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The Primary Generator and the Design Process*

Department o f Architecture, University o f Sheffield, The Arts Tower, Sheffield SlO 2TN, UK

In the course of a research project designed to test various hypotheses about the design of public housing, it has been found necessary to study the design process of some architects who had been interviewed earlier. A plea is made for the use of subjective rather than scientific methods in the analysis of this type of material, and by extension for greater emphasis on subjective methods in design. Many descriptions of the design process have been based on an analysis-synthesis model which does not correspond to the design process as seen in practice. A new paradigm has been offered by HiUier, Musgrove and O'Sullivan, one of conjecture.analysis. This is supported by evidence from the present research findings, and an elaboration is suggested to give a model of the design process consisting of generator-conjecture-analysis. The new element is the primary generator, a broad initial objective or small set of objectives, seE-imposed by the architect, a value judgement rather than the product of rationality. Case material is presented to support the idea of the primary generator and the generator-conjecture-analysis model




Often in research a topic which was expected to be of minor importance when the research was conceived acquires a greater significance in the course of the project. The project which gave rise to the 'findings' reported here was not originally envisaged as 'design methods research'. It was intended to evaluate the design of some recent local authority housing schemes, with two main areas of interest. Firstly, it was intended to test current assumptions on the undesirability of high rise and high density, with the hypothesis that a well thought-out scheme at high rise and/ or density could be as satisfactory as a scheme at lower rise or density. (This hypothesis, it is worth stating, has not been supported by the results since high densities do seem to cause problems, although there is not a simple or automatic relationship between higher densities or high buildings and decreased satisfaction.) This is a slightly amended version of the author's paper in New Directions in Environmental Design Research (EDRA 9 Proceedings) edited by Walter E. Rogers and William H. Ittelson (1978). The author wishes to thank Dr Bryan Lawson for his advice and the R. I. B.A. for financial support.

Secondly, it was intended to see whether during the design of housing the architect has in mind an image or expectations regarding the future user, and if so whether this corresponds with the reactions of the actual user, his or her concerns and requirements regarding the home environment. The implicit hypothesis, that an environment seen as unsatisfactory by the user might result from an inaccurate perception of the user by the architect, has been difficult to test because of the very generalized nature of the architects' images of their users. The research procedure first required the selection of estates to study. These were chosen to minimize variation in factors extraneous to the research design, and at the same time to exemplify contrasts in their architectural design, especially in rise and density. It is not necessary to recount here the process of selection in detail; the outcome was that six estates were chosen (Table 1), all in London. A t least one of the architects of each scheme was interviewed at length and the interview taped. They were asked first to talk about their views on the design of housing in general and how these views had changed over time, then about the job history of the chosen scheme. In particular they described the evolution of the design, the existence or otherwise of an image of the future user, and the sourcels) of any image of this kind. They were asked whether the design was the work of a single designer or a team, and if by a team, how they worked together, There were questions on disagreements with clients or superiors, and on any changes the designer(s) would have made if faced with the same design problem again. The question wording and order were not standardized and the intention was for a conversational rather than an interrogational atmosphere. It was found that the designers were generally very willing to talk about their schemes and appeared to enjoy doing so, as if talking about a favourite child. These interviews were carried out in 1975; the schemes had been designed a few years earlier. The other part of the fieldwork consisted 0-f interviews with a sample of the residents on each estate. The details of these interviews and their analysis need not concern us here. It is necessary, however, to consider the problems of methodology that arise in the analysis of the architect interviews. These bring the researcher face to face with the endemic problem of the 'social sciences': how far can sociology use scientific methods to understand and interpret human behaviour? Is it permissible to use shared understandings to interpret subjects' comments? Or should the researcher try to stand outside their situation and avoid making assumptions about subjective meanings? In practice the latter course is impossible; the researcher has to use his or her subjective judgement and to realize that an analysis that was confined to 'scientific' methods would miss the most interesting points. The architects were interviewd by a researcher who teaches in a school of architecture; they assume she understands current issues in housing design: the swing against high rise, the constraints of the cost yardstick, schemes that have been influential, etc. They make passing references, assuming the interviewer shares their frame of discourse sufficiently to understand them. Scientific detachment is not a helpful stance here, except in so far as the reseacher must, in understanding the respondent's assumptions, also stand outside them and understand his reasons for making them. Thus 'social' methods offer a gain over 'scientific' methods of analysis. To quote Aron: 3 'Human behaviour presents an intrinsic intelligibility which depends on the fact that men are endowed with consciousness, with thought.' This willing embrace of subjective methods distinguishes this research from much of the large volume of past and ongoing design methods research.


