Metaphor is used commonly to provide rhetorical emphasis, but metaphor is not simply a matter of linguistic ornamentation. To the contrary, it has been argued that metaphor is the basis for conceptual thinking and it has been shown that metaphor can aid learning. It has been demonstrated through experimentation and historical studies that using different metaphors to describe the same problem can lead to different goals for improvement and, subsequently, to different courses of action. As such, using metaphor can greatly contribute to policy, planning, design, and management outcomes. This paper considers the use of metaphor for design development through a framework that establishes and advances arguments for intentional change. The framework assumes a constructivist perspective in which a student gains new knowledge by building upon prior experiences and understanding. Metaphor is used to provide the link between questions of ethics (what ought to be done relative to identified site characteristics and possible site uses) and questions of epistemology (biophysical and social cause and effect relationships represented in system dynamics models). This connection calls for interrelated examinations of subjective and objective aspects of design thinking within an internally consistent argument. The paper introduces the constructivist framework as a general way to structure ambiguity in ‘ill-defined’ design problems. It then focuses on the role of metaphor within the framework as providing a comprehensive vision or strategy to manage change. Relevant theories of metaphor from linguistics, cognitive science, planning, and design are provided. Emphasis is placed on methodological and heuristic uses of metaphor, rather than discursive uses. Implications of metaphor within ethical and epistemological concerns are discussed. Second year graduate-level student projects done over several years provide examples. The work offers a basis to observe patterns of use and the challenges with some metaphors for design development at the student level.
Allan W. Shearer, Ph.D., is Associate Dean for Research and Technology at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. In his role at the School’s Center for Sustainable Development, he oversees the development and facilitation of research at the intersection of environmental, social, and economic concerns. His own research centers how individuals, communities, and societies create scenarios of the future and how these descriptions of possible conditions are used to inform present day decisions. With an emphasis on issues relating to the built environment, his work expands conceptual frameworks for scenario-based studies and advances methods by which they are put into practice. A particular focus of research has been critical uncertainties that may lead to national, environmental, or human security problems.