Briefing and Computerization

Briefing and Computerization

Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4647-6.ch001
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Abstract

Briefing and the design brief seldom attract attention in architectural computerization. Nevertheless, the computer offers us substantial opportunities for the explicit, effective, and efficient treatment of information in both briefing and designing. The chapter introduces the approach underlying the use of computers in briefing, from the structure of a brief and the terminology used in the book to the range of relevant computer programs.
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Bringing briefing and computerization together may initially seem a strange combination. First of all, briefing is not among the popular subjects at this moment while computing has become ubiquitous in architecture. Secondly, briefing has been under critical scrutiny and revision for some time now, with conventional approaches being severely criticized from various sides and new approaches being proposed and applied. At the same time, computer use in architecture seems to have entered a consolidation stage, focused on application rather than change. Even technologies like BIM (Building Information Modelling) that are heralded as innovation are in fact evolutionary products of older developments (Eastman, 1999). Finally, briefing is often seen as a woolly subject, something to tolerate, circumvent, subvert or ignore, as opposed to the exactness and precision of the computer.

What connects the two actually runs much deeper than such apparent contradictions: information. The computer is not a digital version of the drafting table; it is an information-processing machine. To use it to its full potential we have to reconsider our understanding of architectural products and processes, to realize that architecture primarily produces information and not buildings (i.e., specifications for others to produce these buildings). Only when we learn to appreciate and value this information can we expect significant support from the computer.

The same holds for briefing. Briefs can be naïve or prescriptive views that hamper creativity, incomplete and inconsistent specifications that cause numerous problems in designing but also useful guidelines and usable criteria for a design. Similarly, briefing processes can range from unproductive discussions and superficial lip-service to clients or architects to thorough, comprehensive analyses of the problems in hand and constructive evaluations of designs. In my experience, the quality of briefing depends to a large degree on the quantity and quality of information it produces and processes.

There are two information-related issues that apply to briefs, regardless of briefing approach. The first is how brief information is collected and structured. Regardless of whether the brief is a compact, abstract list of general goals meant to allow design freedom or an extensive, detailed specification of all parts and aspects, any information contained in it has to be organized and controlled for completeness, coherence, and consistency before it is used as a starting point or reference for designing. Compiling a brief as a text does little to improve its utility.

The second issue is how a brief is used in conjunction with a design for evaluation and guidance. In many cases the link between brief and design is vague and indirect (e.g., a verbal interpretation of some intent or purpose in the brief and visual inspection in the design, even for objective aspects such as circulation). In many cases communication fails to provide a transparent and effective link, leading to conflicts, endless or pointless discussions, and other common disturbances in architectural practice. Quite often it is such problems that give briefing a bad name.

Computerization offers many solutions to problems relating to both issues. Database management systems and diagramming software can be used to collect brief information and organize it in transparent representations that afford overview (Chapter 2 and 4). Using such representations we can analyse a brief to identify conflicts, redundancies, inconsistencies, grey areas, and missing links long before designing has started. The same representations are essential for communication with both clients and architects, as well as for the identification of relevant precedents that can serve as reference or benchmark.

When the time for designing comes, CAD and BIM programs are quite capable of accommodating brief information and connecting it to design actions and products, for example, using it as basis of analysis and guidance (Chapter 7 and 8). Such information is not only useful for the evaluation of brief requirements, it is also essential for turning CAD and BIM models into more than digital imagery and exploiting their full potential in design support. Architectural drawing and modelling with computers still remain too labour-intensive to ignore the added value of integrating more aspects in digital representations, especially when the cost of the integration is negligible.

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