storyline, which

become complex again. As for the Glazen

I would like to invert the question, would

starts at A and ends with Z.

Boerderij, different concepts are embedded

MVRDV ever design a building that is too

in one project: that of the farm materialized

much of a diagram? The danger that would

Then what happens next? The amounts of data

in glass, that of the print, the ‘average’ farm

consequently arise is a building that is too

have been considered before. At the Glazen

and also the resulting scale of this farm.

cliché, or too literal.

Boerderij (Glass Farm) these amounts of data,

These are all separate sub-concepts that, in

the so-called Datascapes, were also an important

the end, blend in well together.

Indeed, the avoidance of a populist Las Vegas

stimulus of the process. We have learned that

iconology, ‘the duck’, that radiates easily consumable

all farms in Schijndel were measured, and the

messages to the public is important in your work.

interpretation of this amount of data was: ‘Let us compose an average Schijndel-farm.’ This goes into the rational on the one hand, and the intuitive on the other. Bernard Leupen also discusses these two aspects of design in his article. Do you think it is the intuitive interpretation that allows you to simplify your process and building?

When I am working on a project, and notice that I am not able to explain what I have done in eight comprehensible steps, I think something is wrong.

It is surprising that some of our projects are on the edge of the building as diagram. Nevertheless, we provide our buildings with just the right ambiguity, which allows us to tell the story in a convincing way. As for the Roskilde Rockmuseum in Denmark, the shape could have been anything. An actual storyline became the subject of our storyline-like design method: our answer to the question of what a rock

Is the eventual building more a representation

museum should look like was found in the

of the scheme, or is the scheme a representation

experience of being a rock star, not only in

of the building?

the building itself, but also in the journey towards and through the building. We


I think this differs per project. For the

used a sketch that displayed the arrival

Market Hall, the scheme was very present

in the limousine, the red carpet, signing

from the start. The idea and the form

autographs, the elevator as a career-boost

both sit well in the scheme: when the two

upwards, on top of the world and finally

buildings are connected at the top, a space

‘life after fame’. For all those moments

in the form of a hall is created.

within the building our storyline was key.



The eventual shape is the iconographic

panels lying around. The area we found

the festival site, and on it, three buildings,

translation of that feeling into mass and

was already inhabited by youths that

the ‘band members’ were performing. This


were hanging around there. We wanted

was important throughout our process.

to maintain that image of this rough

The bass player is a bit bashful and more

environment where the future visitors of

in the background, for instance. The type

the building feel at ease and comfortable.

of buildings also dictates how far to go in

The eventual shape is the iconographic translation of that feeling into mass and material.

your concept. When designing dwellings, An important starting point, therefore, was

the symbols need to be much more modest

to maintain the context of the building, also


to contrast with the environment as much

museum. Naturally, the latter also demands,

as possible. We didn’t want to just demolish

in a way, to be designed expressively.



Otherwise we would probably never have

Was this image a guiding principle throughout

surrounding halls needed to be preserved

won. In the end the rock star or lead singer

that design process from the beginning?

to support the activities that were already

was more of an overdone stereotype,








there beforehand. It was then that we came

with a shiny jacket, always standing in

Yes, the storyline was about an old concrete

up with the idea: the surrounding buildings

the foreground, which is, of course, quite

factory with old halls and rough concrete

symbolized the stage, the entire factory

literal. But the building contains just the right ambiguity, we didn’t physically shape our building as an oversized Mick Jagger!

1] Conceptual diagram Almere Oosterwolde © MVRDV. 2] Conceptual diagram Markthal Rotterdam © MVRDV. 3] Roskilde Rockmuseum in Denmark, Ragnarock, by MVRDV. Photo by Ossip van Duivenbode.



Understanding Design Thinking Nigel Cross Nigel Cross, emeritus professor of Design Studies at The Open University in the United Kingdom, spent most of his academic career on research into the processes that take place during design activity. In 1982 he published the article ‘Designerly Ways of Knowing’, in which he contrasts the way designers think with that of, for example, scientists. One of his latest works, Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work, is an accumulation of his findings, and served as a basis for this issue. In the following article he provides insights into the most interesting discoveries that have been done on the subject, both currently and throughout the twentieth century.

