Design Research and Education in the 21st Century

The Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the Technion has resolved to become the leader of a technologically-informed, yet environmentally, socially, and culturally responsible approach to the design of buildings, landscapes, cities, and products. It will educate its students to understand the affordances brought about by advances in information technology, material sciences, and construction methods; to critically evaluate their impacts on the design disciplines, on the environment, and on the societies they serve; and to lead their development along the highest social, cultural, economic, environmental, and professional values.

 

Meeting these responsibilities has never been more critical than it is today, a time when we face severe environmental, economic, social, and political challenges. There is no single way to solve these challenges, but by capitalizing on age-old fundamental values, methods, and practices of environmental design, coupled with the unprecedented opportunities afforded by 21st century technologies, we can begin to address them. Simultaneously, we will lead the creation of new knowledge that can advance the state of the art of architecture, planning, and design, for the advancement of these disciplines, as well as the State of Israel, and all of humanity.

 


Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, and Industrial Design, are technologically-intensive disciplines: to achieve desired functional, cultural, social, economic, and aesthetic goals, they use technology both in the process of designing, and in the products of design. In turn, technological innovations—often several of them coming together at the same time—transform these disciplines.

 

The impact of technology on design has been demonstrated many times throughout history: the Etruscan keystone arch enabled Roman engineers to build strong and durable bridges, and led them to invent the dome as early as 27 BC. The invention of the Flying Buttress in 12th century Europe allowed Master Builders to replace the massive walls of Romanesque churches with the soaring vaulted ceilings of Gothic Cathedrals. The invention of perspective and scale drawings in 15th century Italy radically transformed the practice of architecture, creating the office of the Architect, which replaced the medieval Master Builder. Henry Bessemer’s 19th century invention of mass produced steel, coupled with Elisha Otis’ invention of the safety elevator, allowed architects like Daniel Burnham to design and build skyscrapers early in the 20th century.

 

The advent of computational design technologies in the 21st century, coupled with the development of advanced construction methods and new building materials, are once again changing design practices and products. They provide architects, planners, and designers with new affordances that are radically changing what is being designed, how it is designed, and how it is used. New design tools allow architects to imagine new building forms, more responsive (and more environmentally responsible) buildings, even radically new types of environments that blend physical with virtual space. Advanced simulation methods and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) allow city and regional planners to dynamically forecast and optimize urban interventions. Industrial designers can rapidly prototype novel products. Communication and collaboration technologies allow architects, engineers, contractors, and clients to work much more closely together than was ever possible before, resulting in more complex, more innovative, and more effective designs.

 

These technological developments come at a time when, as a society, we face severe environmental, economic, social, and political challenges, including global warming, diminishing resources, aging populations, and natural disasters. There is no single way to solve these problems, but capitalizing on the unprecedented opportunities afforded by ubiquitous information systems, new materials and building practices, new learning methodologies, and a knowledge-based economy, will allow us to address these challenges as never before.

 

Understanding the opportunities afforded by the emerging technological transformations is an important part of 21st century design education. Leading their development is an important part of cutting-edge design research. The Technion, with its rich tradition of technological innovation in many fields, is uniquely well-positioned among institutions of higher education in Israel and abroad to assume a leadership role in architectural, planning, and design education and research, much like it led the building industry in Israel in the past century. Students of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, and Industrial Design stand to benefit from exposure to and collaboration with civil, material, electrical, and mechanical engineers, computer scientists, industrial managers, even biologists and physicians. At the same time, these disciplines stand to benefit from the unique mode of thinking provided by architects, planners, and designers—a mode of thinking that has been likened to “puzzle making,” as opposed to “problem solving.”1

 

To do so requires adopting new approaches to design research and education. Traditional values, methods, and practices—the foundations of design education—must be strengthened, augmented, and modernized by infusing them with new technological affordances. New methods, applications, and practices must be developed. Most of all, teachers, researchers, and students (who will practice in the design professions throughout the 21st century) must understand the changes brought about by the new affordances; critically evaluate their impacts on their disciplines, on the environment, and on the societies they serve; and lead their development along the highest social, cultural, economic, environmental, and professional values. That is our vision!


1 Archea, J. (1987): “Puzzle making: What Architects Do When No One Is Looking.” Computability of Design (Y.E. Kalay, ed.), John Wiley &Sons, New York.

 

To download this essay on Design Research and Education in the 21st Century by Dean Professor Yehuda Kallay, please click here.