Theory for Design Computing

University of Washington Seattle Fall 2000, Fall 2001, Fall 2003

The emergence of the digital computer as a mainstream tool in architectural design has already changed architectural practice. As with other technologies that revolutionized the practice of architecture (e.g., perspective projection), information technologies carry hidden implications about the process and products of design. This course examines the theory of design practice from various viewpoints, recognizing the relationship between design theory and computational tools for practice. Topics to be considered include: the study of designing and designers, mathematical and linguistic metaphors and methods, case studies and precedents as a way to design, pattern languages, and other approaches to designing that have been influential and may form the basis of current of future design software. As appropriate for a course on “theory”, participants will be responsible for reading and discussing selected texts. Where possible, specific software prototypes and products will be explored. Each participant will be responsible as well for a term project examining in more detail processes for designing and current or possible computational support. Emphasis will be on original work, rather than replaying previously elaborated themes.

The design and implementation of computer-aided design tools, and more generally computational environments for designing, depends heavily on understanding the fundamental principles of design. Without such an understanding, efforts to construct computational systems and tools must rely solely on individuals’ intuitions about designing, or else replicate existing manual methods, attending only to the superficial aspects of designing. Although efforts have been made to examine and understand processes of designing since at least the Renaissance (for example, Alberti’s remarkable De re aedificatoria), only in the latter half of the twentieth century was the study of ‘design theory’ taken up in a serious way in universities and research institutions.

One must distinguish ‘design theory’ as we examine it in here from the traditional study of theory in architecture, although of course there are overlaps and commonalities. Whereas architecture theory is associated with the accounting for historical periods and directions, and the criticism of architecture (and these days is often associated with philosophical thought, from Foucault to Deleuze to Heidegger and Derrida), the kind of “theory” that we are concerned with in this reading course is directed at constructing an account for the design process, in architecture, but also in any discipline that is engaged in making things. There is, therefore, also an implicit assumption—or at least a question—whether it is possible to construct a theory of designing that encompasses the diverse “domains” in which specific designing takes place: architecture, mechanical engineering, graphic art, software etc.