Firdous Nizar

Retracing Spatial Design Processes

How does dynamically tracing and documenting the messy evolution of conceptual designs facilitate reflexive and collaborative design processes in architecture practice?

Over the recent decades, contemporary architecture and its design processes have witnessed rapid digitization - owing to the advent of Computer-Aided Architectural Design (CAAD) tools. However, these tools for the architectural discipline have yet to holistically document the intuitive, “messy” and collaborative nature of its design processes. These processes and the design identity of the architects and designers have either been flattened or neglected while documentation through such rigid and detached CAAD tools and their interfaces.

Hence, architects and designers, as creative thinkers, need design tools that support and facilitate their reflexive design processes by tracking and retracing the evolution of their conceptual designs in a collaborative environment. These tools can encourage building on each other’s ideas and exploring all potential alternatives within a design project. Therefore, given the continued digital adaptation of the architecture discipline, tools that dynamically record and track the evolution of the design processes can help better validate the proposed conceptual designs in architectural projects.

This research is an investigation into the ongoing gap in the documentation of the ideation processes in architecture practice while generating and reflecting on ideas for the built environment by architects and designers. This gap is attributed to the various challenges and limitations of existing CAAD tools such as the rigidity of their interfaces and lack of support for collaborative design tasks. The research explores a digital tool-Retracer design application-for architects and designers through a proposed framework of “Reflexive Design Modes in Architecture”, where the Audio/Verbal mode of designing is at the centre of visualizing a space and reflects onto the other non-verbal modes of design such as Sketch, Concept, Precedent, Massing and Walkthrough.

Using this framework, the objectives of the proposed tool are: (1) to record and trace the concepts and design ideas generated during creative brainstorming sessions, and (2) to facilitate collective contribution to these designs. Through experimentation with these criteria, the proposed tool is investigated for its potential to bridge the gap in documenting and communicating the evolution of the designs in collaborative architecture practice. Future explorations of this research include gaining insights and feedback from practicing architects and designers and to refine the application’s interaction through their creative design frameworks.