Designing Tacitly: A Study of Concept Design in the Milieu of Interior and Architecture Design Practices

Student thesis: Phd


Abstract This study investigates designers’ day-to-day actions when developing concept designs (the initial design ideas that drive a project), exploring how these function and evolve in the milieu of interior and architecture design practices. The aim is to go beyond the designers’ formal discourse and open the ‘black box’ between the initial thoughts of the building designers and their delivery. The study employs ethnography as the main methodology. It follows the design practice of Consolidated Consultants, Jafar Tukan Atelier (JTA) in Amman, Jordan, which is one of the prominent and authentic practices in the Middle East. The project utilises inductive and pragmatist methods, including seven months of participatory observation, 12 in-depth formal semi-structured interviews, 25 unstructured interviews, and document analysis, with special attention to architecture in the making, not architecture made. The study adopts descriptive analysis as the primary analytical strategy, but does not use established architectural theories as a framework to interpret data. Instead, the preconceptions created by these theories and arguments were suspended and the emphases reallocated to the descriptions themselves, to generate reflexive ethnographic accounts that dig deeply into the significance of the actions with high internal validity. Several previous studies have investigated architects’ design practices. Some have utilised historical methods, focusing on the individuals who created specific projects, while other studies used psychological and ethnographic methods, concentrating on the project itself and its surrounding environment, including the designers. These ethnographic studies explored the design process in general, without a specific focus on concept design. Accordingly, this study will be the first ethnographic study devoted to unfolding the realities of concept design. The intention here is not to generate an overarching theory about concept design, but rather to deepen our understanding of architecture and interior design. It aims to expand our knowledge about what is happening during the concept design stage, unfolding the complexity surrounding it, illuminating how it relates to other stages of development, and recognising the importance of complying with technical standards or fitting with the project budget. The study finds that there are two primary natures of the concept design in the JTA—the sketchy and the technical—and they are given varying levels of prominence due to different factors. In both natures, designers do not start from scratch, thinking from the outset about a ‘super’ concept design that solves everything at once; rather, they are designing tacitly and collectively. Tacit knowledge, such as precedents or practice legacy, is used as a springboard to find new possibilities and launch the design process. The study concludes that the romantic idea about the genius architect, which is promoted by the designers themselves and the architectural press, does not exist in the JTA, but rather, architecture is about the business of making buildings through the use of tacit knowledge. Thus, JTA’s creativity goes beyond the aesthetics of the architectural form to be manifested in working with and within the pragmatic requirements, such as providing sufficient car parking spaces, ensuring that the project is financially viable, improving the efficiency of the plan, and solving technical problems.
Date of Award31 Dec 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLea-Catherine Szacka (Supervisor) & Alan Lewis (Supervisor)


  • reflection-in-action
  • Jafar Tukan Atelier
  • ethnography of design
  • creativity in design
  • pragmatist approach in interior and architecture
  • milieu of design practice
  • tacit knowledge
  • Concept design in interior and architecture

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