0142-694x/79/010036-09/$02.00 1979 IPC Business Press


Table 1
Client (London Borough) Southwark Southwark No. of dwellings 296 41 58 991 when complete 850 Density (persons per acre) 90 96 136 200

Estate Dawson's Heights Linden Grove Ked~eston W a l k Marquess Road

Location Dulwich Camberwell

Architects Borough Architect Neylan & Ungless Douglas Stephen & Partners Darbourne & Darke Borough Architect Alison & Peter Srnithson

Interview with Kate Macintosh Michael Neylan Douglas Stephen John Darbourne & Jeremy Lever Richard MacCormac Alison Smithson

Height up to 12 storeys up to 3 storeys 2 and 4 storeys mainly up to 5 storeys all 3 storeys

Archi~ J.

Archit. J.

Archit. J

Bethnal Green Greater London Council Islington Islington

Archit. Rev.

Sept 74
Archi~ Rev.

Pollards Hill




April 71
Archit. Des.

Oct. 71 Robin Hood Gardens Poplar Greater London Council 214 142 7 and 10 storeys
Archit. Des.

Sept. 72



In the early 1960s, a fruitful new approach to design methodology was generated by the realization that 'design' as a process was common to various fields: the several specialisms within engineering, industrial design, architecture, planning, and so on. Insights were gained from the study of approaches to solving simple problems in laboratory conditions where scientific research methods could be applied. 7, 12 Others attempted to 'design' a design process from first principles, a process referred to by Hillier e t a L t as 'metadesign'. A failing of the unified approach was that it paid little attention to the actual process of design as it occurred in 'real' situations. Some rather unfruitful attempts were made to observe designers at w o r k but it seems to the present author that the research material necessary to understand the design process is not a set of sketches but a knowledge of the mental process the deisgner goes through Observation of sketched and written o u t p u t is a curious way of obtaining such material. Asking recall their own processes would seem p r i m a facie to get closer to the truth about such processes, albeit in a less verifiable form. This method, of course, has problems of its own. Some of the architects interviewed in the present research found it difficult to describe a non-verbal process in words. Other problems include faulty recall, and post-rationalization by architects describing the process after the event. 19 In this research it has been found necessary to treat the architects' accounts as i f they were accurate summaries, bearing in mind that over-simplification and so on may have occurred. Such over-simplification, if it has occurred, may give rise to a simplified model of the design process, but such simplification is an aid to clarity at this stage, and can always be elaborated if and when more sophisticated research techniques yield the necessary evidence. Some researchers will also dislike the fact that studying design methods in use reintroduces a differentiation in the act of designing between those in different fields, although of course as research evidence becomes available on these fields this could lead to an improved new meta-theory. The view of the design process that informed most of the research of the sixties was based on an analysissynthesis model. This simple dichotomization had many variants, involving elaboration of the main stages and often

involving feedback loops; see for example Archer, 2 and Maver. 16 In many cases these models were derived from the design processes of designers in other fields, eg engineering or industrial design. The following description is fairly typical of the methods being taught at the more analytically-minded schools of architecture in the sixties, although it was often expressed in diagrammatic form rather than in prose. It was recognized that there were many factors to be considered in any design problem, some quantifiable and others 'subjective', although the non-quantifiable factors were progressively being transmuted, through research, into quantifiable form. One hoped-for consequence of this would be the possibility of transferring much of the process to the computer, which would not be limited by preconceptions and would thus produce a better solution. The designer was to start by exhaustively listing the relevant factors, then to consider the interactions between these factors and to set performance limits on those factors that could be so treated. Only then was he to start synthesizing requirements to generate a form, starting with clusters of related factors. It was to be hoped that the synthesis of various factors would almost automatically generate a form, with minimal need for the designer to exercise subjective judgements; subjectivity was felt to be full of risks, a threat to a good solution (see for example Whitehead and Eldars 18). The fact that practising designers, by and large, did not use such a method was not seen as a drawback, but merely as a sign of their backwardness. Existing solutions were seen as 'bromide images' (Chermayeff and Alexander6) that hindered the development of better solutions. Examples where the use of such a method has been described are few, but see Alexander 1 and Hanson 9 (in Broadbent and WardS). It is significant that Alexander has now rejected this approach and that Hanson admitted that the method was cumbersome and that he did not intend to use it again. As research and thinking on design methods proceeded there was more recognition of the complexities of the process. Lawson t2 and Broadbent, 4 among others, have outlined the development of the field. Wehrli 17 identified a range of problem-types, from the puzzle, with a single solution, to the doubly open-ended problem, where the number of potential solutions is infinite and multiple solutions are sought. Different methods are appropriate at different levels of complexity. Individuals might differ in

