What is design theory?
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What is design theory?

Investigating articles of THE PLAN JOURNAL’s section on “Theory”

What is design theory?
By Editorial Staff -

 

We are presenting some of the ideas and visions regarding design theory in The Plan Journal (TPJ) that resonated with us. The first three articles can be found in TPJ’s Volume 1/2016 - Issue 1. In “Planning Criticism: Operative Contingencies in the Project of the Italian Tendenza,” the author Pasquale De Paola explains that “in order to re-assess architecture’s critical role and redefine the disciplinary domain of its production,” it was necessary for him to “beyond forms of technocratic utopias, while it historically analyzes operative theoretical contingencies relative to the ‘project’ of the Italian Tendenza.” In “Building Portraits,” the author Elena Manferdini explains that “Building Portraits is a suite of elevation studies developed by Atelier Manferdini for an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015 called Building the Picture and a subsequent solo show at Industry Gallery in Los Angeles in 2016 called Building Portraits.” In “Toward and Ethical Technique: Reframing Architecture’s ‘Critical Call’ through Hanna Arendt,” the author Paul Holmquist “examines how the critical vocation of architecture might be reclaimed through reconsidering the interrelationship of technique and politics in light of the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt.”

The next article can be found in TPJ’s Volume 2/2017 - Issue 1. In “The Act and Art of Architectural Critique: A Drawing, a House, and a Sign,” the author Andreea Mihalache explains that “the role of criticism is not to split, but rather to bring matters together in an assembly.”

Finally, we share some thoughts about Making Design Theory.

>> We encourage you to browse The Plan Journal and explore its section dedicated to Theory for yourself.

Volume 1/2016 - Issue 1

In his editorial, “In This Issue [1/2016],” Maurizio Sabini, Editor-in-Chief of The Plan Journal wrote:

“In the Theory section,” ... “Elena Manferdini elaborates on her visual research on building facades choosing the miesian grid as a testing ground, while offering in turn intriguing leads for further research into the democratic ethos of the grid (as a “side-effect,” I would argue, of the unfolding of the Modern Project). We only hope to see more investigation on the subject, especially if woven through Manferdini’s beautiful visual research. From a more philosophical standpoint, we host two contributions (one, by Paul Holmquist, on Hannah Arendt’s thought, and another one, by Pasquale De Paola, on the legacy of the Italian Tendenza) on the question of architecture’s “critical call.,”1 on which we will continue to reflect in future issues. Arendt’s ethical questions, as carefully unpacked by Holmquist, and the Tendenza as a planned critique to the involution of late-Modern architecture, extensively discussed by De Paola, offer enlightening contributions on the on-going important question of how can architecture maintain and redefine its mission to be a critical voice within culture and society. This renewed interest in Rossi's legacy is actually quite fitting, as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the "Analogous City": a complex and "thick" line of inquiry brilliantly collapsed in a drawing/collage that so powerfully continues to resonate with us today.

Notes 
1 See the conversation initiated at the paper session “Critical Call,” 104th ACSA Annual Meeting in Seattle WA, March 17-19, 2016, co-chairs Robert Corser and Sharon Haar: http://www.acsa-arch.org/programs-events/conferences/annual-meeting/104th-annual-meeting(link is external).

In “Building Portraits,” the author Elena Manferdini explains that the “42 drawings were produced during the past two years and they explore the potential of intricate scripted line work depicting building facades.” 

 Building the Picture III, 2014. Print on Aluminum 24” x 24”.
Building the Picture III, 2014. Print on Aluminum 24” x 24”.

Manferdini’s research points out that “the collection exists simultaneously as architectural research and as autonomous artwork. These drawings can be understood as scaled down reproduction of buildings, and at the same time as full scale printed artifacts.” 

>> The article can be found here in TPJ (in English)

In “Toward and Ethical Technique: Reframing Architecture’s ‘Critical Call’ through Hanna Arendt,” the author Paul Holmquist argues that “Arendt’s conception of a fabricated common world that is essential to establishing a properly human sense of reality opens up ways to rethink the constitutive political role of architecture.” 

 Hannah Arendt. © The Fred Stein Archive.
Hannah Arendt. © The Fred Stein Archive.

Holquist continues to argue that “as a discipline, architecture comprises an ‘ethical technique’ by which to guide the fabrication of the condition of ‘the common,’ and to constructively embody the recognition of a primary political reality arising out of human plurality.”

>> The article can be found here in TPJ (in English)

In “Planning Criticism: Operative Contingencies in the Project of the Italian Tendenza,” the author Pasquale De Paola considers that “contemporary architectural production seems to be generally defined by the recent fascination with speculative technologies and interdisciplinary processes.”

