Design Incubator: A prototype for New Design Practice

We’ve recently got our hands on Design Incubator: A Prototype for New Design Practice – a handbook written by Patrick Chia – director at the Design Incubation Centre (DIC). The book outlines design strategies and workflows applied by the Centre and was published by Laurence King Publishing  last year. It’s a quite interesting reading, here are are some impressions.

The Design Incubation Centre is a design research laboratory based at the Division of Industrial Design at the National University of Singapore. It is a test bed for the teaching programme that engadges students in a series of internships, workshops and studio projects.

Design Incubator: Book Cover

Redefining Boundaries

Redefining human interactions and discovery of unmet human needs are some of the major topics discussed at the Centre. Further investigations are driven by basic human needs that evolve in the ever-changing landscape of social trends and technologies.

This leads to numerous interesting design concepts such as Dandella – an intuitive navigational device that uses light to guide the user towards his designated target. (see bellow)

Design Incubator

Design Incubator

Design Incubator: Dandella

Design Frameworks

The workflow used by the Centre is influenced by Tom Kelley – founder of IDEO and author of the book The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm (2002).
This leads to the creation of new design frameworks, based on gained knowledge and project experiences.

Design Incubator: Design Insights

Design Incubator: Interactive Play

New Design Practice

One of the most interesting topics discussed in the book is the need to rethink how can design practices explore the new and exciting possibilities presented to them.

The role of design is evolving very quickly as designers are constantly finding themselves engaging in new domains which demand a different set of tools, skill sets and, more importantly, fresh mindsets. […]

With new challenges come new opportunities.

Design Incubator: Initiatives, Fellowships

Design Incubation Centre

More about DIC

Check out the Design Incubator: A Prototype for New Design Practice book and visit the Design Incubation Centre’s website.

Thinking Architecture by Peter Zumthor

“As people move about the environment, they acquire knowledge about patterns of their own movement and about spatial relations among places in the world. This knowledge is encoded and stored in memory, allowing  people to find the places again…”

Human Spatial Memory: Remembering Where

“Architecture is exposed to life. If its body is sensitive enough, it can assume a quality that bears witness to the reality of past life.”

Thinking Architecture, Peter Zumthor

On one hand, Peter Zumthor’s Thinking Architecture is a collection of lectures and essays, written between 1988 and 2009. On the other hand, it is a collection of spatial impressions; absorbed moods and design approaches. It is also a book about the presence; the absence and about the act of remembering and observing as a device for triggering human emotions. Zumthor writes books in the same way he designs buildings: by creating a highly atmospheric experiences. Thinking Architecture seems to instill the same combination of firmness and delicacy that emanates from Zumthor’s architecture. The titles themselves seem to generate a sence of subtle spatial experience: “Shadowless Modernism“; “Chinks in sealed objects“; ” For the silence of sleep“; ” The Body of Architecture” …

This third, expanded edition includes two new essays:  “Architecture and Landscape” and “The Leis Houses” (which, it turns out, are available for visitors to rent as vacation houses). The book also includes photographs of Peter Zumthor’s residence and an amazing textile hardcover with a certain “quality without a name” that reminds the covers of old volumes of World’s Classics.

Scroll down to see some of our favorite quotes:

“Producing inner images is a natural process common to everyone. It is part of thinking. Associative, wild, free, ordered, and systematic thinking in images, in architectural, spatial, colorful, and sensuos pictures- this is my favorite definition of design.”

“The building, city, house, or street seems consciously placed. It generates a place. Where it stands, there is a back and a front, there is a left and a right, there is closeness and distance, an inside and outside, there are forms that focus and condense or modify the landscape. The result is an environment.”

“Sometimes I can almost feel a particular door handle in my hand, a piece of metal shaped like the back of a spoon.”

Contemporary architecture should be just as radical as contemporary music. But there are limits. Although a work of architecture based on disharmony and fragmentation, on broken rhythms, clustering and structural disruptions may be able to convey a message, as soon as we understand its statement our curiosity dies, and all that is left is the question of the building’s practical usefulness.

Architecture has its own realm. It has a special physical relationship with life. I do not think of it primarily as either a message or a symbol, but as an evelope and background for life which goes on in and around it, a sensitive container for the rhythm of footsteps on the floor, for the concetration of work, for the silence of sleep.”

A few books: endless forms, self-organization, AutoLISP codewriting

We wanted to share with you some of our latest readings that we found quite interesting:

“Endless forms, most beautiful”

The book is written by Sean Carroll – Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin.
Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo talks about how life was formed; about the process of developement of living organisms and how it is connected to evolution.

Resemblance between escherichia coli and elephant

In this book you can find the answers to questions like:
How the butterfly got its spots?
Why do zebras have patterns on their skin?
How Homo sapiens got his “beautiful mind”?

Groups of cells with different pigmentation on a butterfly’s wing

If you’re interested in the process of evolution; in biology and genetics, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo would be a great introduction to the subject.

“Self-organization in biological systems”

Self-Organization in Biological Systems: (Princeton Studies in Complexity) is another interesting book and truly a primer on self-organization in biological systems.

Multiple examples and case studies of self-organization in the natural world are provided as well as some NetLogo code.
The book is all about self-organization in biological systems; the emergence of order in nature; pattern formation in space and time.
Case studies include:

Self-organization of larvae depending to the initial state.

Here are a few basic quotes:
What is self-organization?

