Back to school

Words:
Alex Wright

For both students and lecturers heading for uni, Design Process in Architecture is a new book to stow in your satchel

Design Process in Architecture: from concept to completion.  By Geoffrey Makstutis Paperback 192pp, Laurence King Publishing
Design Process in Architecture: from concept to completion. By Geoffrey Makstutis Paperback 192pp, Laurence King Publishing

The design process is a fiendishly complex thing. Even when limited to the relatively constrained field of architectural design, the variety of activities involved, and the plethora of objects which the process produces, makes any attempt at describing it extremely daunting. For those teaching architectural design, these difficulties are all too well understood. In his new book ‘Design Process in Architecture’, Geoffrey Makstutis addresses this challenging area of pedagogy directly and with a clear aim. The book’s ambition is not to teach a student how to design, or to evaluate design as good or bad, it rather addresses the problem of how a young designer can begin to define their own working process. It is written for those considering, or in the early years of, studying architecture. 

The book is structured in a logical progression of themes, building to a final case study in which the author illustrates the breadth of the architectural design process from end to end. First, the reader is introduced to the various stages of the design process and the tools used. Makstutis prioritises the information logically using succinct, straightforward and engaging language. The book is easy to read, the author never lingering too long on any one point, and is generously illustrated with well chosen projects, sketches and examples to support each chapter’s subject matter.

Makstutis refers to the earliest known examples of building regulations, found in Code of Hammurabi, dating back to 1754BC (who knew!)

The third chapter presents half a dozen models of the design process, drawn from architecture, engineering and product design. These are useful to a degree, but highlight the lack of any generally accepted, comprehensive, coherent and readily applicable model of the architectural design process. A more diverse range of models might have helped, but given the book’s limited aims, the principle components of the process are described well within the overall framework of design as a fundamentally iterative, ongoing activity.

Subsequent chapters deal with general approaches to architectural design, the importance of project definition and the design process in action. Examples of recently completed high profile buildings are used to best effect, quotes from their architects add colour and, as the book’s subtitle suggests, Makstutis covers the full range of outputs idea to finish. Relatively shallow enquiry in these sections is balanced by the final chapter – a case study of the New Adelphi Building for the University of Salford in Greater Manchester by Stride Treglown. For those studying architecture at Salford (in that very building) this chapter will doubtless have a particular interest, but for any reader it provides a satisfying culmination of the themes raised throughout.

One model of a design process: Design Thinking, showing how ideas generation moves through experimentation to focus on an evolved and deliverable innovation.
One model of a design process: Design Thinking, showing how ideas generation moves through experimentation to focus on an evolved and deliverable innovation.

The book attempts to maintain balance between ways in which individuals and groups design, between the use of analogue and digital tools and between the art and science of architecture. Given the pace of change in digital design and fabrication the text covering these issues is likely to have the shortest shelf-life. Makstutis refers to various constraints on the process including the earliest known examples of building regulations, found in Code of Hammurabi, dating back to 1754BC (who knew!). The book presents a positive outlook, perhaps even  bordering on the rose-tinted. However this may say more about the reviewer than the book.

This book is essential to the library of those working in architectural education and a sound addition to first year reading lists. For practising architects looking to refresh their critically self-reflective design practice, it is probably not for you. But if you need something to introduce the activity of architectural design to an aspiring or first year architecture student, I can think of no better book. 

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