I've been told that my posts are 'shop-talk' heavy. This post probably won't differ in that regard, but it'll have way more explanations and illustrations--starting with the results of an experiment in parametric design I conducted in my third year in school.

Parametric design is a fancy name that can lend itself to several interpretations. It refers to a mode of computer assisted design where forms, surfaces, sizes, shapes, configurations etc. are manipulated and controlled by a set of parameters. In execution, it usually entails the use of a software that generates shapes mathematically, which allows easy manipulation by applying mathematical functions. Here, 'parametric' refers to parametric equations.

Now when I say Parametric design can be variously interpreted, it is due to the notion that all design is 'parametric' in the sense that it is developed using sets of parameters. The model of design thought (framing a problem, making a move, then evaluating) comes down to what criteria--which parameters--you assess your work by. However, when generating design solutions using scripting (scripts-small computer programs that perform specific functions) and mathematical equations, the steps of design thinking collapse into a fluid state. The script is formed with a specific framing of the design problem in mind and evaluating parameters are built in. A series of moves are undertaken by the script, which output a result that can be manipulated (move + evaluate). All of these steps happen in real-time nearly simultaneously with a degree of fluidity which is harder to achieve with traditional methods.


Design & Thinking

I came across this interesting project, a documentary on design thinking, called Design & Thinking! They just finished a round of fundraising on Kickstarter and have been interviewing principals of this thing called design thinking (I said I'd get back to this theme often...) Well, so far so good. There's the prerequisite interview with IDEO's Tim Brown, Metropolis editor-in-chief Susan Szenasy, and Bill Moggridge of the Cooper-Hewitt. They're hitting all the marks. Sarcasm aside, it could be a really good film, or if this thing 'design thinking' isn't picked apart to discover what it really means, a kind of advertisement. I have hopes for the former. Here's what the filmmakers have to say:
"Design & Thinking" is a documentary exploring the idea of "design thinking"!
It will be one of the very few documentaries on design, and certainly the first about the impact design thinking has on the world.
Design Thinking was applied as a term and methodology by a design firm in 2008. It was received as a tool to solve every problem, from daily life decisions to business challenges to world hunger problems. Attention and debates followed; some insisted on design education in all K-12 schools, some declared it is just marketing tool for that firm, some hoped it would turn his company into Apple. Some said it's nothing new, just a new packaging of how creative people do things.
It's a work in progress for sure, but they seem to have a firm footing. Keep an eye out!



I've briefly touched upon effects of mid-twentieth century urban renewal in a previous post, and the form that urban reconstruction took at the time. The buildings may have looked different but the structure of urban centers remained largely the same despite massive social, political, and economic changes. I just came across this quote from Kevin Lynch's 1972 book What Time is This Place? I start quoting after a discussion of general efficiency and only limited failures in conception:
"Despite these more spectacular failures, the replanned public services and the regulation of rebuilding were both highly effective. The new city did not adjust as well to it's new economy, the changes in its population, or the shift from river traffic to road traffic. In these areas the City was planning for obsolete needs, but indeed most plans are preoccupied with the past. Moreover, and this is also not unusual, the changes bore most heavily on the poor."
Ok, this sounds about right. We're probably talking about Detroit or St. Louis, or one of the many 'Rust-belt' cities that sought to renew despite large shifts in the economy and in society. Having just seen the Pruitt-Igoe Myth (I highly recommend it!) it was clear that demographic trends went in the opposite direction of those projected by urban planners. Their misreading of population dispersal to the suburbs and de-industrialization laid their efficient work to waste to the detriment of the poor population left in the city.



Pao 2, Dwelling for a Tokyo Nomad Woman - Toyo Ito
The debate over the nature of society in the late 20th century and the emerging conceptions of a 'hypermodernism' (Tafuri, Virilio), 'reflexive modernity' (Giddens, Beck, Lash), or broadly a 'postmodern condition', generally revolve around the critique of modernism's inflexibility in the face of contingency and ambiguity. These theories respond to measurable changes in the institutions of modern society, particularly to the effects of globalization. Globalization is a complex phenomenon which has diverse impacts but I think there is an interesting urban dynamic that emerges from the economic process of decomposition.

