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Zoom-in/Zoom out

The "Zoom-in/Zoom-out" Skills of Architects

Işıl Ruhi-Sipahioğlu, T. Nur Çağlar

Published November 4, 2020

Architecture is bound to the intentions of architects, as well as to the regulations and rules defined by landscape-level actors (governments and/or municipalities), and eventually to the aspirations of those commissioning the building. Numerous levels of intensions/objectives/knowledge, belonging to all the actors in designing, are addressed over an architectural design process in this paper.

Architecture is also bound to the materials, places, and tools/methods used both in designing and building structures. If cast in an urban context, architecture is bound to its “archiscape” (Aksu, Çağlar and Küçük, 2011).[ı] Thus, numerous levels of information, from material scale to urban/global scale, are weaved into the materialisation process of architectural thinking/architectural design idea.

Numerous attempts have been made to demystify the design processes of architects and also designers in general, but “reflective practice” is one of the precise explanations given for this “emergent” process (Schön, 1983). In this practice, “critical assessment, comparability and evaluation takes place through the continual weaving between problem and solution in an iterative movement between inquiry and proposal” (Hauberg, 2011, p. 50). The authors postulate here that each design process leading to an architectural design is unique. This uniqueness stems from the multiplicity of the interpretations of these variables, that is, scales/levels by all the actors in designing. Thus, diversity in design approaches.

There is, however, a vital movement that one can find abundantly in this process, what the authors of this essay call, “zooming-in/zooming-out” among these levels/scales. In designing, architects work on scales ranging from personal (including intellectual, spiritual) to governmental, from local to global ecological/economic/social. They work on scales ranging from 1/10000 to 1/1, that is, from the urban scale to detail. The architectural object is materialized for the focus points, as the locus, but these always address the exigencies of the “big” picture, as the big locus.

Designers’ reflection-in-actions (Schön, 1983) act on these levels/scales of knowledge/ information. At each action or “designerly” ways of knowing, thinking, and acting (Cross, 1982, 2001) that carries the tacit knowledge of the designers (Polanyi, 1966), architects zoom-in to the focus place; then further zoom-in to details; then zoom-out to decipher the big picture; then consider the factors of the archiscape; then inquire possible impacts on a global scale; and then zoom-in to locus again to reflect on the relationships between these multiple levels.

“Zoom-in/Zoom-out” is the deliberate shifts of designers between various scales while designing. This action is iteratively on the scene and steps in at each design phase, from concept to application.

[ı]Archiscape is a hybrid concept generated by Aksu, Çağlar and Küçük (2011) by combining “scape” and “architecture” to express integrity in the urban context. It enables the interactive improvement and inspection of urban and architectural relationships by enabling an integrated approach to the city. By the same token, the term offers a four-dimensional structure to handle urban dynamics. For more, see “Archiscape” in the glossary.


Aksu, A., Çağlar, N. and Küçük, İ. (2011) “Urban Archi–Scapes: To touch upon the alternative approaches to urban transformation process within the context of housing.” In IAPS International Network Symposium, Daegu, Korea, pp. 1–10.

Cross, N. (1982) “Designerly Ways of Knowing.” Design Studies, 3(4), pp. 221–227.

Cross, N. (2001) “Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline Versus Design Science.” Design Issues, 17(3), pp. 49–55.

Hauberg, J. (2011) “Research by Design – A Research Strategy’, AE. Revista Lusófona de Arquitectura e Educação [Architecture & Education Journal], (5), pp. 46–56.

Polanyi, M. (1966) The Tacit Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company.

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

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