Architectural Design as a Place-Making Process


The pre-design Stage


It consists of introducing the project since the early sessions as a place-making process in a given but unique location on earth. The design should aim at achieving solutions that best fits that unique place. Only the most integrated built form in the given context is thus regarded as successful. The inverse testing of this criterion would be the extend to which the developed form has a meaning outside this context. In a relative level of integration, the more the project is inserted in its given context, the more is successful.

One of the means of recognizing the special character of the site during this stage is through its geographic coordinates on the globe. Opposite to the cyberspace that is often presented on the computer screen, students should learn to geo-reference their working space and grasp its uniqueness on Earth. This uniqueness is expressed physically through the X, Y and Z values of the boundary points of the site (Figure 1). Geo-coordinating a space is one of the compulsory steps in GIS. Arc-GIS provides for instance the GLOBE as a means to recognize the unique position on earth of any location through the quick surfing from the macro to micro-level (Figure 2).

Figures 1a and b : a parcel of land given to students  as a site  should be given as a coordinated geo-space.a- a site without coordinates, and b-as a geo-coordinated space.


Figures  2  a, b, c and d: Stages and scales of site  views through the Globe as a means to visualize the virtual journey from the global to the  local scale.

Surfing through GLOBE from the global scale to the selected location and navigating over the architectural site will take the student mind in a virtual journey that shows gradual changes of land cover ( water, greenery, sand, urban ) and geographic features ( mountains, rivers, oceans, deserts) in which the selected location is positioned. It is evident that such a step although futile in the process of design it may seems, will attach the student both metaphorically and physically to the context as his project will be regarded as a place-making action onEarth surface. Google-Earth provides similar effects and a free support in this sense.

Site analysis is one of the major steps in the pre-design stage of architectural design that GIS may also heavily contribute. An architectural site in GIS could be presented in different graphical ways and multi-media, such as maps, aerial views, attached picture through hyperlinks and video. Its analysis embraces most affecting factors that will later-on conditions the new project. Spatial Analysis provides a spectrum ofanalysis tools in this sense. Road networks, surrounding morphology, dominant typology could be efficiently presented through this tool. Distribution of services such as educational, health and religious buildings with their catchment’s areas and buffering could also help deciding upon the location of new buildings.

In the presence of such real factors, “imaginary architecture” mostly driven by creativity and “strangeness”, will thus shrink and leave place to a realistic place-making approach.

The On-Design stage

One of the major deficiencies of the present studio design approach is that during the design stage, students often leave the site specificities behind due to their concentration on the functional requirements and the creativity black-box creative process. Despite the long site analyses made individually or collectively during the pre-design stage, direct contact with the surrounding during the design stage is often lost.


The support of GIS during the on-design stage consists of insuring the Permanent Presence of the Real World. The continuous and quick switch between CAAD and GIS allows the reviewing of the on-development envelope with regards its context. A feedback could be easily assessed in the presence of the larger context as shown in GIS. linkage with the existing roads, relationships with the surrounding building heights, types and forms will provide a continuous auto-correction to students with regards the insertion of their proposals in its context.


Below are the vital considerations for the place-making approach of architectural projects in their context that GIS could provide efficiently.


  1. The road pattern and circulation network define different types of accessibility, services, pedestrians, public transport, etc to the selected site. Security from accidents is sometimes major determinant of the site selection such as for housing, schools and parks in the vicinity of major roads (Figure 3).
  2. Activities and land-uses surrounding the new projects are also present in GIS through different thematic layers and maps. It is evident that the design of a mosque, a school, a house or a hospital will greatly depend on the existing infrastructure of activities either as a potential or as a constraint (Figure 4).
  3. Architecture of the surrounding context could generally be displayed under the large themes of typology, morphology, urban fabric and historic eras. Their presence as part of the context is made possible through the continuous IT and multimedia developments. The context could be continuously be displayed through Animation, VRML, Hyperlinks to the image library and thematic layers of GIS. Despite its coarse form, 3D representation through Arc-Scene in ARC-GIS can be of interest to students during the on-design stage (Figure 5).


Figure 3 Road network Old Manama, Bahrain (Using ARC-MAP 9.2)

Figure 4 Land-Use and Community Services. (A hypothetic map based on a portion of a map from  Old Manama, Bahrain) (Using ARC-MAP 9.2).

Figure 5 Mass-Void, Typology and Morphology in an existing urban fabric. Old Manama, Bahrain (Using ARC-MAP 9.2).


Satellite images and aerial views displayed through GIS also show a high degree of realism and thus could serve students to keep in touch with the context of their projects. Surface coverage such as sand, water, vegetation, forest will be of sensitive value in the architectural proposal in terms of preliminary site works as well as environmental sustainability etc.


3D tools are often used by students for the jury sessions and to show their projects as an end product (Orland, 1992, p. 244). That is similar to the conduct of professional architects that use visualization for market purposes. Lange (2001) suggests that visualization should rather form an integral part of the planning and design process (p831).

Hybrid approach CAAD/GIS may however faced problems. GIS is not only a representation tools but also a powerful tool of spatial analysis. It links different forms of geo-data with graphics. Teaching GIS to architecture students should thus be related to many other allied fields, such as such as geography, urban planning, statistics, mathematics and urban design. Only a background in these fields permits a full understanding and use of GIS techniques.

Despite the continuous efforts of the vendors of GIS software in adding capabilities to their systems, existing GIS has not yet gained wide acceptance in the allied fields to geography such as landscape, urban planning let alone architecture. CAAD and GIS programs, are not fully compatible with each other (Langendorf R. 2001, 314). Interoprability is thus one of the major challenges that faces the hybrid approach (Barton et al. 2005, 641). Technical support is provided to view, display and query CAAD files in GIS software. However, conversion, change of properties and editing of the imported files is still at its early stage.


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