Problem solving in architectural design

  • Bryan R. Lawson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is presented in two parts. The first part is an attempt to set out a framework of factors influencing the problem solving stage of the architectural design process. The discussion covers the nature of architectural problems and some of the main ways in which they differ from other types of design problems. The structure of constraints that both the problem and the architect impose upon solutions are seen as of great importance in defining the type of design problem solving situation. The problem solver, or architect, is then studied. The literature of the psychology of thinking is surveyed for relevant work . All of the traditional schools of psychology are found wanting in terms of providing a comprehensive theory of thinking. Various types of thinking are examined, particularly structural and productive thought, for their relevance to design problem solving. Finally some reported common traits of architects are briefly reviewed.
The second section is a report of u~o main experiments which model some aspects of architectural design problem solving. The first experiment examines the way in which architects come to understand the structure of their problems. The performances of first and final year architectural students are compared with those of postgraduate science students and sixth form pupils. On the whole these groups show significantly different results and also different cognitive strategies. The second experiment poses design problems which involve both subjective and objective criteria, and examines the way in which final year architectural students are able to relate the different types of constraint produced. In the final section the significance of all the results is suggested. Some educational and methodological implications are discussed and some further experiments and investigations are proposed.
Date of Award1972
Original languageEnglish


  • Problem solving
  • architectural design

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