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Contradictions in the design space

Presented at the Design Research Conference in Umea 2014. Download full paper at

The design space is a concept often used to encompass all possible designs for a given brief, impossible to be determined, but passive of manipulation by creative designers. The concept as such cannot prevent deterministic accounts of design activity. With the aim of overcoming determinism, this concept is reconsidered beyond the cognitive realm, as part of the social production of space. This renewed perspective is applied to study a medical imaging center project in The Netherlands. The boundaries found in this design space were not self-imposed constraints, but imperative economic, political, and cultural conditions that contradicted each other. To reveal the materiality of the design space, the project has been brought to a teaching experiment, where students analyzed the project drawings and proposed changes using a custom parametric modeling tool. Students faced similar contradictions, despite working under different conditions, supporting the claim that the design space has intrinsic contradictions even if not cognized.

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Contradictions in the design space

  1. 1. 1 Contradictions in the design space Frederick van Amstel, PhD Researcher Construction Management & Engineering Dept.
  2. 2. Antithesis: the design space as an abstract space with all possible design alternatives in a certain context 11
  3. 3. Thesis: the design space as socially constructed, dealing with contradictions in society while having its own 11 ?
  4. 4. Problems, solutions, etc, all stem from contradictions 9 Images are misleading. Images should have captions. Rene Magritte
  5. 5. What is this? 10
  6. 6. This not concrete, but in this presentation it is concrete in the sense that it is not abstract (out of context) 10
  7. 7. Research context: Medical imaging center 10
  8. 8. 8 Identifying contradictions in activities
  9. 9. Contradiction found: from an optimized procedure to a knowledge co-creation activity 10 Medical imaging center Southeast Hospital Northwest Hospital
  10. 10. Observing collaborative/participatory design 6Second workshop for a new Medical Imaging Center.
  11. 11. Design reveals how contradictions in space (in activity) becomes contradictions of space 11 Productivity X Organizational boundaries Layout fragmentation X Path homogeneization
  12. 12. Walking paths parametric design tool 11 Used to reconstruct spatial designs in relation to nurses and patient activities
  13. 13. Visualizing the design space 11 Superposed reconstructed alternatives. The fuzzy areas represent controversial parts of the design.
  14. 14. 1 Hypothesis: If contradictions are intrinsic to the design space, reconstructing this space in another context would reproduce the same contradictions.
  15. 15. Comparing the observed practice with a teaching experiment 15 All practitioner’s designs Students without initial constraints ≈
  16. 16. Comparing the observed practice with a teaching experiment 15 All practitioner’s designs Students with paths constraints ≈
  17. 17. The parametric design tool was already biased to fragment the layout and homogenize the paths 10
  18. 18. Contradiction in research activity: from a knowledge co- creation activity to an optimized procedure 10 Jacob Beal
  19. 19. Findings ▪The design space reproduces the contradictions in activity ▪Contradictions are simultaneously cause and effect of design ▪If contradictions won’t go away, what can we do? 16
  20. 20. -Enjoy life. 17
  21. 21. 21 My Research Interests ▪ Participatory Design ▪ Activity Theory ▪ Cultural Studies ▪ Frederick van Amstel ▪ Twitter @fredvanamstel ▪