On design ‘problematization’: Theorising diﬀerences in designed outcomes Steve Harﬁeld, Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building, University of Technology, Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, New South Wales 2007, Australia This paper oﬀers a speculative account of the way in which architectural design problems are ‘solved’, and of the signiﬁcant ways in which such problems are constructed by the designers themselves. Deliberately retaining pro tem the traditional ‘problemesolution’ language frame, the paper questions this viewpoint by positing a distinction between two categories of problem: the ‘problem as given’ and the ‘problem as design goal’. While the ﬁrst represents a conventional understanding of the problem presented for solution, the paper speculates that this is not the problem that the designer seeks to solve. A second category is therefore introduced to delineate the problem that is actually solved. This problem, termed the ‘problem as design goal’, is created by the imposition on to the ‘problem as given’ of a range of designer preferences, expectations and prejudices which not only deﬁne the ‘actual’ problem but, at the same time, establish the means and requirements for its acceptable solution. Such ‘problematization’, diﬀerent for each designer and for each project, is posited as being central to architectural design, informing and constraining both the design activity and the ﬁnal outcome in ways that are not determined by the brief itself. Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: architectural design, design theory, design problems, problemsolving, problem setting
Corresponding author: Steve Harﬁeld steve.harﬁeld@uts. edu.au
hile the general contentions oﬀered below might well be widened to encompass a vast range of designed objects, this paper takes as its vehicle design in architecture. Imagine an architectural design competition. Without the need to examine any of the submissions received two simple and non-contentious assertions might be advanced. First, it might conﬁdently be predicted that no two entries will be the same, i.e. that each individual scheme will be diﬀerent from all the others submitted. Second, and with similar conﬁdence, it might be averred that, irrespective of the individual diﬀerences between entries, at a fundamental level all the design proposals will share a number of similarities. Putting aside the likelihood that the submissions will be amenable to categorisation and subdivision according to speciﬁc
www.elsevier.com/locate/destud 0142-694X $ - see front matter Design Studies 28 (2007) 159e173 doi:10.1016/j.destud.2006.11.005 Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Printed in Great Britain
‘family resemblances’ (i.e. that, despite their individual diﬀerences, schemes will inevitably exhibit, and thus allow grouping according to, shared characteristics, be they formal, stylistic or strategic) this second assertion is usually intended to draw attention to, and thus to stress the signiﬁcance of, a diﬀerent and more fundamental aspect of sameness, namely the fact that all the competition entrants are working from the same brief. On the basis of this, the diﬀerences identiﬁed in the ﬁrst assertion are then most usually attributed to diﬀerences in the range and level of the skills, experience, professional competence, and imagination that the designer (or design team) can bring to bear on this common brief in preparing the design proposal.
Neither of these assertions, nor their respective ‘explanations’, is surprising. Indeed, they might be expected to be commonplaces for the design literate, who would have encountered them, albeit in a slightly diﬀerent language, in respect of many, if not all, of their experiences with design and designing, be they in the ‘real’ world of the professional designer or in the parallel academic world of the design educator. A particularly revealing example, almost inescapably couched in the ‘problem/problem-solving’...
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