Architectural Knowledge and Iterative Mediating Artifacts



Architecture & Built Environment


  • architecture, assessment, design knowledge, design process, reflection-in-action

This paper seeks to extend Donald Schön’s often-referenced and widely-accepted observations that design, specifically architectural design, is a reflective “conversation with materials” consisting of a cyclical process of “reflection-in-action”. Specifically, the paper argues for the extended applicability of these observations to the question of analysis of existing architecture.

Architectural analysis and architectural design both productively rely on iterative processes of observing and making-in-response (or “reflection-in-action”) as means of constructing architectural knowledge. The mediating artifacts resulting from such iterative processes are fragmentary and selective; even in aggregate, they never constitute a totality. Indeed, a successful mediating artifact, whether made to support analysis or design, will always provoke iterative response due to its fragmentary nature. Michael Graves in a well-known 1977 article discussing the “Necessity of Drawing” described this property of artifacts as “tangible speculation”: that a mediating artifact informs an iterative process of knowing architecture precisely because it simultaneously concretizes and inquires.

In short, whether mediating artifacts are constructed in an attempt to “reflect-in-action” about existing architecture, or to propose and develop as-yet-unformed architecture, these artifacts contain the same kinds of incompletenesses, omissions, highlights, abstractions, selections, and prioritizations.

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