N. John Habraken (john@habraken.org)

Variations, the Systematic Design of Supports.

With J.T.Boekholt, A.P.Thyssen, P.J.M. Dinjens: MIT Laboratory for Architecture and Planning; distributed by MIT Press, Cambridge, USA and London 1976. English translation by W.Wiewel and Sue Gibbons from the original Dutch publication: Denken in Varianten,. Alphen a/d Rijn, Samson, 1974.

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A text book which spells out the design methodology developed by the Foundation for Architects Research (SAR)

SAR was set up to enable help architects design 'supports' or 'base buildings' to be filled in on the behest of user inhabitants. The idea of an open ended design turned traditional design procedures upside down. Mass housing was based on the single, standardized, floor plan to be repeated as many times as possible, preferably throughout the entire building. Once this floor plan was decided upon all participants in the process - consultants, contractors and sub - contractors as well as inspectors, could proceed in their own domain. Taking away the fixed floor plan of the dwelling unit was taking away the focus of the proces of design realization.

The core of the problem was one of evaluation. How could a client know that the support design, proposed by the architect, was indeed the best possible design? How could two alternative designs be compared if no floor plans could be compared?

SAR developed a method by which a link could be made between the actual base building and the range of floor plans it made possible. 'Basic variants' representing a base building's capacity could systematically be obtained using certain formal tools and concepts. Once available, the range allowed judgment and comparison.

The uses of this method is explained in this book and illustrated with many examples in a step by step exposition.

 More recently, in 1993, Frans van der Werf wrote a manual based on several decades of experience, dealing not only with the design of support buildings, but also with the process of decision making and implementation. Unfortunately, this is only available in the Dutch language: Frans van der Werf; Open Ontwerpen.


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