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Design leaps: Divergent thinking techniques across media for architectural design

Hynam, Matthew

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Matt Hynam
Lecturer in Architecture


This thesis examines the moments of divergence that occur across media in the early stages of the architectural design process. The term ‘divergent thinking’, coined by Joy Paul Guilford (1967) as a key component of creativity, describes the flexibility and elaboration entailed in an individual’s ability to come up with new ideas. Research across architectural design and cognitive science has previously identified the importance of the balance between divergent and convergent thinking, for creativity within the architectural design process (Lawson, 2006). However, preceding studies have consistently sought to model, and thus converge the very nature of divergence as a form of behaviour. This thesis, instead, shifts focus on the media and techniques that enable the architectural designer to think divergently. In this context, the research is particularly concerned with the creative exchanges between digital and analogue media and the opportunities for design that these create.

The research responds to concerns that recent trends within the development of architectural software have shifted the design process away from conceptual thinking, towards processes of simulation. The thesis stipulates that, traditionally, divergence is enabled in the process of architectural design through an iterative process of production, which is articulated in the transition across media, such as drawing and modelling, in their various degrees of resolution. As this iterative switching between media and environments is increasingly short-cut or bypassed within environments of simulation, this thesis examines the possible exchanges between analogue architectural media and the digital context, in order to reveal how architectural divergence can emerge within an expanded field of media.

In the context of this thesis, the exploration of divergent thinking has been carried by combining a design research methodology with visual ethnography. A series of key projects explore and develop methods for the introduction of divergent prompts into the architectural design process, drawing techniques from architecture, as well as literature and the visual arts. The implementation of the prompts across design-based projects, draws from the pedagogical context of the design studio to address a wider field of architectural creative practice. Applications examined include student projects, workshops, architectural competitions and engagements with artist and community groups, as sites for the critical analysis and further development of divergent techniques and their respective media contexts. Film, drawing, photography, and their exchanges play a critical part in observing and understanding these divergent moments. The clash between the connotative qualities of abstraction found in architectural drawing and the denotative nature of the digital image, becomes central to this examination of architectural media through the creative practice of divergent strategies.

The use, iteration and study of explicit divergent techniques, contributes to the definition of the ‘design leap’ as a response to, and expansion of, the cognitive science term of the ‘leap’ (Wallas, 1926), to describe the moments that actively diverge the designer’s perspective of the process through the media. Defining distinct kinds of ‘design leaps’, the thesis proposes a renewed understanding of subtle divergent processes that already exist within architectural design tradition, as well as a more explicit understanding of the architectural habitus. Further, it reveals the diachronic quality of architecture to adapt to, as well as infuse with divergence, new tools and techniques, through the spatial-representational lens of its pre-existing tools.


Hynam, M. Design leaps: Divergent thinking techniques across media for architectural design. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date May 10, 2020
Publicly Available Date Aug 24, 2021
Keywords Divergence; Creative thinking; Design process; Digital analogue; Architectural media
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