“Self-organization  is a process in which pattern at the global level of a system emerges solely from numerous interactions among the lower-level components of the system. Moreover, the rules specifying interactions among the system’s components are executed using only local information, without reference to global pattern.”

Why is self-organization important?

“Understanding the mechanisms that underlie a behavior is a necessary first step toward understanding how the behavior evolved. Evolutionary theories often make assumptions that can only be justified by looking at mechanisms…
No evolutionary stance is fully plausible without a careful examination of the potential underlying mechanisms.”

“The codewriting workbook”

We’ve been conntacted by Russell Fernandez from Princeton Architectural Press who sent us this book.

The book is conceived as a primer for architects, artists, and designers trying to learn some basic programming concepts for CAD and has a very simple and elegant graphic design that we loved. The subtitle is: “Creating computational Architecture in AutoLISP”. AutoLISP is computer language developed by AutoDesk and could be applied in AutoCAD. You can find multiple examples in the book + AutoLISP code.

The Codewriting Workbook: Creating Computational Architecture in AutoLISP is a nice book especially if you’re trying to learn some basic programming techniques and define new vocabularies in AutoCAD. Although outdated, this approach might be useful and could provide some inspiration for learning other, more intuitive software techniques.

Frei Otto & Bodo Rasch: Finding form

Frei Otto is one of the most emblematic architects and engineers of the 20th century. Renowned for his research in lightweight tensile structures.

His book: Finding Form: Towards an Architecture of the Minimal in authorship with arch. Bodo Rasch is an interesting resource:


“Self-formation” and “Natural Constructions” are subjects that need a great deal of commitment. Research into them needs strong collective leadership. It is endangered if the researchers involved think exclusively of their own narrow subject area, if they forget that they must always see things as a whole. Work on the subject of “Natural Constructions” goes on. What has been done so far is only a tiny part of what has to be done. The most important, as yet still provisional, result is a new interpretation of life’s origin and the acquisition of form. Future work requires insights into the formation of objects, of emergence from an unordered state, of creation. It must occur through objective, level-headed research with a clear aim. “

The authors discuss the application of the optimal form in architecture:

Natural structures are optimized, having maximum strength for minimum materials


Branching structures:




Membrane study – minimum surface tension


Gaudi worked on the suspension model of “Colonia Guell” for over 10 yers:


More about the interdisciplinary approach in architecture in our previous posts: the structure in nature is a strategy for design, informal: Cecil Balmond


Informal: Cecil Balmond

Question 1: Who is the most important contemporary architect?
Answer: Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry …to name a few…
Question 2: Who is the most important contemporary engineer?
Answer: Cecil Balmond

Cecil Balmond is a writer, mathematician, engineer, architect at the same time. Person with a lot of interests. More than 55 years ago, he started work at OVE Arup, which is the biggest engineering firm in the world today. At Arup, Balmond leads the research as part of the AGU(Advanced Geometry Unit) and finds the solutions of many complex construction problems.

Theoretician and innovator, Cecil Balmond presents part of his ideas in the book Informal :


Charles Jenks said about him:

“…In 1997, when I had to list the fifteen most important buildings and projects that were changing architecture, I found to my amazement that Balmond scored higher than any architect on the list – that is, if one is to credit the engineer with partial creation…”

Born in Sri Lanka, Balmond moved to London where he took his studies. He works with some of the biggest contemporary architects and transforms their ideas into real structures. Among his most famous projects are: Sttats’ Gallery in Stuttgart 1977(with James Stirling), Villa Bordeaux, Kunsthal(with Rem Koolhaas), Sepentine Pavilion 2002, Taichung opera(with Toyo Ito), Center Pompidou-Metz (with Shigeru Ban) and many many more…
Here is what Rem Koolhaas said about him:

“Cecil Balmond has, almost single-handedly shifted the ground in engineering – a domain where the earth moves very rarely – and therefore enabled architecture to be imagined differently”

From modernism’s “Less is more”, through post-modernism’s “Less is a bore”, Cecil Balmond follows the ideas of “More is different”. Inspired by nature, his ideas are born in a world where “more-is-less-is-more”.

Putting the traditional equilibrium in question, he tries to instore dynamic equilibrium where appropriate. Given that the space is not homogeneous, why the buildings are supposed to be a simple skeleton of equally distributed beams and columns? A boring rhytm “One-two-one-two”? Balmond proposes a usage of multiple rhythms “Ra-ta-ta-ra-ta” or “Ra-ta-ra-ra-ta”, in order to have the same interesting dynamic balance found in nature.
Instead of following the heavy Formal, the engineer follows the way of the Informal.

His works are exactly that: an expression of the Informal.

20 rules of graphic design…and architecture

Design Elements Cover

Graphic design and architecture share a lot of similar characteristics. Especially when looking for solution of compositional problems( spatial or planar)

We are posting few quotes from the book Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual
by Timothy Samara to give a proof:

“Take a look at everything, from the big picture down to the tiniest detail, and ask yourself: “Does everything relate harmoniously to everything else?””

“Being universal is the domain of the designer. A very large audience not a few people who are “in the know” has to know what you mean with those shapes, that color, and that image you chose.”

“Create contrasts in density and rhythm by pulling some material closer together and pushing other material further apart. Be rhytmic about it. Give the spaces between things a pulse by making some tighter and some looser unless, of course, you’re trying to make something dull, lifeless, and uninteresting.”

“Controlling the eye’s movement through, and creating harmonic relationships among, form elements….might be facilitated by creating a system of recognizable, repeated intervals to which both positive and negative elements adhere.”