A morphological overview is a methodical design method. The method was developed by Fritz Zwicky (1966) to master a complex design process. Integrated designing with a morphological design-chard is the best solution for housing, renovation, utility construction, up to a value of 10 million euros (90% of buildings, above this value the projects become too complex). The partners who are involved in the building process together divide the design question into sub-problems. Unravelling it makes it manageable. Little sub-solutions can give rise to large solutions. The objective of the morphological overview is to identify and compare all solution directions, which are normally unquantifiable. A complex problem has multiple characteristics:
Multidimensional: it can be approached from many points of view. For example, the problem could concern financial, political and social aspects. These different aspects are treated as a single entity in the solution.
Vague: The different aspects of the problem are unquantifiable. Moreover, they are continually subject to change. The vagueness of the different aspects makes the use of the usual ‘cause-effect’ methods unsuitable. Subjective: There is not one good solution to the problem. There are only better or worse solutions.
As in every other process, the quality of the input also determines the quality of the output. If the basic information (input) is qualitatively better, there is a greater probability that the result (output) will also be of higher quality. It is also desirable for the project team to include at least one person with experience in making morphological overviews.
The following process steps are required to make a morphological overview:
- Problem description (conceptualization): a description of what the problem is, what it is not and what it could be.
- Analyse the solution parameters: the problem is divided into viewpoints and/or characteristics (dimensions).
- Build a morphologic overview: the overview helps to order thoughts and visualise them in a matrix. All possible conditions are summed up for each dimension.
- Evaluation (opinion forming): evaluating a possible solution by judging it for consistency. If a possible solution is inconsistent, then an (x) is placed in the appropriate field. The last step of the process is shown by connecting the desired solution with a line.
- Implement the solution (decision making): implement the desired solution as depicted in the morphological overview.
A morphological overview can be made with n-dimensions, where each dimension has its own viewpoint or characteristic. For instance, a Zwicky box can be used. It is easy to represent the structure in a matrix that can also include the following topics.
- Thermal comfort,
- Visual comfort,
- Energy systems,
- Usability and safety
- The environment
All sub-problems associated with the project are mapped out in this way. ALL parties help to provide sub-solutions. As a result, the map includes input from all disciplines, from the client, the architect, the consultants as well as the builders and the installers. Each discipline provides its own input and will include its best solution in the map (conceptualization). When all the information has been entered and classified with respect to its pros and cons (opinion forming), multiple solution directions arise and are compared. A clear picture eventually emerges that, although not being quantifiable, will provide enough input for good decision making.
With this design method, the client is involved in a neat and clear decision-making process. In the traditional approach, the client rarely has the choice of more than one or two options. These options are usually the architect’s preference and the option that is likely to be turned down. This gives an unsatisfied feeling. See (Un)satisfactory decision-making.
This process is profound and can be more time-consuming than traditional design-processes. However, the subsequent project phases can be completed faster because all the design-decisions made are logically embedded in the whole and are discussed and supported by all partners involved in the morphological design proces.
Morphological design was successfully applied to design Veldhuizer school and the Residential care centre Vroomshoop, both built as Passive Houses, the most sensible design-route that emerged of the morphological chard.