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their approach to design, Lawson ~2 ~dentff~ed t w o contrasting styles of operation, the problem-focused and the solution-focused In solving an experimental, des~gn-I~ke problem, science students more often adopted a problem focus, which revolved learmng as much as possible about the structure of the problem before attempting a soluhon The use of a solution-focus was more characteristic of students of architecture They learnt about the problem by t r y l n g a s o l u t t o n a n d s e e m g w h e r e ~ t w e n t w r o n g Both groups performed the task equally well, although the types of error were different for the t w o groups The same author d~scr~mmated between the various constraints influencing a design They were cross-classified as being e~ther internal or external to the design of the budding ~tself, being ~mposed by deslgne~, chent or third party, and b e m g ~ m p h c ~ t o r e x p l i c ~ t T h e s e d ~ s t m c t l o n s w d l be apphed to the case material later ~n the paper

a conlectule Therefore dn.labo~atl{)n ~1 bhu~e~ '~ *~ ,', proposed, to one of

generator-conlec ture-analvs~s
The ~ntervlews w i t h architects showed that the us~, of a few simple objectwes to leach an initial concept was characteristic of these architects' approaches m design Th~ greatest variety reduction o~ nakrow~ng down of the Range ot solutions occurs early on ~n the process, w~th a conjectuhe or conceptuahzat~on of a possible solution Furthe~ under standing of the problem ~s gamed by testing th~s conlertured solution Clearly m some cases where architects have, described their own process of design (well known examples include Spence on Coventry Cathedral, Utzon on the Sydney Opera House and Lasdun on the National Theatre) a wsual ~mage came very early ~n the process I n o t h e t cases ~t appears that a certain a m o u n t of prehmmary analys~s takes place before the visual concept arises It seems normal, however, for there to be a ' r a t i o n a h t y gap' either the visual concept springs to mind before the rational justifications tor such a form, or the analys~s does not dictate th/spartl cular concept rather than othm s The concept or objectwe that generates a solutLor~ Js here called the "pr/marygenerator" It can in fact be a group of related concepts rather than a single idea These objectwes form a starting p o i n t for the architect, a way/n to the problem, he does not start by hstlng all the constraints Any particular primary generator may be capable of justification on ratbonal grounds, but at the p o t n t when it enters the design process ~t ~s usually more of an artLcle of faith on the part of the architect, a des~gner-~mposed constraint, not necessardy e x p l i c i t Among the archLtects interviewed various objectives served as primary generators to express the site, to provide for a particular relatlonshLp between dwelhng and surroundings, to mamtmn somal patterns, and the like These will be looked at m greater detad later on The broad requirements of the chent, at this stage ~n a housing scheme typically just a target density and m~x of dwelhng sizes, are used along w~th the des~gner-~mposed primary generator ~n arr]wng at an ~mt~al conjecture or concept The designer has been aware all along that there are several detaded requirements to be met by the design, but performances on these parameters are n o t specified m advance Once the ~n~t~al concept has been generated ~t ~s tested against these various requirements and modified ff necessary, the performance levels wtth respect to parttcutar requirements are decided ~nteractwely, in the hght of the effect on the emerging concept and on other parameters Naturally th~s process ~s often spiral or ~teratwe m character, for example ~n housing design there =s frequent switching between considerat~ons of dwelhng type plans and considerations of s~te layout, as each of these has ~mportant ~mphcat~ons for the other The conjecture ,s not rejected unless there ~s a fairly glaring m~smatch between tt and the detaded reqturements Probably the mare difference between the practising architect and the student is that the former has the experience of solution types required for a realist~cconlecture A frequent problem ~n a s c h o o l o f architecture ~s the student w h o has a hm~ted stock of gen eratmg ~deas which he attempts to apply to evmy problem w~thout considering whether they are appropriate The concept of the primary generator wdl become clearer w~th examples of ~ts operation in the design of the schemes m t h e s a m p l e We should f i r s t c l a r l f y ~ts relationship w~th the first conceptuahzed ~mage, the 'conjecture' ~n the terms of Hdl~ereta/ T h e t e ~ m ' p r ~ m a r y g e n e r a t o ~ ' does not refer to that ~mage but to the ~deas that generated ~t m the case of Coventry cathedral, say, the ~dea that the altar must

These refinements certainly represented a conceptual advance on previous thinking, which had concentrated on what was t h o u g h t to be c o m m o n to all design However, there was growing d o u b t as to whether the analys~ssynthes~s model and ~ts elaborations could still prowde a satisfactory f r a m e w o r k into which the new thinking could f i t W~th hindsight, this can be seen m Kuhman terms as indicating an increasing need for a new paradigm ~~ Hflher etal [0 supply such a paradigm After clearly showing the inadequacy both of the ~mage of the design process and the percmved role of research ~n much of the thinking of the s~xties, they propose the replacement of the analys~ssynthes~s model w~th one of con/ecture-analys/s To quote excerpts f r o m thmr paper which are relevant to the present paper
only by prestructurmg any problem, e~ther exphc~tly or ~mphc=tly, can we make ~t tractable, to rational analys~s or empirical investigation design =s essentially a matter of prestructurmg problems either by a knowledge of solution types or by a knowledge of the latenmes o f the tnstrumental set m relat=on to solut=on types, th~s =s why the process of des=gn ~s resistent to the inductive-empiricist rattonahtv so common tn the field A complete account of thedes~gner'soperat~ons during design w o u l d stdt not tell us where the solution came from

