Design thinking in architecture

Design Thinking makes aspects such as empathy and understanding the needs of the use a definite part of the process that needs to be addressed.

Design Thinking makes aspects such as empathy and understanding the needs of the use a definite part of the process that needs to be addressed. | Photo Credit: Freepik

One of the primary concerns of architectural education today is to understand and address its role in and impact on human intervention on the ecology. This is primarily due to the pursuit of fulfilling the habitat needs of human society including growth, production and consumption. Architecture, building construction and infrastructure industries are some of the major contributors to the critical issues that the world is trying to address and cope with.

Sustained observation of an object or a system in a particular environment or context is about observing something that is beyond the first glance or obvious. Observing complexity and finding opportunity is the foundation framework for developing sensitivity to design as proposed by Agency by Design. This sensitivity to design is a critical foundational empowerment for an architecture student so that he/she can face the rigor and uncertainties of the practice.

Architecture, as a profession, is the prime example where the concept of ‘wicked problem’ is seen and experienced commonly. IT also offers scope and possibility to address a variety of design problems ranging from a miniature object to a complex transportation system for a metropolis. Architectural education lays emphasis on a unique studio mode of learning or the reflection-in-action mode of learning as articulated by Donald Schon. Here the student might address a problem through solutions based on the various criteria put across by the site and context. The teacher might then bring his inputs to the same solution based on previous experiences. This is the application of tacit knowledge as explained by Michael Polanyi.

A transdisciplinary tool

Design thinking is one of the many tools available for architecture students. Adopting it opens up opportunities to think in a truly transdisciplinary framework. Design Thinking makes aspects like empathy and understanding the needs of the use a definite part of the process that needs to be addressed. Not that it reduces or discounts the importance of intuition or application of tacit knowledge in the design process. These can be unique differentiators in the outcomes when Design Thinking is applied in architecture.

Design thinking tools can enable architecture students during an architectural design problem. Empathy mapping can help the student understand users and their needs that can go beyond the obvious and bring new insights to the programme and project brief. Tools such as Lotus Bloom and Five WHYs can help students deepen their problem statements to reveal unknown aspects of the user and programme. Convergent and divergent thinking tools will bring in the conscious exploration of multiple solutions or possibilities for any given design problem.

Defining problems through solutions is an unique ability of the designer as articulated by Nigel Cross in his ‘Designerly ways of Knowing’. Observing the context and problem closely will give many insights for possible solutions. It is crucial that the student is observant and documents these insights consciously. Quick prototyping of these insights is another tool that can be used from the design thinking method and can be tested in multiple ways. Architectural models, both physical and virtual, can be used effectively in this aspect. These quick solutions need to be tested through feedback from various stakeholders and the feedback incorporated for further refinement.

Thus, the tools and processes of Design Thinking should become an additional enabler for the architecture student to enable free intuitive thinking.

The writer is Director, School of Architecture,CMR University

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Printable version | May 25, 2022 1:18:22 pm |