An example of Design Thinking in architecture
Updated: Jul 4
The seemingly elementary term - design thinking, can be fairly complex. It is a conscious amalgamation of human impulse, technological feasibility, and economic viability. The designer strives to keep human needs at the core of design processes. A holistic perspective of architecture aims to create a balance while serving society.
Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, developed several systems of design. In the 1920s, he coined his ‘Five points of Architecture.’ They exhibited his thought process at the time. He proclaimed the house as a machine, but for living. Such nuances after the industrial revolution became common. This laid the basis for modernism.
Reference Image Caption: Four Studies of the potentials of the 'Five Points', 1929. (a) Maison La Roche-Jeanneret, (b) Villa Stein, (c) Villa at Carthage, (d) Villa Savoye
Corbusier was an eminent designer with a bold expression. His manifesto ‘Towards a New Architecture’ was a legitimate exploration of design thinking. Villa Savoye, an architectural marvel, was its preliminary example. Corbusier applied his five points to create it as a prototype. At first, he simplified the architectural features of the edifice. For climate considerations and optimal views, he introduced the concept of ribbon windows. Spatial planning cognizance resulted in a free plan and its corollary of a free facade.
Once he fulfilled the basic human needs, he considered the automobile. It had then made it on the list of an individual's needs. Thus, the former prototype also had to accommodate the same. Hence, Corbusier detached Villa Savoye from the ground and raised it on a ‘pilotis.’ This resulted in the depletion of the garden space. To resolve this, he accommodated the garden on a flat roof. He was firm on the idea of the detachment of the building from its surroundings. It was not a gimmick. But, it was a “wicked problem” leading to a series of problems.
During that time, the city's streets acted as the primary public domain. Here, everyone enjoyed equal rights. The introduction of the automobile, however, led to their colonisation. Many contested the ethical turn that architecture took at that time. Nonetheless, Corbusier was keen to accommodate the rising precedence of the automobile. He was aware of the consequence it would have on the cities. The demand for parking in high-density metropoles was already surging at an alarming rate. At the same time, autonomous driving had turned into an obsession. People furthermore demanded parking space. It was a new paradigm which lead to many problems. Only an innovative solution could solve them. Corbusier built a prototype for the same, which proved meagre.
He switched his role from an architect-inventor to a planner-inventor. After further observing societal needs, he made systematic interpretations. A new planning approach was then introduced. Here Villa Savoye would be a malleable object, a prototype, for other designers to put in place. While Corbusier was trying to create a human-centered design ethos, he ended up entangled in certain challenges. Looking beyond his architectural invention, he explored alternate city-systems at a global level. However, his shrewd marketing sense influenced his planning mechanisms.
Corbusier's Radiant City proposal took a contradictory approach in the 1930s. The utopian city planning proposal was counterintuitive for human needs. The concept of a street where users would interact was under threat.
From a design thinking perspective, we deduce that Corbusier was empathetic at first. So, when he defined the problem, he recognised that taking away the automobile was not an option. The only way around was to accommodate the machine. Through deliberate and direct observations, he obtained the only way to cater to the user. The making, packaging, marketing, selling, and association of the necessary interventions were accepted.
Although design thinking is a methodical science, some see it only as a perceptual art. Understanding human psychology by studying their everyday needs augments design thinking in architecture. Moreover, it captures the full spectrum of innovation around a design intervention. Design thinking captures this innovation throughout its lifecycle of use.
Villa Savoye was an invention, likely Corbusier’s greatest one. The Ronchamp chapel and the masterplan of Chandigarh were his other remarkable projects. They exhibit his focus on architecture and characterise him as a specialist. But, interpreting ‘Five Points of Architecture’ reveals that he was instead a generalist. His focus was not only on buildings or urbanscapes but on experimental investigation. The artists, designers, planners, engineers, politicians, and industrialists surrounding Corbusier enhanced his capabilities. People with astute interdisciplinary knowledge affect architecture and life in a broader sense. They assisted him with the testing process, further helping him to improvise on his ideas. Being a design thinker, Corbusier could bring in more than design acumen to the whole process.
We understand that Corbusier was a practitioner of radical innovation. His methodologies implied the context at that time. They were an application of design thinking in architecture. Corbusier’s genius contributed to the addition of ‘Internationalism’ to architectural thinking. The architect inspired us very early on at architecture school! His philosophies, in turn, revolutionized architecture.
Remnants of his utopic vision influence what we see around us in the 21st century. Although it bears flowers today, it is unarguably accompanied by thorns.
As much as Corbusier’s works reflected Design Thinking principles, the model remains subjective.
One perception of the ideologies of design thinking could differ significantly from another. Thus, reiterating the multifaceted nature of the Design Thinking archetype.
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About the Writer
Saakshar Makhija is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. He is the Co-Founder of Emblema Designs, a graphic design, and digital marketing venture. He has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF) and India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. He attended the summer school organised by the "Rafael Manzano Prize for New Traditional Architecture" by the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), Spain.
About the Editor
Esha Biddanda Pavan is an architect and urbanist currently based out of Toronto, Canada. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff Univeristy, UK, and the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Bangalore. She has experience working at Kitsune Consulting, Cardiff University Business School, Weaving Thoughts, Keha Casa, Kabir Hira Architects and a-designstudio.
About the Illustrator
P. Trishita is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a multipotentialite, illustrator, singer, and occasional songwriter.