Hence, design ~s seen as a process of 'variety reduction', w~th the very large number of potential solutions reduced by external constraints and by the designer's own cogmt~ve structures,
used by the problem solver m order to structure the problem m terms m which he can solve ~t There ~s also a very practical reason why conlectures of approximate solutions should come early on Th~s ~sthat a v a s t v a n e t y of des~9ndeos~ons cannot be taken - particularly those which revolve other contributors -- before the solut=on tn principle ~s k n o w n conjecture and problem specification thus proceed s~de-by-s~de rather than m sequence'

The present author's analys~s of her interviews w~th architects supports th~s proposed model w~th ewdence P r e h m n a r y analys~s of these mterwews was m~t~ally towards the inductive end of the mductwe-deduct~ve spectrum, in that the researcher avoided making assumptions about whether the subjects could be expected to have a c o m m o n design process, and about the nature of any such process Yet the conjecture-analys~s model ~s ~tself apphcable at a meta-level to the process of 'analysing' (the language is deficient here) t h e m t e r w e w s the concept of t h e p n m a r y generator can be seen as a cen]ecture, which was then tested a g a m s t t h e c a s e m a t e n a l Th~smatenal, as wdl shortly be descnbed, supported the conjecture T h e ~ d e a o f a p n m a r y generator was found to be a useful way of conceptuahz=ng a particular stage m the design process, that stage that precedes



be a focus, alhed to themes of a phoemx arising from the ashes and so on The primary generator will be a component of the designer's 'cogmt~ve structures' referred to earher By becoming aware of Ideas that are acting as generators, the designer may be able to evaluate them and wtden the0r range tf necessary

the fact that y o u get magnthcent views in both directions was the fact that the hdl ts unstable, and o n l y the t o p th=rd, roughly speaking, was buddable economically, and we were adwsed by the London Umverstty soil experts that even if y o u put a single storey garage d o w n y o u ' d have to pile'


The job architect for Dawson's Hetghts was Kate Macmtosh, then at the London Borough of Southwark Her scheme was =n fact the winner of a small mtra-offtce competttgon for the site The sKte is a htlltop =n a suburban area, and the des=gn ~sof two tall blocks with deck access, with a romant0cally steppmg-down profile. The highest points of the two buddmgs are offset, and there are set-backs on plan so that the effect ~s that the ends of the two blocks curve mwards to g~ve a sense of enclosure The designer had two major preoccupataons at the start of the process to express thts umque s=te and to allow for difficult sod cond=t~ons To quote from the transcript
I KM 'Would y o u hke to talk about the job h t s t o r y - the way y o u arrived at the design, this sort of thing' 'Well, obv=ously the s~te ~s a very unusual one, m London, and I always have been one of the romant=c school that t h i n k y o u should t r y to express the umque q u a h t y of the stte, ~f ~t has a umque q u a h t y , and that s~te u n d o u b t e d l y has, so that was the mare starting o f f p o m t A n d of course the other pecuhar fact, apart f r o m

Note that the site is spontaneously described as 'the mare starting off pomt' The second factor, the sod strength, was not a des0gner-tmposed constraint but was obviously a major determinant of the solut=on A w~sh to respect the scale of the nmghbourhood prompted the use of a steppingdown profile, and the objective of makmg best use of sun and v0ews suggested the staggering of the h~ghest points m each block, 'as each "Lewathan" looks across the tall of =ts brother' Once the concept of stepping-down tall blocks had been estabhshed there was a great deal to be worked out m detatl whether to use a spht-level plan, the dwelhng types and how they mterlocked, etc Th~s process clearly fits the 'generator-conjecture-analysts' model Another factor should be mentioned, perhaps as a negative generating factor the lack of a presumption against flats, by a destgner brought up m a Scottish city rather than in England, and who had worked in Scandmawa where flats are common. Site was again the starting point for Mtchael Neyland, a partner m the small firm that designed Linden Grove for the London Borough of Southwark This ~s a small scheme of about 40 houses plus sheltered housmg

FJg. 1 Dawson's Hezghts expresszng ]ts hilltop site (Reproduced f r o m Architects" Journal, 25 Apr]l 1973 with permzsslon ArchltecturaJ Press L t d )

Vol 1, No 1, July 1979


for old people, m a rather drab backwater of the borough The design uses a pedestrian way down the centre of the long, narrowstte The 2 and 3 storey houses have the~r front doors on the pedestrian way and gardens on the other s~de, g w m g a h ~ g h d e g r e e o f p n v a c y The scheme is very mtr~cate and carefully worked out, and ~s very well hked by the tenants Unlike Dawson's Heights, the s~te had httle character o f ~ t s o w n however for Neylan ~tplaysan ~mportant and almost mystical part
'There Is so httle t o q o on, m modern a~ch~tecture, the s~te does become f r i g h t f u l l y ~mportant, ~t's one o f the only subjectwe non-measurable thmgs We t r y to get the buddmg to respond and breathe w~th ~ts surroundmgs To take an extreme, an appalhng s~te can d~ctate the whole kmd of (solution) where there are no wews outwards you tend to w o r k round the outside and look rewards, and create what you can m the middle, and wce versa I r'neaR, one of the reasons for Lmden Grove was that there were some good trees round the edge of thes~te So we tended to put ~t ~n the m~ddle, lookmg outwards That was one o f thegeneratmg thmgs'