Edited by: Margit van Schaik


Extracts from: Nigel Cross, Design Thinking:

the artificial’.4 This view was significantly

practice – a ‘kind of knowing’, he argued,

Understanding How Designers Think and Work

challenged by Schön’s interpretation of

which is different from the knowledge found

(London: Berg, 2011)


professional ability as a reflective practice.

in textbooks. In his analysis of the case studies

Probably the most influential study of a

that provided the foundations for his theory,

Everyone can – and does – design. But

designer at work has been the one reported

he began with the assumption ‘that competent

although there is so much design activity

in his chapter on ‘Design as a Reflective

practitioners usually know more than they

going on in the world, the ways in which

Conversation with the Situation’, in a context

can say. They exhibit a kind of knowing-in-

people design were rather poorly understood

of architectural design. The influence of the

practice, most of which is tacit.’ He identified a

for a long time. Design ability has been

study is largely due to it being set within

cognitive process of reflection-in-action as the

regarded as something that perhaps many

his broader series of studies of professional

intelligence that guides ‘intuitive’ behaviour

people possess to some degree, but only a few

practice (ranging from psychotherapy to

in practical contexts of thinking-and-acting

people have a particularly strong design ‘gift’.

management) that he used to establish

– something like ‘thinking on your feet’. At

Even designers themselves are often not very

his theory of reflective practice, or ‘how

the heart of reflection-in-action is the ‘frame

good at explaining how they design. When

professionals think in action’. The study has

experiment’ in which the practitioner frames,

they talk spontaneously about what they

also been influential because Schön’s analysis

or poses a way of seeing the problematic

do, they talk almost exclusively about the

of what he observed is acute and sensitive;

situation at hand.

outcomes, not the activities.

both designers and design researchers (those with personal design experience) recognize

So in the early 1980s there was a significant

However, there has been a growing body of

the veracity of the analysis. What is surprising

shift in perspectives on design thinking, from

research into understanding design expertise

is that such an influential study is based on

criticizing the limitations of design cognition

and design cognition, or the nature of design

just one, partial example of design activity –

to recognizing its strengths and potential. The

thinking. The origins of this research-focus

and even that is not a ‘real’ design example,

emphasis changed from trying to formulate

on design thinking, lie in the attempts to

but is taken from observing an experienced

design as a science to recognizing the merits of

define design as a discipline in its own right

designer tutor a student in a university

the natural, ‘intuitive’ processes of designing.

in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Lawson

architectural design studio.

This was well represented in the work of


introduced the study of ‘how designers

Davies and Talbot,6 who studied the processes

think’,2 and a little later Rowe produced

Schön established his theory of reflective

of a large number of outstanding designers.

his studies of ‘design thinking’. Both were

practice as a counter to the prevailing theory

They summarized the characteristics that

predominantly addressing design thinking in

of technical rationality, or the constrained

seemed key to making these people successful


application of scientific theory and technique

in dealing constructively with uncertainty,

to practical problems. He was seeking a new

and the risks and opportunities that present

Previously, a dominant view in design

‘epistemology of practice’ that would help

themselves in the process of designing, as

research had been represented by Simon’s

explain and account for how competent


interpretation of design as a ‘science of

practitioners actually engage with their

One of the characteristics of these people is that they

are very open to all kinds of experience, particularly

some degree by everyone. What I attempted

which does not seem appropriate. It seems

influences relevant to their design problem. Their

to show is that design ability is a multifaceted

reasonable, therefore, to try to separate out

awareness is high. They are sensitive to nuances

cognitive skill. What I have also tried to show

design ability as a form of intelligence in its

in their internal and external environments. They

is that there are particular, ‘designerly’, ways

own right.

are ready, in many ways, to notice particular

of thinking and working, that set design apart

coincidences in the rhythm of events which other

from other forms of cognitive skill.9

people, because they are less aware and less open

From case studies of design activity we have seen that good designers have a

to their experience, fail to notice. These designers

In fact, it seems possible to make a reasonable

way of thinking that involves operating

are able to recognise opportunities in the way

claim that design ability is a form of natural

seamlessly across different levels of detail,

coincidences offer prospects and risks for attaining

intelligence, of the kind that psychologist

from high-level systemic goals to low-level

some desirable goal or grand scheme of things.

