[Design Studies] The decision making in architecture design

by leviss

The decision making in architecture design (1): The nature of the architecture problems

Mehdi Torabi

Architecture has never faced as many complex problems as modern times. Nowadays architects have to worry about many issues throughout their design process, including global warming and environmental issues to economic, psychological, and social feedback for their design.  These kinds of problems as I implied before (previous post) are known as wicked, ill-defined, or ill-structured problems. In this article, I am going to discuss the nature of the problems that architects are dealing with in the decision-making process.

Everyone who has played chess knows that while you may have numerous strategies, the final result is to win or lose. All of us have struggled with mathematical formulas, you can solve them in various ways but only one single answer is correct. “Tame” problems are those problems that we have certain procedures for solving them and the final result is clear and definite. Above mentioned examples are tame or “well-defined” problems. However, tame is not meaning easy! Many tame problems are complicated but the good news is we know they have a formulated nature and through a certain procedure you hope to finally solve them. You will have trial and error opportunities and also you can test your solutions. Moreover, at the final stage with a great deal of confidence, you can say that the answer is right or wrong.

On the other hand, the characteristic of problems in the social and cultural realm is complex and these problems couldn’t be solved in a way that leads to a clear endpoint. Politic, education, built environment, economy, and healthcare are classic realm and the kingdom of wicked problems.

The concept of “wicked problems” introduced in an article written by design theorists, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber in 1973, they characterized the wicked problems in 10 specific features:

  • Wicked problems could not be formulated
  • You can always find a better solution or resolve the problem in a better way, therefore there is no stopping point
  • Because of the lack of solution, the goal is only improving the status therefore the proposed situation is assessed with a qualitative expression like satisfied or good, there is no true or false answer.
  • The solution that works now maybe not work in the future and even generate other problems. Hence, they could not be tested immediately nor even ultimately.
  • There is no opportunity for trial and error, decisions are irreversible, and every attempt to reverse the undesired outcome consequent a new wicked problem.
  • For every wicked problem, there is an infinite set of solutions.
  • Every wicked problem is unique, hence applying the same solution for problems that seem similar is an inappropriate method.
  • Finding the cause of a problem and eliminating it, does not mean that problem is solved. The new situation could lead to another problem.
  • How a wicked problem is expected to be solved is related to its explanation. Therefore, the analyst’s point of view is the most determining factor.
  • Being widely affected by the solutions of wicked problems, there is no right for wrong answers. Also, it is expected from planners to be responsible for their actions.

In comparison between scientific problems that are problem-based, designing problems are planning problems. According to Rittel’s theory planning problems are related to wicked problems. Hence, Architecture design problems could be categorized under the wicked problem group.  Since the Design problems in the field of architecture could not be formulated, You can always find a better solution, there is no true or false, nor testing and trial and error opportunity and every solution could consequent to other problem, every design issue has its unique nature and for each of them you can always find a better solution and this procedure could be infinite, a designer or an architect has no right to be wrong and is responsible for his/her designing because the way of solving the design problem is depended on designer expertise and world view and has an effect on the built environment.

In conclusion, for every architecture problem, there is more than one possible solution and each solution could be redesigned to attain a better result. However, some critical questions have still remained; how could we be certain of achieving one optimal solution?  What characteristics and qualities should this path or design process have to lead to the desired result? How do designers decide on the design process? In tame problems due to process clarity, there is a well-structured procedure to solve the problem. Whereas, wicked problems cannot be solved by the application of standard methods; they need more creative solutions. I am going to discuss this issue in the next article.

Keywords: wicked problems, tame problems,, decision making, architecture design

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