Designing in an Environmental Field: Essays, Metaphors, Kasinas

by Jerome Diethelm • Aurora Books Box 3944 Eugene, OR 97403 • 1/98

The purpose of this book is to set out the basis of a new theory and a new theoretical vocabulary for environmental design that is responsive to postmodernist challenges to planning and design thinking. Among these are:

  • the awareness that rational processes are culturally influenced ways of knowing;
  • the inadequacy of a language-based communication theory of meaning for art and design;
  • the belief that a critique of the design field’s root metaphors is both necessary for theoretical growth and long overdue;
  • the need for ways of thinking in design that transcend the divide between intention and form, program and proposal, thought and behavior, fact and value.
New integrative concepts such as environmental valuing, environmental field, environmental problem, the valuing mind, and meaning in experience are responses to this challenge. Classic root metaphors such as environment, intention, form and meaning are reinterpreted from the perspective of environmental valuing. The concepts of metaphoric junction and metaphoric density are advanced to help explain the nature of design integration in both poetry and places. Images of wide scope and a variety of other kasinas are utilized to stimulate new thinking in the field.


Of major significance is the recognition of the conceptual power of valuing, and of "environmental valuing" for environmental design, to redirect, revitalize and integrate environmental design theory. Of major importance to landscape architecture is the development of a better design theory vocabulary that helps designers improve communication with themselves, their clients and the general public.

There is a standing order for theory in the field, but very little that helps chart the territory beyond modernism. The strength of this work is in its bold (some would say foolish) attempt to provide a broad conceptual framework for design capable of explaining how the field’s many diverse normative theories and approaches fit together. The position taken is that the various valuing perspectives may be seen as overlapping discourses, points of view that need each other - and need to acknowledge one another - to make a whole. Places are a weave of many values.

Perhaps the hardest problem in design philosophy is to crack the dam of entrenched thinking. Old concepts like old habits die hard, as every designer who has tried to force their work forward into "freshness" knows. The essay form of the book, it’s use of Sullivanesque dialog, the dramatization of its concepts in metaphor and story form, and its use of visual thinking are all attempts to create fresh conceptual space and to catalyze fresh design thinking.


The book's essays and kasinas are intended as new fuel for design theory seminars, and it is hoped that they will stimulate conversations everywhere about planning and design theory. The uniqueness of the book is to be found in the originality of its ideas and the unity of these ideas with their presentation, a lively and occasionally amusing demonstration of intending toward…/ forming out of…. The prospect is for an environmental design process that yields more satisfying and successful places because they are made out of more of the things that matter.

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