 Aldo Rossi, with Fabio Reinhart, Bruno Reichlin and Eraldo Consolascio, La città analoga, collage, various materials, 200 cm x 200 cm (6’ 6” x 6’ 6”), 1976. Collezione privata. © Eredi Aldo Rossi, courtesy Fondazione Aldo Rossi.
Aldo Rossi, with Fabio Reinhart, Bruno Reichlin and Eraldo Consolascio, La città analoga, collage, various materials, 200 cm x 200 cm (6’ 6” x 6’ 6”), 1976. Collezione privata. © Eredi Aldo Rossi, courtesy Fondazione Aldo Rossi.

De Paola continues “it has also become evident that its sense of criticality appears to lack the discursive specificity or a tendency that sees architecture as a form of internal knowledge characterized by its inherent will to the critical.”

>> The article can be found here in TPJ (in English)

 

Volume 2/2017 - Issue 1

In his editorial, “In This Issue [2/2017],” Maurizio Sabini, Editor-in-Chief of The Plan Journal wrote:

…we return with this issue to an articulated set of investigations on a variety of topics. Yet, connections among the contributions are many, both within the issue and with past issues. In fact, Andreea Mihalache’s essay is ideally related to a couple of essays previously published on the TPJ (vol. 1, no. 1, by Paul Holmquist and Pasquale De Paola), as it continues to unfold the conversation on architecture’s “critical call” – a conversation that we intend to continue to foster through our journal also on future issues. Mihalache’s central argument (“ ‘critical architecture’ belongs as much to the territory of judging, as it belongs to the realm of imagination and invention”), intriguingly developed through a triangulation between Saul Steiberg’s “visual sociology,” the Khrushchev/Nixon “kitchen debate,” and one of Bob Venturi’s early works.

In “The Act and Art of Architectural Critique: A Drawing, a House, and a Sign,” the author Andreea Mihalache shows “how the critical voice of architecture manifests itself as actively ‘dissecting,’ ‘orchestrating,’ and ‘reshuffling’ conventional meanings and interpretations.”

 Critique as “dissecting”: Saul Steinberg, Doubling Up, drawing first published in Architectural Forum, February 1946.
Critique as “dissecting”: Saul Steinberg, Doubling Up, drawing first published in Architectural Forum, February 1946.

Mihalache also proposes that the critical call of architecture is often hidden in plain sight in works that camouflage themselves under seemingly disengaged positions, and which, upon closer inspection, act as resources of architectural imagination.” 

>> The article can be found here in TPJ (in English)

 

Making Design Theory

In the book Making Design Theory, the author Johan Redström “offers a new approach to theory development in design research–one that is driven by practice, experimentation, and making.” 

Redström proposes that we consider theory not as stable and constant but as something unfolding—something acted as much as articulated, inherently fluid and transitional. Redström describes three ways in which theory, in particular formulating basic definitions, is made through design: the use of combinations of fluid terms to articulate issues; the definition of more complex concepts through practice; and combining sets of definitions made through design into “programs.” These are the building blocks for creating conceptual structures to support design. 

Design seems to thrive on the complexities arising from dichotomies: form and function, freedom and method, art and science. With his idea of transitional theory, Redström departs from the traditional academic imperative to pick a side—theory or practice, art or science. Doing so, he opens up something like a design space for theory development within design research.

Redström is Professor and Rector at Umeå Institute of Design, Sweden.

We look forward to exploring more design theory research and TPJ’s continued rich contribution to the dialogue.

>> To learn more, check out the resource: Johan Redström, Making Design Theory (MIT Press, 2017).

 

Why support + read TPJ?

The Plan Journal is intended to disseminate and promote innovative, thought-provoking, and relevant research, studies, and criticism related to architecture and urbanism. The journal grew out of an awareness that academia is all too often engaged in research that’s disconnected from the real-world challenges that face different professions, and that research is only possible for a small number of professional organizations, and, even then, with limited platforms for its dissemination. The overarching aim of TPJ is therefore to enrich the dialogue between researchers and professionals so as to foster both pertinent new knowledge and intellectually driven modes of practice.

How does it work + why does it matter?

Prospective contributors are encouraged to submit proposals or complete manuscripts to the Editor-in-Chief. Subject to positive feedback, proposals can then be developed into complete manuscripts and submitted for review, using the dedicated portal on the TPJ website. 

After preliminary approval, manuscripts will be forwarded to suitably qualified people for commenting. TPJ is committed to following a rigorous double-blind peer review process using at least two reviewers. The Editor-in-Chief may also occasionally invite recognized academics, critics, or professionals (including members of the editorial board) to contribute to the journal without going through the peer review process, if warranted by the author’s reputation.

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