Design Thesis Notes – 1


Design Thesis requires an in-depth study to be made in the beginning so that you can form a solid and viable Design Thesis Proposal. The in-depth study that we meant here would be the Design Thesis Formulation. Thus we have here an exercise in formulating a thesis. “To draw something up carefully and in detail” or “to express or communicate something carefully”.

Before we could start with the Conceptual Design stage and end up with the Schematic Design stage somewhere at the end of Semester One and start with the Detail Design (also called Design Development) stage at the beginning of Semester Two, we need to go through this difficult phase of Design Thesis Formulation.


The more you are able to make concrete and sound decisions at this stage, the better your Design Thesis Proposal will be, and the more prepared you will be in Semester One of the Conceptual and Schematic Design stage. (Refer to Diagram)

Defining the Problem is the priority.

Having an issue-ridden topic does not necessarily mean that you could define the problem easily, in fact it is the opposite. However, there must be a few issues to address and the problem should not just be about the physical or purely architecture. Defining the Problem includes creating problem statements, design objectives and strategies.

Defining the Problem:

  • Defining the Topic;
  • Defining the Main Subjects in the Topic;
  • Problem Statements;
  • Design Objectives;
  • Design Strategies.

Design Brief: As for the Design Brief requirements, you need to be selective and critical of what you need to study based on your topic, problem and objectives. (The list below is generic but essential for you to look into). However, by being more methodical and precise, you will not leave stones unturned for your quest to create a great Design Thesis Proposal.


1. Case Studies:

Research on Conceptual Approaches on Case Studies;

Research on Detail Design (translation of ideas and concepts) and Technical Solutions on Case Studies;

2. Architectural Program:

Studies on Functional Aspects of Program including Activities and Space Required (to conduct activities); (SPACE)

Precedent Studies; (FORM & SPACE)

Building Types Study; (FORM, FUNCTION & SPACE)

3. Site Studies:

Site Analysis;

Feasibility of Site Studies;

Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Studies;
(or Tangible and Intangible Benefits Study of Site)

Urban Context and Urban Design Studies (Using Principles by Lynch, Responsive Environment, Cullen and others);

Figure Ground Study (Solid and Void Study);

Land-use and Activities Studies;

Pedestrian linkages study;

4. Space Requirements:

Space and the area (m2) required


The Design Thesis Process is “cyclic” in nature and not linear. Although the first diagram shows the linearity of the process, the reality of the process resembles more of a growing plant, from seedling to a full tree. Diagram 2 shows the more fluid process.

Interestingly we had a debate about whether Process or Product is more important for a Design Thesis. At one hand, we underlined the importance of Process over Product, whereby on the other hand there are people who are adamant that Product is more important.

Those in the Product camp believes in “options” and criteria of design performance and those believing in Process stressed more on the start and beginnings of the Design and following through the process, over and over again.

Consciously in the Design Thesis Studio, we placed importance on the Process rather than Product as the aspects of aesthetics should be borne from the design and function rather than imposed earlier on.


Unlike the other years, from year one to four, the Crit Panel in the Design Thesis studio is used differently. The biggest challenge for the studio coordinator is to form crit panelists that could do the following:

  1. Challenge the students to a higher level of competency
  2. Give sound and constructive feedback and guidance so that the students could make decisions

The studio masters’ roles are basically to guide the students towards preparing and getting ready for the two Crit Panel Session where invited external critics comes in, and secondly, the studio master is a ‘moderator’ in the different crit panels to ensure that points 1 and 2 above are done by the moderator and critics. The third role is to ensure the optimum performance is achieved at the end of the semester when evaluating the students’ work.

The design thesis is challenged in the crit panel usually three times in a semester. The year long programme is interspersed every two weeks with studio pin-ups where groups of students get to present their work in a crit panel setting only with the studio masters. This is best shown in Diagram 1.

Obviously the desk crit is important, but at this level students are expected to be able to work independently and have a certain approach and method to design. The studio masters are not expected to ‘teach’ the students how to design. We acknowledged that some students are not so fantastic in designing, so we may part our ‘methodologies’ or give some ideas on how to go about it when a student is stuck. However, our main aim is to produce students who can design and not just be technicians or technical bureaucrats. This means being able to conceptualise and make a difference in a team.

Having said all these, students are invited to comment on this method and suggest ways to improve. 5th year students’ Design Thesis Year is when the students ‘showcase’ their abilities and is not the time when students are picking up design skills that we expected they had done in year one to four. That’s the way we had designed our design thesis studio curriculum, hence 5th year is the design thesis year and a testimonial year for the Part 2 graduate. In the future, we are making sure that the learning will be done in the lower years in order to achieve a higher level of competencies in the fifth year. So, it will continue to be like this in the following years.



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