Joshua Prince-Ramus on the Architecture Design Process

Diego Rodriguez points to a video of a TED talk given by architect Joshua Prince-Ramus about his team’s design process and how it led to the creation of three very unique buildings, including the acclaimed Seattle Central Library.

There is much that information architects can learn from traditional “brick and mortar” architects: both fields aim to satisfy client needs within strict technical (and budgetary) constraints, all the while meeting (and hopefully exceeding) the expectations of end users. Mr. Prince-Ramus explains very persuasively how the limitations imposed by the project’s requirements can lead to innovative (and beautiful) solutions.

It’s worth noting the degree to which commercial and contextual factors define the final form of the designs presented in the video. It’d be great to be able to visualize the commercial constraints of an IA in a similar way to how Mr. Prince-Ramus’ team visualize the programatic aspects of their designs—sometimes to the point of having those programs become the design. (How could we do something similar?)

A recurring theme in the presentation is that design is greatly affected by how the designer manages his/her relationship with the client. Rem Koolhaas, who was the lead architect in the Seattle project, has a (deserved) reputation as one of the world’s most innovative designers. I doubt any clients engage him unaware of his unique portfolio. Even then, it seems the Seattle design team needed to convince the client of the benefits of approaching design problems from a fresh perspective. As I watched the video, I kept thinking “it must be hard for an architect that is not famous like Rem Koolhaas to get away with something like this”. Check out the beautiful presentation materials they use to “sell” clients on their approach; they help make very clear concepts that would otherwise be very difficult to convey using traditional design deliverables.

Speaking of which, the animations shown in the video rank among the best presentations of architecture I’ve seen on a screen. These artifacts are an order of magnitude more “readable” than the traditional plans, elevations, and even renderings. (This is a simpler problem to resolve in IA, because the end product is usually also screen-based.)

Mr. Prince-Ramus will be the keynote speaker at the 2007 IA Summit in Las Vegas. After seeing this video, I’m even more excited about the Summit!