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Friday, December 9, 2011

Conceptual Design & Architectural Scope

This is a continuing dialogue with Patrick Quinn, FAIA that has been very helpful in my attempts to explain the concept of city design. Mr. Quinn’s remarks are included at the end of this text and refer to my essay, "Land is a Critical Design Element".

Mr. Quinn is right. Conceptual design is another word for inspiration based on years of study and experience. It is the critical phase in any creative pursuit. Visual imagination also frequently transcends logic. It is brought back to Earth in architecture by hundreds, if not thousands, of practical decisions; but allowed free reign in fine art. The scope of conceptual design in architecture has been limited by its focus on buildings and their clients, however. When it addresses movement, open space or the infrastructure of life support; the concern remains focused on the client and his shelter objectives. The reason is obvious, but an opportunity is overlooked. The same conceptual process can be applied to city design for the benefit of entire populations. It requires, however, that we develop a market from knowledge that can be created by the conceptual skills and abilities we take for granted. I wrote my book and software to get the ball rolling with a language of intensity and the tools of Development Capacity Evaluation. They are only a beginning, but they add dimension to the potential scope of design in architecture.

The conceptual design of a city involves architectural massing, or shelter, that is served by open space, movement systems and life-supporting infrastructure. The composition must be arranged to protect our physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life, as well as our health and safety. This in turn must be located within a Built Domain that does not threaten its source of life – The Natural Domain. A tactical architect-client relationship cannot accomplish this goal without a strategic plan.

I’ve called this strategy City Design. It departs from traditional city planning because it mathematically forecasts the gross building area created by design specification options for any land area. Gross building area combines with activity to produce intensity. Intensity, activity and condition affect a city’s health and safety. They also determine its physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life. The amount of gross building area within a city has previously been called urban form, but urban form has needed a persuasive analytical language to measure, study and advocate optional decisions. We have the language of planning and zoning, but it has produced inconsistent results and sprawl that is a threat to The Natural Domain. A new language is needed to produce consistent success within a limited Built Domain that can be incorporated into debate and adopted by law.

Land Development Calculations explains the vocabulary, language and forecasting software of Development Capacity Evaluation. The book and software are tools that can contribute to persuasive city design with three-dimensional leadership potential. (Land use plans separate incompatible activities with two-dimensional maps, and building height limits are not coordinated with economic potential.) I have called this the architecture of city design. It represents the mathematical ability to measure, predict and evaluate the physical, social, psychological and economic implications of land use allocation and massing intensity options within a city design context.

Traditional architecture will still involve the tactics required to achieve a client goal, but this goal will be led by a city design strategy. It is design that must advance from land use and zoning concepts that have produced sprawl. Architects will be qualified to take this step when they recognize the strategic implications of their tactical efforts, and resolve to organize this random effort within sustainable limits that can shelter growing populations -- without compromising their quality of life with excessive intensity. At this point their work to reach a client goal will take place within a strategic city design for architecture that can document the public benefit of the entire effort.

Note from Patrick Quinn, FAIA re: “Land is a Critical Design Element”

My position is that all four categories must be included in the development of schematic design. Even before that stage conceptual design is pretty empty if it does not involve all four considerations.

And that is precisely why the conceptual stage, upon which schematic is based, is to my mind the essential and critical phase.

It sums up all of the aspects in a synthesis while yet allowing for further development of detailed factors in any of your four categories. Otherwise teamwork, on which most architecture is based would be pointless and unsuccessful.

It is at the exploration that constitutes the evolution of a conceptual framework, that crucial design issues are at least framed for continuing discussion because design is indeed a continuous evolution.

It is also at this stage that making connections between the unlikely is usually possible and therein lie the roots of inspiration which can make a work significant or not. Otherwise all one is doing is what any competent intelligence can do.....follow a strictly logical process through prescribed sequences.

Visual imagination frequently transcends logic.


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