Architecture and urban design in Oregon's southern Willamette Valley
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Commitment and Response
In the course of writing my previous blog entry (A Case Study – Part 4:Locus Amoenus) I had reason once more
to think of what I learned from one of the best teachers I ever had: T. William (“Bill”) Kleinsasser. Doing so, I spent a lazy
summer Sunday revisiting many of the essays and class notes Bill compiled to
form the basis of his book Synthesis.
Bill defined the process of design as a search for the order of systems.
He believed architects should avoid linear or additive decision-making
processes and strive to study many levels of forces simultaneously. Above all,
he understood that the act of designing required consideration of every
objective as early as possible, followed by iterative design cycles based upon
the organizational implications of those considerations.
Bill’s audience was primarily limited to his students. Synthesis
would never be widely published. As far as I can tell, his legacy is virtually
non-existent on the Internet. It would be a pity if his work simply became lost
to time. Therefore, I will occasionally feature some of Bill’s writings here on
my blog. I haven’t contacted his family for permission to do so but I trust
they would not mind.
The following is an excerpt from Synthesis dating back to 1967 regarding design process.
Bill’s words (with the notable exception of the gender bias which was
characteristic of the day) remain as timely and applicable now as when he wrote them
forty-five years ago:
we make buildings we may be prevented, by the repeated and pressurized act of
building-making, from remembering or realizing that our first responsibility is
the reinterpretation and reintegration of human needs. In this act we make, or
discover, the order of systems; the systems in our case being accommodations
for people. Therefore, I think that design is best defined as the process we
use in our never-ending search for the order of systems, that order which
exists at all levels of systematic organization and which disciplines every
system within our experience, man-made or natural.
systems we are concerned with are those which respond to the needs and
activities of people and which develop their capacities to respond, feel, and
wonder. People are complex, their activities are complex, and their context is
complex. Processes used to search for and manifest of this kind of system must
be processes which recognize this complexity.
process which is often successful in this search is one that balances
anticipation and action, permits full capacity to judge, and allows the
consideration of simultaneously interacting forces. It also recognizes that
most decisive, generative experience must come to us as personal discovery,
strengthening confidence and harnessing imagination. I call this the process of
commitment and response. For an architect, presuming some knowledge about the
problem and an open, searching, questioning mind, it begins with an idea (or ideas)
naively conceived in response to as much of a problem as is understood at the
time. If the idea is expressed, the expression becomes a commitment which will
evoke response, illuminating mistakes, omissions, poorly understood parts, and
organizational defects. It will also evoke feelings, the manifestation of its
own power and importance outside of its rational basis.
process is cyclical. It begins with a naïve conjecture about the order of the
system, which immediately suggests a better, more informed, more inclusive
conjecture, which in turn evokes another and so on. Each restatement about the
order of the system will include more information than the last and each
response will be made on the strength of more understanding. The process stops
when the conscience of the designer causes it to stop. If we learn to use other
committing and responding devices which have greater memories, greater capacity
for information storage, and are less fallible than the human mind, perhaps the
process will not stop short of perfection. Or maybe we will find that
perfection isn’t what we thought it was.
are several things that make this process of commitment and response work:
is the first commitment. Nothing is harder (especially for a serious and conscientious
student who is unfamiliar with the design processes) than to make a commitment
which seems to be premature. It seems exactly what he should not do. It seems
reckless, superficial, even childish. But, in fact, because it is tentative and
intended only to extend the designer’s power of insight, it cannot possibly be
wrong. Its purpose is to evoke, to develop the designer’s point of view, to
increase his expectations, to enlarge the scope of the problem. The response
seeks to perfect, to eliminate redundancy; to achieve, with a minimum of means,
maximum interaction and interdependence.
the designer must strive to make commitments and responses which are based on
the relationships among as many parts of the problem as possible; that is, they
must be comprehensive.
each commitment must be in a form appropriate to the status of the aspect of
the problem being dealt with. Sometimes this may be a model, a word, sometimes
a sentence, sometimes a sketch or diagram, sometimes a full-size mockup of
trick is to put the commitment in a shape that will allow the designer to use
his powers of analysis and judgment, whether they be intuitive or intellectual,
the result of experience or research. If the response is so committed, the
designer will be inclined to respond again, continuing the process. Being aware
of this, he will probably respond with greater freedom and self-assurance. The
more he disciplines himself to do it, the better he will get.