One of the major impacts of economic globalization is the decomposition of national economies into a decentralized system of world trade. Sites of production have been relocated from developed nations to the developing nations to take advantage of low cost labor. Different levels of production--for instance assembly--have emerged in separate regions from specialized manufacturing, R&D, and marketing. Much of this is fueled by efficient logistics and instantaneous networked communications. The decomposition of industries is mirrored in the division of nations into regions of production and consumption. The emergence of high-tech manufacturing and a strong service and financial sector in post-war Japan placed it in the camp of consumer nations along with the west.



The 'crit'...

Piggybacking on the last point of the previous post, I honestly believe a lot of good would come from elucidating to design students the structure of thought that drives the process of design. Conceivably there could be a pitfall in creating a sort of checklist that stands in for an actual in-process mode of thought, but when one is engaged in design its cognitive processes naturally call for reflection. The designer, by necessity, must stop to contemplate their own mode of thinking. To elaborate I will again refer to Bryan Lawson and Kees Dorst's research on design thinking and expertise, particularly their model for the nature of design activities.

To start with, Lawson & Dorst present the caveat that 'design' is a generic term for a range of activities and professions. Furthermore, these activities are complex and entail elements of problem solving, learning, analytic and convergent thinking, and solution directed thinking. Their model provides a framework for understanding the steps toward solving a design problem with the acknowledgement that they are not followed in a strictly linear fashion. The steps often form feedback loops in advancing parts of an overall design. Now to the model, step-by-step:



By now you may be familiar with the axiom that to gain expertise in something requires 10,000 hours of practice. What does 10,000 hours of practice look like and how does it lead to expert status? In other words, one doesn't wake up on the morning after the 10,000 hour and suddenly have access to expertise, so there must be stages or levels on the way to "expert" status. Indeed, the state one reaches after 10,000 hours must be a constructed notion useful in evaluating relative experience—no doubt one continues to develop expertise beyond that point. It would also follow that these stages must be relevant to the practice in question. So, what do the stages of design expertise consist of?

Bryan Lawson, an architect and psychologist who specializes in researching the cognitive aspects of design thinking (the science of design), has developed an outline of these steps in his book What Designers Know. He begins by framing out the levels of expertise (via Kees Dorst and Hubert Dreyfus) as they will relate to the nature of each step. In a sense, each level of expertise roughly corresponds to a cognitive ability, although in reality the transitions are very fluid. The levels in ascending order are novice, beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. These levels are fairly straightforward, even if the differences between each level entail some interesting discourse. We will take them at face value to understand the five steps towards expertise which I will list below:



Central Shanghai, 2010.

A recent article in the China Daily relates a disturbing new phenomenon in several Chinese cities directly related to the rapid pace of growth. Due to deficiencies in the manufacturing, installation, or maintenance of glass curtain wall systems, some glass has been reported to shatter and fall, sometimes from great heights. These 'glass bombs' have injured and killed several people, and in the case of Shanghai, they have led to an outright banning of the extensive use of glass curtain wall systems in the city. Ones first reaction may be to wonder whether that's going too far given the ubiquity of glass as a modern building material. In fact how would this affect the look of the city?

While the Newtonian embodied energy of glass may be on display in the spontaneous shattering of windows, the energy embodied in glass by the process of manufacturing may be a more compelling—if hidden—reason to limit it's use. While not the highest embodied energy material (this distinction goes to steel and aluminum, which are also required elements in a curtain wall), the manufacturing of glass requires roughly 10 times as much energy as one of the most common construction materials in China: concrete. The figure comes out to about 12-25 giga-joules of energy for 1 metric ton of glass. (1 joule = 2.7778×10-7 kilowatt-hours)