Introduced by Robin Jacques on 6 April 1998
The Design Process
The speaker began his talk on the design process by stressing the milieu of the late 1960s - a time when he undertook his training and started his working life as an architect. The period was dominated by the philosophy of the modernist, the technology of the flat roof, the application of new materials, and architects who confidently pursued their individual design concepts without much consultation with the users of the proposed structures.
Architects were receiving commissions to clear rat-infested older dwellings. In their race to construct multi-storied tower blocks, like Hulme-5 in Manchester, now demolished, architects tended to impose structures without regard for the social and economic context. The compressed timeframe in which this housing was being built meant that almost no learning curve could operate. The unfortunate result was that mistakes were repeated. ‘Architects have been harmed by the unsatisfactory nature of modern tower blocks’ said Mr Jacques, ‘and now it is incumbent upon architects to learn from the mistakes of the l960s.’
To contrast with the tower block estates built in England, he showed slides of the tower houses of the Mani - all built in local stone, that is a high-quality material and all developed out of an environmental necessity - mainly violent local feuding.
This was followed by slides of some of his firm's projects which early on had attempted to incorporate environmental concerns.
- First a house on Orkney where a conservatory generated adequate heating from February to November.
- Next a mill near Chippenham combining some structural features of the past with primarily new material.
- A surgery built at Radstock demonstrated the benefits that can be derived from consultations with users.
The speaker strongly emphasised the importance of building to satisfy the user and concluded by recommending a design process which would help to ensure that the user’s needs were understood and met.
1 State given problem.
2 Question perception / assumptions.
3 Identify principal actors / users.
4 Identify push / pull forces.
5 Investigation and measurements.
6 Produce problems / solutions / hypotheses.
7 Identify attributes & criteria for measurements.
8 Test hypothesis & refine to produce final design.
9 Detail engineering of solutions.
10 Implementation.
11 Measure performance against predicted criteria.
12 Feedback.

In the question period, the speaker was asked if this process was used by other architects. He said, ‘increasingly, but it’s been a slow process.’ Regarding a question on cost, he said ‘although not explicit, cost was implied by the model and included at all stages’. Mixed design projects make the use of the concept more complex and necessitate the participation of a person who can put forward a robust concept accommodating various needs and views.
When asked about some current hazards such as radon, he replied that as more problems can be measured, such as levels of radon and heat loss, the more the architect must anticipate and deal with them. He expressed concern that planners do not have adequate training to equip them to work effectively with architects and that this can sometimes create unnecessary barriers to achieving better solutions to newly arising problems. He concluded the question period on the issue of architectural awards. He expressed the view that the awards were typically made to the icons in architecture and the buildings that have served the clients well generally failed to attract the same level of attention or recognition.
Betty Suchar