Architecture and Second Order Science


  • Ben Sweeting University of Brighton


Architecture, Design, Cybernetics, Second Order Science


Since around 1980, Ranulph Glanville has put forward the idea that rather than seeing research in design as one form of science, we instead see scientific research as a specific form of design. This argument, based on the way that scientific research inevitably involves design activity but not vice versa, and others like it around that time consolidate a shift during the 1970s in thinking about design, from a concern with the scientific method to the idea that design has its own epistemological foundations as a discipline. The attempt to base design on a linear version of the scientific method failed for reasons that have been pointed out by Horst Rittel amongst others: because design involves the creation of the new, design questions cannot be exhaustively formulated in advance. This has marked something of a parting of the ways between design and science as being incompatible in terms of method.

Given Glanville’s argument this is not what we might expect: if science is a limited form of design, shouldn’t scientific approaches be commensurable with design even if they are not a basis for it? This apparent disjunction is only the case if we follow the changes in how design was thought about during this period without also following the comparable changes regarding science. Both broadly parallel each other, moving from a concern with method in the 1960s through a critique of this in the 1970s to new foundations from the 1980s onwards, focusing on what designers and scientists actually do in practice. Indeed the key critiques of method advanced by Feyerabend and Rittel, in science and design respectively, have similar structures and, so, what seems at first sight to be a rupture can also be read as a parallel journey.

Using this account as a basis, and in the light of recent discussions regarding the idea of second order science, I suggest that we can understand contemporary design research as one example of second order research practice, as is indicated by its continuity with cybernetics. More speculatively, and with reference to the Fun Palace project of Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price, to which Gordon Pask also contributed, I suggest that architecture can itself sometimes be thought of as facilitating such a reflective and participatory enquiry.

Author Biography

Ben Sweeting, University of Brighton

Senior Lecturer in Architecture, College of Arts and Humanities, University of Brighton.



How to Cite

Sweeting, B. (2016). Architecture and Second Order Science. Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2015 Berlin, Germany, 1(1). Retrieved from