way down the mtddle To one side are 4-person matsonette~ with small gardens, and to the other are 2-person flats with 6-person malsonettes above them The roofs of the 4-person units serve as roof gardens for the larger households, reached by bridges across the central walkway Douglas Stephen was mtervLewed, he was not the job architect but was revolved w t t h t h e e v o l u t l o n o f t h e d e s l g n HeLspoht~callyact~veand ~t could be said that a generatmg factor ~n the scheme was h~s awareness of the choice available to the councd tenant ~ n c o m p a n s o n t o t h e o w n e r o c c u p ~ e r Amajorobject~ve was to prowde opportumt~es for people to I~ve the way they want to, mcludmg opportumtles resulting from bemg on or close to the ground Another was the dtscovely of a local tradmonal form of working class housmg, usmg pedestrian streets
"1 d o n ' t throe of house plans at all at the begmnmg ~ tl,,n ~ enttrely of the s~te and of the restriction% and there are not ~mlv spattal restrictions but also socLal restHchons on the stte Nov~ (th~s s~te) was very dpfflcult, ~t was expected of m~ that I would put u p m t h e r t w o s l a b blocl-sor t w o t o w e r blocks, and th{ f~r,t battle I had w~th the chents was actually to prove to them that you c o u l d do a Iowr~se htgh density scheme N o w my argumen~ was that the area was very deprwed of pubhc open space hut possibly even more so of pr/vate open space The[e was nowhere' where anybody could be alone, or do any of the thmgs that le~ depr~ved areas would be able to do, and ~t was on that partlculm level that I dec~ded to t r y and do a sort of funny section, to spread the hulldmg as much as I could over the whole c~f the s,~

Earher ~n the mtervtew, replymg to a question on whether they used type plans developed ~n previous schemes, he sa~d
'We d o n ' t thmk, as an absolutely central thmg, that a type plan should be considered outside ~ts s~te, I mean the whole p o n t of good housmg ~s the relationship between the umt and what's around ~t'

So the stte was a generator, another objecttve from the outset was t o b u d d ~ n Iownse But for th~sdes~gner~twas clearly d~fflcult to separate out d~fferent factors ~n the destgn the process and the product are seen ~naholtst~cway The various requirements are facets of a stogie problem, to be solved m an mtegrated way The subjective ~s to be treasured The analys~s-synthes~s model ~s clearly wrong here, but the fit w~th the generator-conjecture-analys~s model ~sgood Thes~te~sdescnbedasa'generat~ngth~ng'w~thout prompttng or previous use of thts term by the mterwewer Possibly the s~te would be found to be the stogie most common generator ~n housmg, tf the destgn process was stud~edforalarge number of schemes For one more scheme ~n the sample the site played a role ~n generatmg the solution, but for the other three tt was not very ~mportant m that they used solutions which had been at least partly worked out for other contexts The other scheme where s~te d~d play a part was Kedleston Walk, Bethnal Green, by Douglas Stephen and Partners The scheme ~s of 58 umts, for 2-, 4- and 6-person households, ~n an mgemous plan, agam usmg a pedestrtan

Followmg thLs conjecture the designer had to analyse h~s proposal, to convince first himself and then the chents tt]at ~t d~d m fact satisfy the problem
'1 sper~t a lot of ttme wandermg about t~n Bethrlal Gveent ainu almost Ln the tmmedtate w c m t t y of that particular s~te there was a particular Bethnal Green type of dwelhng ~t was one of the bases for th~s s~te ' (He then described these dwelhngs, w~tt~ d~agrams, and how the pedestrian street formed a communal ~ecreat~onspace) '1 so enjoyed th~sthat I consciously tned,~f not to recreate ~t, certamly not to let ~t entirely d~sappear, so when the conftguratton of the central street came about I d~d have thts somewhat m mind"

F~g 2 L i n d e n G r o v e s;te w a s a 'generattng thing' ( R e p r o d u c e d f r o m A r c h i t e c t u r a l Review, November ] 971 w~th permission ' A r c h i t e c t u r a l Pre~s L t d )