Howard Gardner identified. Gardner’s view

physical principles. Rather than solving

They identify favourable conjectures and become

is that there is not just one form of intelligence

merely ‘the problem as given’, they apply

deeply involved, applying their utmost efforts,

(as conventionally identified in forms of

their intelligence to the wider context and

sometimes ‘quite forgetting’ other people and/or

‘intelligence tests’), but several, relatively

suggest imaginative, apposite solutions that

things only peripherally involved.

autonomous human intellectual competences.

resolve conflicts and uncertainties. They

He distinguished six forms of intelligence:

have cognitive skills of problem framing, of

So, for outstanding designers, at least,


gathering and structuring problem data and

design thinking is an absorbing, demanding,


creating coherent patterns from the data that

sometimes obsessional activity.


indicate ways of resolving the issues and


suggest possible solution concepts. Design


intelligence involves an intense, reflective


interaction with representations of problems


Design Intelligence


In an early paper reflecting on some of the

Aspects of design ability seem to be spread

and solutions, and an ability to shift easily and

first studies and investigations into design

through these various forms of intelligence

rapidly between concrete representations and

activity and designer behaviour, I tried to

in a way that does not always seem entirely

abstract thought, between doing and thinking.

begin to clarify and categorize the nature

satisfactory. For example, spatial abilities in

Good designers also apply constructive

of design thinking. I summarized design

problem-solving are classified by Gardner

thinking not only in their individual work but

thinking as comprising abilities of resolving

under spatial intelligence, whereas many

also in collaboration in teamwork.




other aspects of practical problem-solving

focussed cognitive strategies, employing

ability (including examples from engineering)

abductive or appositional thinking and using



The nature of design intelligence becomes

non-verbal modelling media. I suggested that

intelligence. So in this classification, for

particularly – and tragically – highlighted

these abilities are highly developed in skilled

example, the inventor’s competence is placed

in rare cases where it is impaired by

designers, but also that they are possessed in

together with that of the dancer and the actor,

neurological damage in the brain, such as







through a stroke. One of these cases was Start State

Preliminary Design



reported by cognitive scientists Goel and Grafman, who studied an architect who had had a seizure, associated with a meningioma tumour in his right prefrontal cortex, a region


(c) “Circulation Pattern”

(i) Section

(j) “Final Proposal”

at the front of the brain that is associated with high-level cognitive functions.11 Before his


attack, this person had practiced successfully

Control State Space

as an architect. Goel and Grafman compared his post-attack design ability with that of


(d) “Social Organization & Placement”

a ‘control’ subject, another architect with

(g) “Better, Proposal 2”, Keep wall conditions, rearrange middle

similar education and design experience, on being given a relatively simple task of redesigning a laboratory space. The sequences of design sketches that the two subjects produced are shown in Figures 1 and

(f) “Proposal 1” Patient

(e) “Permanent & Transient Spaces, and Circulation”

(h) “Doesn’t Work” State Space

[1] The design sketches made by the healthy (control subject) architect

2. Each began by making a survey drawing of the existing laboratory and its furniture. The healthy control subject then produced a coherent series of sketches, beginning with

Start State

abstracted considerations of circulation and organization, then developing proposals and refining the preferred one. The neurological patient produced three separate, basic and (b) Idea 1


Patient State Space

incomplete proposals, finishing with a ‘final proposal’ that was still inadequate and incomplete.

