“Chopped” for Architects

“Chopped” for Architects

What is the design process like? Watch the food show “Chopped”. It gives a pretty good explanation.
If you have not seen “Chopped”, it is a show where three chefs compete. They create entrees and desserts and whatnot, and three judges get to be brutally honest about their work. When I have watched it, I have been intrigued by the limiting parameters placed on each entry. One might have to create a strawberry-based dessert for a hockey party. The ingredients are often prescribed: that dessert must use basil. These chefs get to be creative, and they get rewarded for their creativity. But they have to follow instructions. If they forget the basil, they get chopped.

Can there be a design where there is only creativity, and no limiting factors?

My day job is like that. I love the challenge. I love having my back pretty darn close to the wall. Being a bit of a nerd, I often think about a design problem as an exercise in limiting factors: Design is a peculiar blend of limiting factors and creativity. There is almost always this interplay. Can there be design when there are only limiting factors? In such a case, the solution is solvable by an algorithm. A computer can solve a problem with only limiting factors.
Can there be a design where there is only creativity, and no limiting factors? Again, I think the answer is no. What type of solution exists without parameters? How does one have a solution when there were no defining parameters? At the very least, we must contend with gravity.
Much of the creativity in our design work comes about by limiting our parameters to the ones that really exist. On a renovation project, we may not know which walls are load-bearing. If we assume all the walls are load-bearing, we end up placing unrealistic and inappropriate limits on design alternatives. If we fail to see how a load-bearing wall can be reasonably removed or modified, we again may find ourselves overly constrained. Breakthroughs in design are often accompanied by the phrase “What if we…”
As a design progresses, we learn more and more about a client’s needs and wishes. Clients also gain a better understanding of their own needs and wishes. They test out our design proposals against their own understanding of the functions they have described to us. They often realize a process that worked in their present facility does not make sense in the new facility. That is good. It means the new facility is enabling better ways to operate, not simply allowing the same operations to perform better.
In other words, for both the designer and the client, the design process proceeds as a series of responses to an evolving understanding of limiting factors. Early, and premature, design solutions are responses to a premature set of limiting factors. Later, mature design solutions are responses to a mature set of limiting factors. To say the design process is a partnership between the designer and the client is to recognized just this fact.

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Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.

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