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The Complex Ecology of Design

Part 2 Dissertation 2011
Megan Crouse
Manchester School of Architecture Manchester | UK
The mystery of how an idea finds its way into reality has always fascinated me. Many interconnected factors, some obvious and others not so obvious, have to come together in a very particular, and unique way to allow anything to emerge out of nothing.

Design is complex. There is a story behind every design. It’s a story of people coming together for a common cause. Hopefully there is excitement, usually there is a struggle, there are many ideas, some get kept, some get discarded. Often a happy accident sends one off in a direction that we never would have dreamed of taking. It is difficult to say what makes some architects more successful than others but it is clear that the final success of the project is inseparable from its story, from the process it went through to be realized.

This dissertation explores the complex nature of the design process, in search of the factors that make some architects more successful than others, and of practices that promote better products of design. It discusses some of the main theoretical views within the contemporary discourse on the nature of the design process: from the architect as the sole mastermind working in isolation, to being part of a wider collective of professionals working together with a common aim; from design being seen as a purely cognitive, internal activity of problem solving and decision making, to being a craft-based, external, materially driven process; from being seen as a rational, linear process of activities that happen in a seemingly logical sequence, to being full of contingency, an intuitive process based on implicit knowledge and experience gained throughout one’s career and lifetime. The arguments are tested by a case study of the Oeno’s Wine Shop project by Millar Howard Workshop, an unusual and innovative new practice based in the Cotswold valleys. Oeno’s Wine Shop is widely considered to be a success by all involved in its creation, the users, and the public. Its story challenges some of the commonly held theoretical positions whilst supporting others and reveals many aspects of the complex nature of design.

Megan Crouse

Sally Stone
Albena Yaneva
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