Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Diddley and the City

A couple of days ago, I found a school paper written by Sietze Meijer about emotional architecture. It's just a school paper, not a serious article or a Ph.D disertation, but there are quite interesting things about it. First: the graphic layout, presentation and rationale about how text and images are organized to optimize "absorption". It made me think about portfolios, sketches and papers from my students that are printed behind old photocopies...

The Clovis Heimsath fallacies are brilliant!
Each of these fallacies describes a common misperception of designing by designers. Because of this the issue of designing, the creation of the built environment according to needs and perception by users, becomes obscured. There is need to break through these fallacies and to take a sociological approach to design problems.
  1. Designer fallacy: It describes the fallacy of architectural determinism which operates as though architecture directly determines behavior through design. The designer assumes that, by designing in such a way as to stimulate certain behavior, his design will assure the occurrence of this behavior.
  2. Genius fallacy: When an extraordinary concept is devised by a designer, the so-called genius, it may be copied by others. If wrongly copied and applied, the concept may lose it function or even fail.
  3. Common man fallacy: This fallacy denies that architecture has any effect at all on human behavior. It disconnects building programs from social programs.
  4. The open society fallacy: It states that the physical location of people does not influence social status and development possibilities. It supports urban structures of cities.
  5. The manipulation fallacy states that over-planning may lead to a too sterile urban environment and eventually to a totalitarian state.
  6. The know-nothing fallacy: Designing with vision is overruled by practicalities and the visions and ideals are abandoned.
Then of course Sietze describes Mead's theory about gestures and social objects, and how Chris Abel transformed Mead's theories into the idea of "rational design".
"In architecture, rational design should therefore be based upon common meaning. In that way, the meaning that a built form arouses in the designer, will arouse the same response in the users. If common meaning is not the basis, then the designer has no control over the effect his built design will have over users. The designer, through taking the attitudes of others involved in the building process, adjusts his or her own behavior as a designer in the light of critical awareness of the meaning a design may have for other persons. The products of rational design will be significant symbols in built form."
His analysis of perception focuses only on the primary senses and some psychological responses to Gestalt and composition. Despite being this quite simple and obvious, it is sometimes (or most of the time) forgotten by many design practitioners. Critics always write about famous architects (or designers). Because those critiques are the only source of information for many students, they are led to believe that some basic principles that famous designers use, are part of the "unreachable" package. Thing that only the great designers or architects do, but no one is expected to do the same in "real life". I mean, students dream about designing the next Guggenheim museum or maybe an international airport... but when they are given the task of designing something like a 3 bdrm house, they soon forget about having the passion of innovation, creation... and following any of those basic principles. Same story with Industrial Design: if it's a car, they dream about being the next Pininfarina and try to get into their design all the tools and design principles they've learned. But if it's just a foldable chair, they don't get the motivation to think about composition, style, ergonomics, or any other basic design principle in the book. Anyway, we may all agree on the importance and effect of principles like proximity, similarity, closure, emergence, reification, multistability, invariance, experience/ emotion, psychology of colour, etc... but those are seldom used on "everyday" projects... (and are BTW totally absent on kiwi houses).

However, I was expecting this essay to be about emotional architecture just like "emotional design" i.e. how the perceived branding or style are making some architects "fashionable" or "desirable" For example the Icon apartment buildings have the same "emotional design" effect as a toilet seat designed by Philippe Stark... people just want to buy them because they are "designer branded" regardless of any other consideration. The same happens with Gehry, and many other divas. I guess we are experiencing the same emotional design manipulation in architecture, where buying and development impulses are becoming more and more driven by branding, famous names, and not necessarily by quality of the design itself.

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