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Expanding Design in Small Practice: Emerging tools, Strategies and Organisational Structures

Research overview
Since completing my undergraduate degree in 2005 I have been undertaking a PhD as part of the ‘Embedded Practice Research’ program at RMIT University’s Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL). The research is practice-based, and I have been ‘embedded’ within the small Melbourne based design practice BKK Architects where I had worked as a designer for a number of years prior. This research has been published both locally and internationally.

Abstract
This thesis investigates emerging digital tools, design strategies and organisational structures in regard to their relevance and usefulness for expanding design in the small architectural practice.

While digital media is not new to architecture, it’s increasing pervasiveness combined with recent developments in both software and hardware have led to the maturing of this media which is fundamentally reshaping the way architecture is designed and practised. This research identifies key opportunities for practice offered by this new media. These include: the ability to re-purpose information between stages of development, procedural design strategies, a return to craft, and the opportunity to connect directly to computer-controlled means of manufacturing.

The focus on small practice places a constructive limitation on the research. By virtue of being small, there are fewer people involved, which is a key factor in the structuring of a collaborative, creative and intimate work environment. Furthermore, this creative aspect of ‘smallness’ often extends throughout the delivery chain. Small practices often work on smaller projects, with smaller builders and smaller budgets, subsequently requiring specific strategies for engaging with this context. Focussing on small, and the limited resources that this implies, has led to the development of innovative design strategies that embody the small-practice spirit of the ‘grand gesture within limited means’

This research explores such territory both through the literature and through a series of case study projects undertaken within practice, whereby the investigator is ‘embedded’ as a member of the design team. The key contribution of this research is the development of design techniques employing parametric, computational, and manufacturing based approaches, that are specifically tailored to the small practice, with particular emphasis on those strategies that can aid in extending and enhancing the very early stages of designing.

This thesis also proposes ‘the new augmented practice’, a new model for practice that combines the strengths of small practice as a collaborative and creative environment, with the new potentials offered by digital design tools to produce a practice structure that is specifically suited to the demands of our contemporary information age.

Supported by: Australian Research Council, RMIT SIAL & BKK Architects
Supervisor: Professor Mark Burry
Status: Pending examination

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