Vol. 11 No. 2 (2014): Space Syntax

Beyond analytical knowledge: The need for a combined theory of generation and explanation

Sophia Psarra
The Bartlett, UCL, Reader of Architecture and Spatial Design, London, UK

Published 2014-12-01


  • Imagination,
  • architecture,
  • self-organisation,
  • evolutionary networks,
  • generative design

How to Cite

Psarra, S. (2014). Beyond analytical knowledge: The need for a combined theory of generation and explanation. A|Z ITU JOURNAL OF THE FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE, 11(2), 47 - 68. Retrieved from https://www.az.itu.edu.tr/index.php/jfa/article/view/454


Analytic approaches to design develop theories from real-world phenomena, and as such are predominantly focused on the ‘laws that restrict and structure the field of possibility’ (Hillier 1996: 221). However, in the domain of design we need theories of design possibility and actuality, or a combined theory of generation and explanation. Starting from the assertion that there are multiple branches of architectural knowledge, this paper discusses three artefacts (Venice, Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital and Calvino’s Invisible Cities) suggesting that in these artefacts we recognise common morphogenetic characteristics, and the intersection of analytic thought with generative design. The aim is threefold: firstly, to explore the ways in which the common characteristics in the three works create syntaxes of combinations capable of describing the generative imagination as the outcome of definable processes and relations; secondly, to explain the importance of a theory in dynamic processes of interaction and association aside to static spatial structures. Thirdly, to show where we can situate these ideas in relation to intellectual and design practices, and how to project them in the future. It is proposed that the diversification of knowledge is the basic condition for the intersection of generative with analytical thought and the dynamic generation of meaning. The paper borrows from aesthetic and literary theory the notion of ‘possible worlds’ to take into account design as ‘worldmaking’ (Goodman 1978). It argues that analytic and generative knowledge are central in design, as each allows access to worlds whose centres of reality are not separate or fixed but interact and shift dynamically with creative activity and time. Aside to theories of explanation we need theories of generation or a combined theory of freedom and necessity in architecture and design.