A discursive grammar for customizing mass housing: the case of Siza’s houses at Malagueira


by Jose P. Duarte. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA


The ultimate goal of this work is the design and production of mass-customized houses. The current focus is on design aspects. The purpose of mass customization is to provide high-quality housing at an affordable cost. Quality is defined as the satisfaction of user needs. Cost is controlled by using computer- aided manufacturing, which does not rely on exhaus- tive repetition. Traditionally, when a designer is faced with the design of a large development, the usual solution is to design a limited number of house types and then to repeat them based on market analysis. The envisaged process aims at overcoming such limitations by using computer-aided design and manufacturing processes. The idea is to give mass-produced houses some of the qualities associated with individually designed homes.

The design system includes an interactive program for generating housing solutions, and rapid prototyp- ing and virtual reality techniques for visualizing these solutions. The user accesses the program on the Web. The program guides the user through questions that an architect would normally ask during an initial meet- ing, such as the family members’ profile, their living habits, the rooms they want, the cost that they can afford, and so on. When the interview is over, the

program generates the design brief or housing program, taking into account existing housing regu- lations. The user can then make changes to the initial requirements, and the program will update the design brief. Once the brief is approved, the program generates a housing solution that satisfies the require- ments, which the user can assess. At this stage, the user might want to change the initial requirements and proceed through another iteration of the design process. Once a solution is accepted, an order can be automatically issued to the housing factory. This order will include a detailed list of parts and the digital information to manufacture the parts using computer- aided manufacturing techniques. At the end of the manufacturing process, these parts are transported to the site and assembled.

The research reported in this paper aims at the development of a mathematical model for the inter- active program just described. This model needs to overcome three problems that correspond to the three computer-based methods identified by Radford and Gero [1]. First, it needs to provide a way of translating client data into design requirements and to verify whether a design satisfies these requirements—the simulation problem. In simulation, the computer manipulates a mathematical model that describes the design to evaluate the performance of a given design configuration against the design requirements. Second, it has to codify the rules of formal composition to design a house in a given style—the generation problem. In generation, the computer is used to produce design configurations according to a set of rules. And third, it needs a mechanism to translate the design requirements into a housing solution—the optimization problem. In optimization, the computer is used to generate design configurations that meet a performance goal. The number of solutions that satisfy multiple requirements is potentially very large. Thus, an important part of the model is a computa- tional strategy capable of searching a potentially large design space and providing insight into function–form relations for multicriteria housing design.

The proposed model is illustrated with a case study that includes specific programming and designing grammars. This paper is mainly concerned with the designing grammar. Section 2 briefly explains the concepts of discursive, shape, and description grammars. Section 3 briefly describes the programming grammar. Section 4 describes the designing grammar, and Section 5 closes the paper.


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