(Re)Constructing the Wicked Problem Through the Visual and the Verbal: The Case of a Dialogue Based Architectural Competition

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Wicked problems are open ended and complex societal problems. There is a lack of empirical research into the dynamics and mechanisms that (re) construct problems to become wicked. This paper builds on an ethnographic study of a dialogue-based architect competition to do just that. The competition studied had the purpose of selecting a design, a project and a design team for a large multifunctional building in Copenhagen. As a part of the competition, four different architect-teams had to come up with solutions on how to transform an old brewery site into a multifunctional building. During the competition, the invited architectural teams presented their designs and team organization in three parallel workshops for a panel of client advisors, user representatives as well as a professional jury board. Our data consists of semi-structured interviews with key informants before, during and after the competition and participant observations from all the workshops. We focus on the dynamic interplay between design visualizations and verbal dialogues and the ways in which contradictions and tensions emerge and play out. When the architect teams present their solutions at the workshops, the visualization processes creates new knowledge and insights, but at the same time present new problems related to the ongoing verbal feedback. The design problem being (re) constructed appears as Heracles' fight with Hydra: Every time Heracles cut of a head, two new heads grow back. The paper contributes to understanding the relationship between the visual and
the verbal (dialogue) in complex design processes in the early phases of large construction projects, and how the dynamic interplay between the design visualization and verbal dialogue develops before the competition produces, or negotiates, “a "winning design”.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 32nd Annual ARCOM Conference
EditorsP. W. Chan, C. J. Neilson
Number of pages10
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherARCOM, Association of Researchers in Construction Management
Publication date2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventThe 32nd Annual ARCOM Conference: Construction work and the worker? - Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Sept 20167 Sept 2016
Conference number: 32


ConferenceThe 32nd Annual ARCOM Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Architectural competition
  • Design visualizations
  • Wicked problems

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