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November 10, 2005 || 10:24 pm
The difficulty of representing 'good design'

We're working on rather a lot of 'design guidance' at the moment in the office. Documents that will be given to evil (and not-so-evil) developers and their architects to encourage and inspire them to produce pieces of urbanism that work in their context and that meet the desires and needs of the client and the community.

It's the kind of thing that is crucially important to get right but really easy to get wrong, even when you are intelligent, radical and progressive like us(!) We're not talking watercolours of neo-Georgian crap here - we're talking contemporary design that is nevertheless sensitive and thoughtful without losing its character and becoming another bland glass-and-render-with-a-bit-of wood apartment block.

One knows good design when one sees it, but how the hell does one represent such a thing on paper? I've had this struggle so many times. Precedent images - well, fine, but you don't always really know what you're looking at, its difficult to find precedents that really match your specific ideas, and everyone always falls back on the same old things: Borneo Sporenburg and all the Dutch stuff, mainly. Boring and not very useful, and if you're not careful, it can end up looking like a saccharine New Labour manifesto full of perfect stuff with no connection to reality. Plus, if its a document that's for public circulation, its not really on to steal images without gaining copyright approval so that's an extra layer of complexity for your client (haranguing you because they're not getting what they wanted although they have no idea what they _do_ want) to grasp.

Then, you can do renderings or drawings of your own. Again, problems. You don't want to design the spaces because that's not your job (you're merely trying to suggest guidelines for generic things like relationship of building to street, recommended densities, parking solutions and streetscape design). So you try and make your drawings quite architecturally unspecific. But then they don't show anything and are pointless - if they're photoshopped, you end up with a street full of grey communist slab blocks because you don't want to predict a fenestration pattern.

Photoshop looks flat a lot of the time, or can be really confusing if you attempt to put in a lot of detail. Hand-drawings can look too childish and happy, and has bad associations with evil developers who draw their ghastly malls by hand to make them look harmless. You put people in them to try and liven up the scene - but then the people hide all the little bits of architecture that you're trying to point out. Whatever style you choose can fall foul of someone's personal taste. How do you do your labelling and captions? It's a world of trouble.

We, and every other urban designer, continues to struggle on. Has anyone found a way of actually doing this that looks fresh, genuinely inspiring, characterful and easy?

2 comments

2 Comments:

a couple of points. one would be "one knows good design when one sees it", i would say the 'one' who knows the good design, should be able to represent themselves adequately. i think your question has more to do with an ambiguous role you are playing within this process. if you are consulting on this then fine, but if you are thinking revolutionary, why not represent yourselves in the same mantra. This is where something like old school archigram images come to mind, not to concentrate on the radicalness of them, but more on how effectively they represented an idea, creating context and providing a background to base something critical upon. I think what they provided was a delicate line of normalcy with a touch radical, an artful exercise of design ideas. So maybe the normalcy exists to counteract 'contemporary' design. Or maybe you flash mob them in end with the whole kit of tricks. alslop style. Hell make the buildings polka dot, it will get a response, rather than them not responding at all. I guess in the end, isn’t that was it is about??? A drawing that represents the personalities and ideas of the people behind the bit of paper, or projected power point image……

I think I am supposed to sending you some photos rather than commenting on your bog... from texas.

By Anonymous rg, at 3:14 am  

Why not sketch it on a piece of paper - then scan it and include the diagrams in a document that way. You avoid the 'computer generated' look, and retain some character.

By Blogger Gordon, at 1:53 pm  

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