Start State

(c) Idea 2

The differences in the thinking processes of the two subjects became clear in graphs of the amount of time each devoted to different cognitive activities, as revealed by their

(d) Idea 3


(b) Idea 1

(e) “Final Proposal”

[2] The design sketches made by the architect with brain damage

(c) Idea 2

‘think aloud’ comments made during the experiments. The control subject focused






periodical returns to this. He then moved to

In short, the patient simply could not perform

Like other forms of intelligence and ability

the elatively simple design task.

it may be possessed, or may be manifested

‘preliminary design’ and on to ‘refinement’

in performance, at higher levels by some

and ‘detailing’. The graph of the control

In this unhappy case we can see exposed some

people than by others. And like other forms

subject clearly showed a controlled but

of the considerable complexity that there is in

of intelligence and ability, design intelligence

complex pattern of activities, with overlap

normal design thinking, and evidence that the

is not simply a given ‘talent’ or ‘gift’, but can

and quick transitions between activities. In

brain has high level cognitive functions that

be trained and developed. Otherwise, what

contrast, the patient subject spent a huge

control or process activities that are essential

would be the point of having design schools?

amount of time on attempting ‘problem

aspects of design ability and that contribute

structuring’, and only small amounts of time

to design thinking as a form of intelligence.

on ‘preliminary design’ and ‘refinement’. Studies of brain activities have identified The experimenters reported that:

specific areas of the right hemisphere of the brain as being active during design

The patient understood the task and even

thinking.12 The two hemispheres of the

observed that ‘this is a very simple problem’. His

brain, right and left, appear to have different

sophisticated architectural knowledge base was

cognitive specialisms. Neuroscience studies

still intact and he used it quite skilfully during

tend to confirm that the right hemisphere of

the problem structuring phase. However, the

the brain is more specialized in spatial and

patient’s problem-solving behaviour differed from

constructional tasks, in aesthetic perception

the control’s behaviour in the following ways: (1)

and emotions. The left hemisphere is more

he was unable to make the transition from problem

specialized in language abilities and verbal

structuring to problem solving; (2) as a result

reasoning. Damage to the left hemisphere

preliminary design did not start until two-thirds

often results in the loss of some speech

of the way into the session; (3) the preliminary

functions, whereas damage to the right

design phase was minimal and erratic, consisting

hemisphere, as we have seen, can result in the

of three independently generated fragments; (4)

loss of design ability.

there was no progression or lateral development of these fragments; (5) there was no carry-over of

A view of design thinking as a distinct form

abstract information into the preliminary design

of intelligence does not necessarily mean that

or later phases; and (6) the patient did not make it

some people ‘have it’ and some people do

to the detailing phase.

not. Design ability is something that everyone has, to some extent, because it is embedded in our brains as a natural cognitive function.

1 L. Bruce Archer, ‘Whatever Became of Design Methodology?’, Design Studies, vol. 1 (1979) no. 1, 17-20; and Nigel Cross, ‘Designerly Ways of Knowing’, Design Studies, vol. 3 (1982) no. 4, 221-227. 2 Bryan Lawson, How Designers Think (Oxford: Architectural Press/Elsevier, 1980). 3 Peter Rowe, Design Thinking (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987). 4 Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969). 5 Donald A. Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (New York: Basic Books, 1983). 6 R. Davies and R.J. Talbot, ‘Experiencing Ideas: Identity, Insight and the Imago’, Design Studies, vol. 8 (1987) no. 1, 17-25. 7 Ibid. 8. Nigel Cross, ‘The Nature and Nurture of Design Ability’, Design Studies, vol. 11 (1990) no. 3, 127-140. 9 Nigel Cross, Designerly Ways of Knowing (London: Springer-Verlag, 2006). 10 Howard Gardener, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (London: Heinemann, 1983). 11 Vinod Goel and Jordan Grafman, ‘Role of the Right Prefrontal Cortex in Ill-Structured Planning’, Cognitive Neuropsychology, vol. 17 (2000) no. 5, 415-436. 12 Katerina Alexiou et al., ‘Exploring the Neurological Basis of Design Cognition Using Brain Imaging: Some Preliminary Results’, Design Studies, vol. 30 (2009) no. 6, 623-647. Figures 1 & 2 from: Vinod Goel and Jordan Grafman, ‘Role of the Right Prefrontal Cortex in Ill-Structured Planning’, Cognitive Neuropsychology, vol. 17 (2000) no. 5, 415-436



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