A Theoretical Model for Design for Sustainability: The Impact of Data-Intensive Evaluation Approaches to Design Thinking

By Carmela Cucuzzella.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper is a contribution to the general theory of design thinking. In the prevalent demand for a sustainable development, the main objective of this research is the construction of a theoretical model of design thinking that contextualizes standard sustainability evaluation tools. The basis of these normative tools is analyzed in four dimensions: ontological, methodological, epistemological and teleological. Indications of potential counter-productive effects of these norms for design thinking confirm the need for a theory of qualitative judgment for sustainability. Our central hypothesis revolves around the benefits of the underlying conceptual framework of the ‘precautionary principle’ for design thinking, the first formulations of which goes back to the early seventies in Germany, and was in fact created as a way to address the failures of traditional scientific evaluation tools or methods.
The underlying theories of the precautionary principle are reviewed and explored for the specific context of design within the perspective of sustainability. Current methods of standard risk assessment methods are compared to a precautionary approach, revealing their conceptual limits for design thinking. A preliminary theoretical model for design thinking is then constructed adopting the theories underlying the precautionary principle. This model represents a global vision for judging the design project in a context of sustainability, rather than on traditional approaches for risk assessment, which are purposive and instrumental.
This paper therefore highlights the often-underestimated impact of environmental standards on the judgment process and design thinking, with particular, albeit non-restrictive, reference to contemporary Canadian architectural competitions for public buildings. It concludes by stressing the need for a new form of “reflective prudence” in design thinking along with a more critical use of current evaluation tools for sustainability founded on a global integration rather than on the opposition of environmental approaches.

Keywords: Design Thinking, Sustainability, Precautionary Principle, Prevention, Judgment, Reflection-in-Action, Technical Rationality, Architectural Competitions, LEED

The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.95-108. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.778MB).

Dr. Carmela Cucuzzella

assistant professor, Department of Design Art, Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia University, Laboratoire d’étude de l’architecture potentielle, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

I am a assistant professor at Concordia University. I am also associated with the architectural research lab, L.E.A.P. (Laboratoire d’étude de l’architecture potentielle) at the Université de Montréal in the School of Architecture. I obtained a Ph.D. (2011) and a M.App.Sc (2007) both from the Université de Montréal in the Faculté de l’amenagement. I also received a Bachelor in Fine Arts (Design Art option) in 2005 and a Bachelor in Computer Science (Systems Architecture option) in 1990. Fields of interest include Sustainable design and development, evaluation methods for sustainable design, social approach to design, ethical and responsible design.