Th~s desire to mamtam traditional patterns appears agam as a strong element ~n Darbourne and Darke's Marquess Road scheme. The use of relattvely low rise solutions at very high dens~ttes, p~oneered ~n their earher Ldlmgton Street scheme, had ongmally been for v~sual rather than social reasons, to g~ve a traditional townscape of streets and squares rather than the then current 'towers ~n a park'aesthet~c Th~salmwasextended~n Marquess Road to include the soctal oblectwe of prowdmg 'an atmosphere of house-dwelhng for everyone', w~th a small prwate garden for family dwelhngs 'm a traditional relat~onsh~p to a communal space' A height of four to five storeys over most of the site was to keep the traditional London scale and to allow the church to retain its role as a wsual focus The dwelling type plans were taken over v~rtually unchanged from stage III of L~lhngton Street, with the addltton of a new two-storey type which was to be used beside the h~gher blocks, 'hke a mews street' as the designers put et, again relatmg their forms to tradmonal patterns The designers d~d subject then scheme to r~gorous testtng against vartous constraints, ~ncludmg a feaslb~hty study of rehabilitation of the exlstmg butldmgs as an alternat~vetonewbu~ldmg But t h e a ~ m o f a l l o w m g traditional wsual and social patterns to be retamed ~s clearly a self-tmposed constramt that arises from a value judgement It therefore takes tts place as an archetypal primary generator The next scheme to be considered is Pollards Hill, Merton T h e l n t e r w e w w a s w ~ t h Richard MacCormac, who has written about the scheme and ~ts debt to the Land Use theories of March and Martm (see Martin and Marcht41, March andSteadman, ~s MacCormac ]3 and in the report on RIBAconference~nArch~t J , 4 J u l y 1973 MacCormac was ~n fact one of a team of designers then w~th



Fig. $ Kedleston Walk low-rise gives tenants better opportumtzes (Reproduced from Architects'Journal, I November 1972. wzth permzsslon Architectural Press L t d )

F,g. 4 Marquess Road retaining famzhar visual and social patterns (Reproduced from Archttectural Review, September 1 9 7 4 wttb permission. Sam Lambert )

the L o n d o n Borough o f M e r t o n The site Is a large one, a b o u t 41 acres, developed at 116 persons t o the acre w i t h an almost continuous three-storey terrace o f housing t h a t =s folded r o u n d the outside of the site hke a Greek key

pattern, or 'a sort of intestinal g e o m e t r y ' ~n MacCormac's words A series of 'P' shaped courtyards are f o r m e d t o b o t h sides o f the block, used on the outside f o r parking and on the inside as grassed play areas, giving access to the large central green space Th~s was a particularly clear case o f the design team learning a b o u t the p r o b l e m by t r y i n g to produce a solution The design team had been e x p l o r i n g the p r o b l e m for some time, and had rejected a solution using malsonettes, before t h e y articulated and clarified the criteria which t h e y had been using unconsciously Jn rejecting the mmsonette solution When made explicit, these criteria could be used to produce a solution acceptable t o the design team. A comphcatmg factor was t h a t t h e y were a t t e m p t i n g to design a housing system for use by a small c o n s o r t i u m of local authorltJes f o r densities up to 150 ppa This revolved n o t o n l y pohtlcal problems b u t difficulties w i t h cost w h e n budding t o densities lower than 150 'The high price, the d~fflcult~es of the consortium, and our ~ncreasmngawareness of the difficulties of budding buildings that put fam~hes w~th chddren off the ground, all converged to make us feel that ~t was necessary to, have a radtcal rethink So we then brought into focus a ser=esof criteria which had been qu=te ~mphc=t in our criteria for the h~gh buildings, the stacked buildings, but were all clearly based on what you can do wath a house on the ground They were, to provide private open space, btgger than a balcony - obviously you can't do that econom=cally unless you do at on the ground, -- to connect that pr=vate open space to a pubhc open space, of a kind that's assoc=ated w~th a hm=ted group of people who can feel some

Vol 1, No 1, July 1979


Fig 5 Pollards Hill 'you can't start w~th a brief and then design Architectural Press Ltd )

' (Reproduced from Architectural Review, ApHI 1971 w~th permzsszor~

sort of respons~bd~ty f o r the space, and wdl pohce tt, and I can't qu~te see h o w you can do ~t in stack buddmgs "[hen we thought that access, generally, was much better to a house than to flats, ~t's more convenient and there aren't indefensible (to use Oscar Newman's term) sorts of space' "Once we'd fhpped f r o m a stack dwelhng to houses on the ground we assumed a terrace would be the best way of doing ~t and the whole exercise, f o r m a l l y speakm9, was to find a way of making a terrace continuous so that you can use space m the most efficient way

In other words, once the criteria were made explicit they could act as primary generators the terrace concept was estabhshed and the analysis f o l l o w i n g this conjecture could concentrate on ach~evmg house plans, stte layout and detaded design which best met thmr criteria Later, when asked about the source of the brief, MacCormac said
a brief comes about through essentially, an ongoing relat~onsh~p between what ~s possible ~n architecture and what you want to do And everythmg you do modifies y o u r ~deaof what ~s possible you can't start w~th a brief and (then) design, you have to start designing and briefing s~muftaneously, because these two activities are completely interrelated'

