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Towards different communication in collaborative design

Frido Smulders (Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands)
Louis Lousberg (Faculty of Architecture, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands)
Kees Dorst (Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 20 June 2008




This paper aims to create a social constructivist perspective on collaborative architecture that is complementary to the rational‐analytic perspective as embodied in the “hard” project management tools.


Two theoretical perspectives from the field of design methodology, “design as co‐evolution”, and “design as a social process”, form the base for an integrated perspective of collaboration. This integrated perspective describes in detail the social process among multi functional actors involved in co‐creational processes. A third theoretical framework discusses the process of maturing conflicts and conflict prevention using the integrated perspective on collaboration. Data from two empirical studies are used to illustrate both perspectives. The first study used a protocol study approach and the second a grounded approach.


This paper shows the similarities in design methodology and conflict literature by introducing a social constructivist perspective on collaborative architecture. Especially, the notion of cognitive errors as root cause of “conflictuous” situations becomes apparent. The paper describes in detail the role of perceptual differences that can make and break collaborative architecture.

Practical implications

Based on these findings some hypothetical intervention strategies are proposed that collaborating actors can apply in order to prevent “conflictuous” situations to grow beyond control and even bend those situations towards innovations. Actors engaged in multi functional and multi actor creational processes might benefit from building a rudimentary mental model representing the world of the other function or other organization.


The paper brings together the intra‐subjective and inter‐subjective level in the context of co‐creating (architectural) processes by combining two very different streams of literature, design methodology and maturing conflicts. In both streams one could identify a similar distinction between cognitive processes and social processes. Collaborative architecture without having social‐emotional conflicts is realized by explicating implicitly held knowledge, understandings and perceptions. An individual cognitive effort as well as a social‐interactive effort is needed in which actors explicitly discuss differences in perception before these perceptions evolve into misleading truths. As a basis for such synchronizing discussions the actors need to have some sort of rudimentary understanding of each other's thought world and trust in each other's professionalism and factuality. Thus, preventing conflicts is not about having more communication, but about different communication!



Smulders, F., Lousberg, L. and Dorst, K. (2008), "Towards different communication in collaborative design", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 1 No. 3, pp. 352-367.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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