Prescriptive design

How much can or should designers try to control an experience, and how much should be left to interpretation?

I’ve been watching some of the presentations from this year’s TED conference (also be sure to check out Jessi’s great review ). Liz Diller from architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro gave a great presentation showing her firm’s truly interdisciplinary approach, blending architecture with visual arts, even performance. She showed a few projects, including the new ICA in Boston. The Mediatheque is particularly smart — that’s the computer/digital art room which drops out of the floor of the cantilevered building, with a glass wall at the bottom of the stairs. According to a great recent interview in the New Yorker, Diller and her partners, Ric Scofidio and Charles Renfro, were delighted when they witnessed someone walking in at the top of the room and mistaking the view of the harbor water from the bottom of the stairs for a high resolution digital image. But apparently, Diller and her partners also get cross when people walk to the bottom of the stairs to get a sense of the whole panorama/vista. That seems unrealistic — and it’s got me to thinking — how much can or should designers try to control an experience, and how much should be left to interpretation? How prescriptive can design really be? Answers on a virtual postcard, please.

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