The Roots of System-Oriented Design

Author: Birger Sevaldson, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Norway

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Systems Oriented Design (SOD) draws on different sources. It is based on an experimental designerly practice for complexity that did not originally have strong ties to systems theories. The main component of this practice was the innovative use of visualization for dealing with complexity. Visualization is found in different variations in all design fields. To limit the discussion, however, we need to exclude many aspects of design visualization to get to the core of the issue: designing for complexity. The many different strategies for visualization in design are found in two groups that are less central to the discussion in this book: 1) visualisations of design visions and 2) solutions and information visualisation. Though both are important for communicating the results of a SOD process, we are more interested in looking at visualisations that are closely related to the generative learning and design process. This means visualisation as high-level processual tools, methods, and conceptual frameworks. Another framing of the subject is made by mainly excluding the figurative design sketches commonly found in any generative design process. This mode of generative sketching will only be discussed as secondary issues.

Though we recognize their importance and encourage the use of these types of sketches even early in the process, they are not the focus of this discussion. We need to keep in mind though that figurative sketches might be part of a larger process, such as part of a Gigamap together with other representations such as texts, tables, symbols, and labels.

Though we insist on mixing various types of visualizations, the focus of this discussion emerges from the use of diagrams in design process visualisation and their potential to connect designing and thinking into an organic whole. These diagrammatic and generative visualisations are integrated media for both analytical and generative activities. They provide a smooth transition from analysis to synthesis and are artefacts that can be used to both analyse and conceptualise design.

An important source of reference is the discussion on the use of generative diagrams in architecture that emerged in the mid-1990s to around 2005. Important contributors to this development were, among others, Peter Eisenmann (1999b), Ben van Berkel (Berkel & Bos, 1999; Berkel, Bos, & Henninger, 1998) Greg Lynn (1999), and the many projects and publications by the OCEAN Design Research Association from 1994 onwards (“OCEAN Design Research Association,” 1995). This was a crucial innovation, and diagramming became a generative and creative working mode. This is a central influence on how we conceive diagramming in SOD, preparing the ground for Gigamapping.

Posted: Oct-2020

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