Co-creating New Design Processes

Activate’s ‘High Performance Architecture’ tag line has been an interesting challenge to self, as we strive to live up to our promise on all projects that we undertake, and to resolve all design issues with which we are faced.

In the 21 years of our practice, we have experienced over and again how architectural design and building development is a team sport. And the team is a large one too. From the client body – which often consists of several people with a range of expectations from return on investment to look and feel – to the professional consulting team, with a range of skills and interests from electrical circuitry to interior design. Building design is a complex undertaking involving a full spectrum of inputs from first impressions to lasting legacy.

Over the last two or three decades, the role of architects has changed. Since the early 1900’s modernist movement, architects have been seen to be visionaries who imagined new architectural masterpieces, and captained the team. Impressed by the magnificence and scale of the vision, the client body, engineers and contractors toiled to achieve it. While these rational, modernist edifices may have been impressive, they have proven over time to lack many intangible dimensions and performance criteria that are necessary for a sustainable urban environment.

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), renewable resource use, energy efficiency, energy generation, recycled material use, artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet-of-things are part of an ever-growing list of factors that buildings should deliver. As architects, we face exciting and challenging times.

This ever-increasing complexity of built environment design demands that the briefing and design process, and the way the team interacts, must change. The old way of the modernist era is no longer sufficient to support buildings’ performance criteria in this millennium. Design preparation and design processes need to be approached differently. The role of the architect must shift from quasi-visionary to that of facilitator of complexity.

Embracing the emergence of intelligent systems and directing a collaborative design and construction process, is an approach that has a much better chance of collating the complexity of our times. A process of workshopping the brief and design criteria across the broad spectrum of stakeholders should be adopted, to take into account all considerations such as financial targets, building performance criteria and clients’ expectations. The format of these processes should break away from the bi-weekly boardroom table gathering to which we are so accustomed, to conversations and ideas that flow in a circle through breakaway sessions, reflection, feedback and dialogue.

These co-created lists and statements will then form the backbone of the design and construction process. This type of process also allows stakeholders to understand each other’s point of view, and creates a context in which the often competing objectives can co-exist in an early and ongoing conversation. Through successful collaboration, the team thus achieves exponentially higher creativity. As participants in creating new and re-imagined built environments, we all need to commit to new processes of design collaboration to create new, more profitable, sustainable and healthier outcomes!

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