Theory/Analysis/Design

Theories of critique and analysis are distinct from theories of making and designing. This seems self-evident but has been often ignored in architectural design. In the 1990s a movement called ‘deconstructivism’ based on deconstruction flourished, helped along by a major show at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. Despite the fact that most of the architects included in the show denied being part of such a movement, architects and students went about using its theories. And critics and theorists churned out many papers about deconstructivist design. Yet the origin of the ideas came from literary theory as a method of pulling apart texts in order to study them and understand their complex (and often contradictory) meanings. It was an analytical theory but was picked up and used as a way of making architecture. Think about this in terms outside of architecture – is the way you critique a text mean that is the way the author put it together? When you analyse a film, photograph, or song, does that then become a pattern to follow when you set out to make one of your own?

This is not to say that what you learn from analysis or critique is not useful in the design studio. It helps you think about issues and to understand complexity. But that is different from telling you how to go about the process of designing.

Deconstructivisim eventually faded but not before a good deal of work was produced that never quite convinced anyone (no one takes it seriously today). However, this confusion continues today with different theories and methods. The computer as a tool is being mistaken for content and the generator of ideas. Think of the computer as a highly sophisticated pencil – was the pencil the origin of ideas? Was the pencil responsible for design decision?

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