Th~s ~s a particularly s~gmflcant statement coming as ~t does f r o m a designer trained during the sixties at t w o of the schools which emphaslsed 'design methods' He was presumably taught to be aware of and ~n control of h~s own design process In sp~te of such a training he finds the 'analys~s-synthes~s' methods unworkable and instead, as this paper has been suggesting, explores what is possible by making a conjecture at a solution The final case to be considered ~s the Smlthsons' scheme at Robin Hood Gardens T h l s ~ s t h e f t r s t r e a h z a t l o n of t h e S m ~ t h s o n s ' t h m k ~ n g o n housing the des~gn concept dates back to thmr Golden Lane c o m p e t i t i o n entry ~n 1952 As reahzed at Poplar, ~t consists of t w o concrete slab blocks

of 7 and 10 storeys, w~th wkde access decks ('streets Ir~ the air') at every third f l o o r Between them Is a grassed m o u n d for children's play, and to the outside are sunken access ways to the basement parking, and acoustic walls to the mare roads on rather side of the site The researcher is faced with a d i f f i c u l t y in attempting to test the fit of the 'generator-conjectureanalysis' model to the Smlthsons' design process, namely the fact that the interview w~th Alison Smithson produced very httle reformation about the genesis of the scheme The interviewer was referred to thmr books The Robin Hood Gardens scheme ~s discussed prmcLpally in Ordinariness and L i g h t (1970) but thmr other bool~ and the plentiful wrttmgs a b o u t the Sm~thsons by others can add dues to their way of thinking and working These can lead the reader into stimulating new ways of thinking about architecture but shed httle dtrect hght on the Sm~thsons' design method A d~scuss~on of their concept of architecture mlght be fascmatmg but ls not relevant here It w o u l d be easy enough, after making a thorough study of the Smithson, to suggest plausible generating objectives such as, in th~s case, the destre to make their own d e f l m t w e statement on the problem of mass housing, to use materials m a way that respects their nature, m general to demonstrate their developing ~deas which they are usually forced to wr~te about rather than build, and thus to provtde continued opportunities for exchanges of ideas w i t h the small international circle of desMgners and crlttcs w h o share their deflmt~on of architecture and are absorbed by s~mllar issues The p o i n t ~s that there ~s netther evtdence to support nor to deny thetr use of any particular process of design In the tradttlons of scientific method, a single contrary mstance~ssuff~cl~nttofalsifyahypothes~s Th~s is not the case here I n t h e f ~ r s t place the Smithsons do not



Fig 6

Robin Hood Gardens as detailed evzdence on design process

constitute a 'contrary instance' but merely one where the facts are not known Secondly, the hypothes~s on offer Is not that all architects design according to a generatorconjecture-analysis model, but that many appear to do so (w~thout necessardy being aware of what method they use) and that it ~s a method which is more natural to use than the analys~s-synthes~s method which has been w~dely taught and advocated

The object of th=s paper has been to augment our understanding of the process of design as practised by architects It is n o t the author's intention to prescribe a single 'correct' procedure, to cntlc=se methods which d=ffer f r o m the model that has been proposed, or to provide a recipe for 'good' design This was typically the retention during the early phase of design methods research, wh=ch has been briefly described above The method advocated m the sixties was one of analys=s f o l l o w e d by synthesis, or an elaborated version of th~s In particular, the requirements and their mutual =mphcat=ons were to be thoroughly studied before any a t t e m p t was made to reach a destgn solut=on It has been suggLsted m this paper that des,gners d o n o t start w~th a full and exphc=t hst of factors to be considered, w i t h performance hm=ts predetermined where possible. Rather they have to find a way of reducing the var=ety of potenttal solut=ons to the as yet imperfectlyunderstood problem, to a small class of solut=ons that is cogmt~vely manageable To do th~s, they f i x on a particular objective or small group of objectwes, usually strongly valued and selfqmposed, for reasons that rest on thmr subjective judgement rather than being reached by a process of Iog=c These major a~ms, called here p r i m a r y generators, then gwe r~se to a proposed solutmn or conjecture, which makes it poss=ble to clarify the detaded requ=rements as the conjecture =s tested to seen h o w far they can be met The evidence of the mterv=ews w=th architects has supported the suppos=tton that th=s =s the way that many architects do ~n fact des=gn They use phrases such as 'the s=te was the mare starting-off point', ' t h a t was one of the generating things', and 'we had three major s~mphst=c a=ms at the outset, before we started thinking about the design =n detad' It =s clear =n most cases that the des=gn concept was arrived at before the requ=rements had been worked o u t =n detad, and necessardy so, since these requirements could only become operat=onal m the c o n t e x t of a partmular solut=on There do n o t appear to be any cases in the sample where the requ=rements and thmr interrelationships were analysed =n detad =n advance of any conjectured solution

