Architectural Design as a Place-Making Process

Mustapha Ben-Hamouche

Teaching Architecture; CAAD and the lasting Modernism!

Despite the fall of modernism and the rise of many post modern movements that praise cultural context such as vernacularism, neo-traditionalism and regionalism architectural education is still maintaining a lot of the modern traditions especially in architectural education (Ozkan S. 2005, Frampton K.1986, Steel J. 1997).

One major deficiency of modern architecture is its failure to respond to local considerations and context, and the belief of its predecessors in the universal location-less solutions. Factors such as climate, geographic conditions, and culture and tradition ways of living were often neglected.

In the Arab Gulf countries the abundance of financial resources and the booming but imported IT made of  the countries large laboratories of unusual forms and bizarre projects that praise “creativity” and disregard the local circumstances[i].



Projects were mostly iconic and were developed at an abstract world that is in the minds of architect and in the design workshop. They are then parachuted on site with a few modifications. Often sites are rather modified or remodeled to accommodate the idea of the architect.

Projects are often made to please the ego of the designers, glorify their names or that of the political leaders. CAAD in this perspective seems to be the most efficient graphical as well as design tool in supporting the wave of iconic projects trend, and sorting out the desired miraculous projects. Strangeness is thus become a sign of creativity and success.



It is evident that the information technology is an irreversible trend and that the old free hand sketching era has gone for ever. CAAD is therefore the design tool for the future. However, the hypothesis of this paper is that under the influence of the powerful new tools and graphics of CAAD, students are fascinated by the “strange” forms they can achieve and thus often tend to produce irrealist projects. Such irrealism is due to the deconstextualised forms that disregards the socio-cultural and physical environment (Salingaros N. 2004).

One of the alternatives to achieve realism and contextualization is through the involvement of the public and users in the process of design. Public participation is thus becoming a target of new IT in the filed of architecture and urban planning (Appleton K & Lovett A. 2005, Barton J. Plume J. Parolin B. 2005, Gonza´lez A. et al. 2008, Hudson-Smith A. et al. 2003). Residents were given an opportunity to shape their environment, map their community and form a shared interpretation of community assets. This system was believed to acts as a catalyst for the formation of the sense of place (Barton 2005, p631).

Away from the public participation approach that is mostly professional, GIS in the educational environment, presents a technical support to architecture students using CAAD and IT in general, in achieving the contextual architecture and applying the place-making process in their design. In its essence, GIS aims at representing the world as it is and understand its deep structure through the analysis of the physical, socio-economic, cultural and political context. Its ‘‘degree of realism’’ depends on the level of detail (Paar, Schroth, Wissen, & Lange, 2004) and the depth of analysis (Lange, 1999).

Cyberspace Vs Place-Making Process


One of the major landmarks of the age of information society, that is now, is the emergence of the cyberspace and the virtual reality (Heim 1998Langendorf R. 2001, p 339). Gibson W. (2000) commented on the origin of the term in the 2000 documentary No Maps for These Territories: “All I knew about the word “cyberspace” when I coined it, was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page. (See Heim M. (1998) considers VR as an ill-defined concept that has many forms of implementation and that involves both special hardware and software. The frontiers between cyberspace and real space in education within which architecture is consequently gradually blurring.

With reference to modern movement, CAAD seems to have insured the continuity of philosophy design for every where and nowhere through the continuous work on cyberspace and reliance on VR. New design instruments and graphics that provide students with powerful tools of representation and display are often drive students to forms beyond the human mind and disregard the laws of nature and logic. Abstraction and fiction in design achieve their azimuth through the neglect of gravity, order and coherence.

Arbitrariness in design is too often hidden by the notion of “creativity”. In the absence of site constraints, students during the design process often feel “too much” free in deciding about the nature of their projects. It is evident that the wider the scope of freedom i.e. with less constraints, the more the domain of reflection becomes larger, and the more the feeling of loss in thought is felt.

Despite the confrontation of students with the functional requirements of the programme and the conditions of the site their efforts at the middle and the end of the project is mostly concentrated on developing the building masses and organizing the internal spaces. Landscape and external spaces, such as parking and greenery are treated afterwards as remaining land between the footprint of the created masses and the boundary of the site. Outer context is rarely presented.

The weak attachment to the context and the continuous work in the cyberspace often leads to “flying projects” that could be placed anywhere. The absence of the notion of scale due to the easy operations of zoom-in and zoom-out and the rapid navigation over the site regardless of its size and topography would have decreased the sensitivity towards the environment and real world.

A remedy to this trend consists of developing a design process that insures a permanent presence of the real-world PPRW. This approach is believed to raise students’ awareness and sensitivity about the environment and consequently leads to the emergence of place-making CAAD process.

GIS through its scale sensitivity, attachment to the location would be a major contributor in the establishment of the PPRW, and thus the establishment of the place-making CAAD process. The introduction of the GIS in the early education of the students in Architecture will lead to a balance between the cyberspace that is provided by CAAD and the real-world that is reflected in GIS representation.

The omnipresence of context through GIS has also the role of reducing the unlimited margin of freedom in conception, and consequently limiting the students’ scope of thought, and directing it to the making of a place in a real world.

CAAD and GIS: conflicts or Complementarities?


According to Langendorf (2001, 318) CAAD programmes have been better for modeling of 3-D physical objects , and GIS programmes have been better for representing the underlying , spatially coded data. However, it seems that the major divergence between the two fields is the degree of realism in each of them. While GIS deals with real world that is the geography of the earth, CAAD is mostly a tool that drive designer to the cyberspace and imaginary world.


Architecture is a field where a multitude of disciplines, arts and sciences converge. Besides its artistic side that is mostly related toabstraction and creativity, it deals with the real world that is constituted from society, environment, economy and politics. Blurring the two worlds and creating a mixed reality is a double sided knife with regards architectural education. It would be a good instrument of design that makes available real images, maps and video tapes together with the virtual objects of representation. But it is sometimes misused to overpass realities, convince the viewer with illogic outputs, or hide weaknesses of solutions. Only balanced doses of virtual and real worlds and conscious use of both can lead to a successful formation in architecture.


A curriculum that joins CAAD and GIS will have the positive effects on bridging the two worlds towards inventive solutions to our real world problems. Working for a place-making architecture requires a consideration of local conditions in terms of buildings materials, socio-economic and culture specificities of local societies and sensitivity of physical environment. Imagination and creativity in the information age will inevitably not stop or be hindered by the consideration of local conditions. Providing a continuum of choices on realism to CAAD users is a desirable goal in the teaching of architecture.

The PPRW Design Approach

The hypothesis of this study is to show that a hybrid approach of CAAD and GIS would change the present trend in the automated architectural education towards a contextual architecture and a place-making process (Paar P. 2006). The introduction of GIS in architectural design as a support tool in design studios will have a long-lasting impact on the raising of the students sensitivity towards the surrounding environment.

The proposed approach is not limited to the output of the design but embraces the successive stages of design that are examined below.


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