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This Program Has Been Brought to You By:

Jack Booton


Each Fall semester a fresh crop of fourth-year architecture students file into a crowded lecture hall to discuss Architectural Programming. The course strives to define what exactly programming can be and where it fits into the design process. As expert Robert Hershberger states, “definitions of programming in the design professions are as diverse as the people involved in its practice.” We recognize that with different approaches to design, there are different approaches to programming. For example, if design is ___, then programming is ___:


Problem Solving

Informed Play

Establishing Order


Collaborative Adventure

Responsible Art



Problem Seeking

Defining Rules

Exploring Patterns

Establishing Hypotheses

Common Understandings


Understanding Constraints

NCARB defines ‘Programming’ in its first subcategory of experience requirements as:

The process of discovering the owner/client’s requirements and desires for a project and setting them down in written, numerical, and graphic form.

This definition, among others, may be the most relevant at this stage of our academic and professional careers. We stand at the brink of dramatic change—a purgatory of sorts—where the lines of academia and professional practice become blurred (such a cliche, but true). As fifth-year graduate students, the ordinary curricular process was an experience we sought to stray away from by enrolling in design + make. Our preconceptions about the studio and it’s purpose stemmed from the work of years past and similar “design-build” programs around the country. Whether or not we actually understood what these organizations taught, our first semester working with the Girl Scouts of America, ReStart Inc., Asian-Americans for Equality, and el dorado inc. has proved a most insightful endeavor.

In the past, the “programming” or understanding portion of an academic project is quickly neglected in favor of premature design efforts. There is little to no responsibility to a theoretical client’s well-being, and the project fundamentally suffers. Instead, we listen. We invest in a connection to the client and their needs from day one. A consistent dialogue which motivates a mindful approach to solving the problem and the quest for design excellence.


Ultimately, the purpose of our discussions and meetings is to stimulate our clients’ imagination; trigger their intuition and knowledge. From there, we act as interpreters. The program begins to manifest itself, always susceptible to new information and insights that may improve the design. The studio’s outlook is complementary, not competitive. design + make combines the strengths of students through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no single person could have done alone. This type of synergistic relationship distinguishes our design process as a way to yield results quickly and clearly. Week after week our ideas are established and refined...then articulated, criticized and refined again. Everyone participates, everyone learns. The collective mind and soul of the project becomes almost corporeal. But before it can do this—with the client’s trust and resources in our hands—we must exceed their expectations.

The reality is that the fifth and final year of our schooling is built upon project programming. In the Fall we explore design from a variety of perspectives; we sketch, model, write, debate, and question the nature of our work. Client relationships are established and the project becomes a part of our chemical makeup. We are actively engaged in the development of a project’s constraints and limitations. However, according to NCARB, programming represents just 1.6% (80 hours) of the minimum required training to become an architect. Why is it that such an influential aspect of our practice seems so insignificant? The importance of programming may be understated in comparison to other categories like design and project management.


Unlike previous studios and seminars, the partnership between not-for-profit, professional practice, and university offers a myriad of opportunities and advantages. Establishing the program is now a constant iterative exchange between the aforementioned parties. It is no longer a stagnant menu of requirements or considerations; the ever-evolving program influences ideas that we watch unfold together.

Written by Jack Booton

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