Balliol College Dining Hall, Oxford (Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
Bill Kleinsasser wanted to outline a theory base for architecture that would help make the built environment better. He knew design is an integrative act of great complexity, requiring the development of an appropriate organizational structure unique to every new project. In many respects, his incessant rewriting and editing of his self-published textbook Synthesis served as an apt metaphor for this process. He was never satisfied with his text; as with architecture, he sought an organizational structure for Synthesis that was as unified, eloquent, and complete as possible.
In the following excerpt from the preface to his fifth edition of Synthesis, Bill defined eight objectives for the design of good places. In my opinion, the definition of these objectives (and their attendant elaboration in Synthesis 5) represent the acme of Bill’s pursuit of a concise and comprehensive design philosophy. His later redrafts of Synthesis never again so elegantly achieved the same degree of clarity and completeness, and indeed appear wanting by comparison.
Good places provide supportive conditions and important opportunities for people. Whether large or small, public or private, inside or outside, they provide settings that are precise, generous, and evocative—liberating and inspiring as well as accommodating. Good places embody much and their design is always based upon much; they are the result of an inclusive integration, a synthesis of many essential concerns:
As architects, we are expected to make places that are:
- Immediately useful and accommodating
- Lastingly useful and opportunity-rich
- Responsive to place and setting
- Informed regarding historical precedent and imagery
- Well-built and internally coordinated
- Well-served and controllable
Accomplishing this is difficult. Much must be considered. Much understood, and much synthesized. Much imagination and good judgment used along the way.
It is helpful in this effort to convert the qualities above into eight discrete objectives. They can then be studied and developed, responded to in our projects, returned to again and again as a theory base, and changed when necessary. Briefly stated, the objectives are to:
Support Purposes and Activities:
Accommodate the regularly occurring activities made explicit by the building program and by the requirements of first users.
Establish spatial conditions that offer more than what is required by first users and first uses; that is, to make places that will remain useful and meaningful over time.
Respond to Place:
Achieve connection, particularity, orientation, physical continuity, and appropriateness vis-à-vis setting.
Maintain Historical Continuity:
Unite many ideas, times, places, and people by appropriately using known principles of design, new principles of design, and imagery.
Select and design systems of construction that will appropriately define required spaces without waste or confusion.
Integrate Services and Environmental Controls:
Select and design environmental control and other systems that will appropriately serve required spaces without waste or confusion.
Achieve unity, differentiation of parts, and full design synthesis.
Make places that are evocative, memorable, eloquent, and alive.
The objectives ae expressed as design actions so that response to them is immediately implied. They must be interpreted and used in ways that are appropriate to the design situation. If this is done, they will provide insight and stimulate new thought, but not diminish the pleasure and the necessity of imaginative, creative design exploration.
It is also helpful to divide the act of design/synthesis into two parts:
- Determine an appropriate organizational structure; that is, to determine a basic theme or direction that appropriately orders all parts. If this structure is comprehensive, it must be based upon all of the objectives.
- Develop the structure; that is, to actually establish the opportunities and qualities called for by the project (again, all eight objectives should be used).