Thoughts toward a clinical database of architecture: evidence, complexity, and impact


Vol. 6 No. 2 (2009)
Research Articles
December 7, 2009


This paper examines how architecture is building a clinical database similar to that of law and medicine and is developing this database for the purposes of acquiring complex design insight. This emerging clinical branch of architectural knowledge exceeds the scope of everyday experience of physical form and can thus be shown to enable a more satisfying scale of design thinking. It is argued that significant transformational kinds of professional transparency and accountability are thus intensifying. The tactics and methods of this paper are to connect previously disparate historical and contemporary events that mark the evolution of this database and then to fold those events into an explanatory narrative concerning clinical design practice. Beginning with architecture's use of precedent (Collins 1971), the formulation of design as complex problems (Rittel and Webber 1973), high performance buildings to meet the crisis of climate change, social mandates of postindustrial society (Bell 1973), and other roots of evidence, the paper then elaborates the themes in which this database is evolving. Such themes include post-occupancy evaluation (Bordass and Leaman 2005), continuous commissioning, performance simulation, digital instrumentation, automation, and other modes of data collection in buildings. Finally, the paper concludes with some anticipated impacts that such a clinical database might have on design practice and how their benefits can be achieved through new interdisciplinary relations between academia and practice.