Thus the analysis-synthesis model w o u l d seem to be refuted as a method which can readdy be used m practace The generator-conjecture-analysis model has a closer f i t w i t h the evidence presented here. Of course this model should be subjected to further testing, and future research wdl, It ~s hoped, be able to elaborate the model, perhaps t o differentiate between the methods of different designers, and to explore further the mental constructs that give rise to the primary generators One of the shortcomings of the early phase of design methods research was that mt concentrated on design m o r p h o l o g y , a sequence of boxes bearing parttcular labels, rather than the way particular designers filled the boxes wroth concepts, and the source of the designers' concepts The author feels that the most interesting direction for design research to take n o w is to find further ways o f ' l o o k i n g reside the designer's head', of exploring subjectivity The demal of the value of the subjective and the hope that the budding w o u l d 'design itself' n o w seem to be products of a sclentmstlc rather than a scientific way of thinking The image of the user imphed by this attitude was a mechamstm one, an a n t h r o p o m e t n c m a n m k m w~th certain enwronmental needs but no emotional responses The users' reactions, often I~terally violent, to buddmgs designed w i t h th~s image of man have shown that such architects and architecture are hated by the pubhc A revaluation of subjectivity m design can lead to a revaluation of the subjective responses of the user, and hopefully to a more responswe architecture Such an architecture wdl reflect the diversity and anarchy of human hfe, just as research on design methods should reflect the d~vers~ty ~n approaches to design It ts not necessary to prescribe one correct procedure to cover all cases, the trend m many branches of knowledge ~s away f r o m the concept of a single reigning theory Feyerabend 8 has recently pleaded for a less authoritarian w e w of knowledge anarchism ~snot only possible, ~t ~snecessary both for the internal progress of science and for the development of our culture as a whole And, Reason, at last joins all those other abstract monsters such as Obhgat~on, Duty, Morahty, Truth and thmr more concrete predecessors,the Gods, whmh were once used to mttm~date man and restrict h~s free and happy development ~t w~thers away

1 Alexander, C The Determination of Components for an Indian Village, in Jones, J Christopher and Thornley, D G (ed) Conference on Design Methods, Pergamon Press, 1963 Archer, L B The structure of the design process, m Broadbent, G and Ward, A (eds) Destgn Methods in Arch/tecture, Lund Humphnes, 1969 Aron, R. German Sociology, The Free Press of Glencoe, 1964 Broadbent, G Design m Architecture, John Wiley, Chtchester, 1973 Broadbent, G and Ward, A. (eds) Design Methods m Architecture, Lund Humphnes, 196g Chermayeff, S and Alexander, C Commumty and Privacy, Doubleday, 1963 Eastman, Charles M. On the analysis of intu~t~ve deslgn~ processes, in Moore, G T (ed) Emerging Methods m Enwronmental Design and Planning, M I T Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1970 Feyerabend, P AgamstMethod, New Left Books, 1975 Hanson,K Design from linked requirements in a housing problem, in Broadbent, G and Ward, A (eds) Design Methods m Architecture, Lund Humphnes, 1969 HiIher, W, Mu~Jrove, 3. and O'Sullivan, P Knowledge and design, in Mitchell, W J (ed) Envtronmental Design Research and Practice, Umversity of Cahforma, 1972 Kuhn, T The Structure o f Sclenttftc Revolutions, Umverstty of Chicago Press, 1962 Lawson, B.R Problem solwng m arch=tectural design, Doctoral Thesis, Umvers~ty of Aston m B=rmmgham, 1972

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MacCormac, R The evolution of the design, Archer De~ 1971 (October), 617 Martin, J Lo and March, L (eds) Urban Space and Structures. Cambridge Umversity Press, London, 1972 March, L and Steadman, J P The Geometry of Enwronment. RIBA, London, 1971 Mayer, T W. Apprmsal =n the budding destgn process, in Moore, G T (ed) Emerging Methods m Enwronmental Design and Planning. M I T Press, Cambrtdge, Mass, 1970 Wehrh, R Open-ended problemsolwng in design, Doctoral Thesis, University of Utah, 1968 Whitehead, B and Eldars, M Z An approach to theoptlmal layout of s,nglestoreybu~Idmgs, Archlt J , 1964, 139, 1373 Yeomans, D Momtormg Design Processes, ,n Changing Desrgn, Evans, B, Powell, J and Talbot, R (eds), Wdey, to be pubhshed

Jencks, Charles, Modern Movements m Architecture. Pengu~ 1973 Jones, J Christopher and Thornley, D G (eds) Conferenc, on Desrgn Methods, Pergamon Pres% Oxford, 1963 Mitchell, W.J. (ed) Environmental design research and practice, Proceedings of the EDRA 3 / A R 8 Conf Umversltv of Cahforma, 1972 Moore, G T (ed) Emergmg methods ~n envbronmental desLgn and planning, Pro Design Methods Group First Int Conf . M I T Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1970 Smlthson, A (ed) Team 10pr=mer Archlt Des, 1965 Smlthson, A and Smlthson, P Urban Structuring, Studt~ Vista, 1967 Smithson, A and Smlthson, P Ordinariness and Light. Faber, London, 1970 Smithson, A and Smlthson, P Without Rhetoric an Architectural Aesthetic 1955-72, Lat=mer New D~mens~on~ 1973

17 18 19

Supplementary References
Banham, Reyner, The New Brutahsm ethrc or aesthetrc2 Architectural Press, London, 1966