Prescriptive design

Posted by: Helen Walters on May 28, 2007

I’ve been watching some of the presentations from this year’s TED conference (also be sure to check out Jessi’s great review ). Liz Diller from architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro gave a great presentation showing her firm’s truly interdisciplinary approach, blending architecture with visual arts, even performance. She showed a few projects, including the new ICA in Boston. The Mediatheque is particularly smart — that’s the computer/digital art room which drops out of the floor of the cantilevered building, with a glass wall at the bottom of the stairs. According to a great recent interview in the New Yorker, Diller and her partners, Ric Scofidio and Charles Renfro, were delighted when they witnessed someone walking in at the top of the room and mistaking the view of the harbor water from the bottom of the stairs for a high resolution digital image. But apparently, Diller and her partners also get cross when people walk to the bottom of the stairs to get a sense of the whole panorama/vista. That seems unrealistic — and it’s got me to thinking — how much can or should designers try to control an experience, and how much should be left to interpretation? How prescriptive can design really be? Answers on a virtual postcard, please.

Reader Comments

Jessi Hempel

May 29, 2007 8:00 AM

I don't think it's the place of a designer to control the experience. When writers pen novels, they often have a vision in mind. But the artistic play comes from the interaction between their work and the reader. Isn't it the same for architecture?

Mark Da Silva

May 31, 2007 11:37 AM

If an architect had designed typepad or wordpress they would no doubt have decided that three comments per blog post were sufficient and would have limited the software to that. Mind you, that still leaves room for one more comment here.

Helen

May 31, 2007 11:43 AM

Ha. Well, this makes three. Or does the fact that two of the comments are from the people writing the blog mean they don't count? Oh well. We're still in 'soft launch' phase of the blog so I won't take the whistling silences too personally. And I do think it's interesting that architects such as Diller and Scofidio, so firmly at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of what's possible within their discipline, are also stymied by the problem of wanting to control the eventual user experience. It's natural -- but unrealistic. Thanks for the comment.

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What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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