Patternmakers and toolbuilders: the design of information structures in the professional practice of architecture

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Virginia Tech


This paper discusses the results of a study of architects at work, where the focus of attention was on the information used during the life of a design project. What became apparent during this study was that the business management of the project, and the artifacts associated with that phase of work, often overwhelmed the actual design effort in terms of time and attention.

A phenomenological approach to data collection was used; the author observed architects at work in two different offices over a period of several months, and assisted in the day to day work of each office. Sketches, photos, informal interviews and discussions, and extensive notes provided a rich set of data about work life in architectural practice. Structuralism was the primary analysis tool used to identify key elements of the data and their meaning in professional practice.

A model was developed of the kinds of information used to manage a design project. This model includes not only the data used in project management documents, but also categorizes each piece of information according to its current level of use. The document model identifies eight primary attributes for every document, and an object-oriented class hierarchy for documents provides for the inheritance of the base attributes as well as providing additional attributes in various sub-classes to facilitate modeling specific kinds of documents like letters, memos, notes, faxes, contracts, and construction drawings. Finally, a Design Project Manager with a complete set of document manipulation, storage, and retrieval tools was defined. These information tools have specific behaviors based on the patterns of document and information use observed in the subject offices.

The results suggest that the productivity of architects may be enhanced by a set of small, carefully designed information tools that help architects deal more easily with the complexity of managing design projects.