Grammatization and the design process

Grammatization here refers to the theory established by French media philosopher Bernard Stiegler who proposes that the development of media processes can be analysed as grammatical elements which develop and reconfigure overtime (Stiegler, B. 2010).

‘…critical attention starts by studying the constitutive processes that underwrite so-called humans and technologies—before considering themes separate, already-constituted entities. These constitutive processes, in Stiegler’s lexicon, are called processes of grammatization’ (Tinnell, J. 2015 p.134).

Stiegler proposes that processes which have been digitized such as computer drafting (CAD) have a similar grammatical structures to their analogue predecessors. However Stiegler acknowledges that during the development of a new media other forces have a significant role to play in how the grammar is transposed and developed.

The author proposes that the recent introduction of BIM (Building Information Management) software, which simulates the architectural construction process, has altered the grammar of the architectural design process and made it heavily convergent. Creative architectural design relies on media and processes which carefully balance convergent and divergent thinking

The development of BIM software has been driven by governmental requirements for greater efficiency and certainty across the construction industry (Cabinet Office. 2011). Within the architectural design process this has resulted in an approach which sees design teams working on a single online model to construct a simulation of a building out of components. The process sees all members of the design team gradually resolving the project with much of the grammar of the pre BIM design process repurposed and reconfigured as stages within this. Research studies of this process have shown that it is effective at significantly reducing the number of information clashes and errors within the design process that find their way into built projects (Crotty, R. 2012).

Grammatization theory has the potential to provide a useful theoretical framework from which to question how at a grammatical level BIM software is affecting divergent thinking and creativity. Bernard Stiegler proposes that understanding the grammar within new digital processes, such as BIM, is essential as they are ‘…ripe with in-determination and radically open to cultural development’ (Tinnell, J. 2015 p.142). Within this context it is possible to see how cultural drivers, such as the UK Government’s requirement for greater efficiency and cost certainty have influenced the development of BIM and the grammar of the design process. Examples within BIM software where this is manifesting at a grammatical level include:

The shift from drawing with lines which offered a collaborative ambiguity, alternative readings and the potential for divergence and creativity towards component modelling which sees a convergent collaborative effort to develop simulations that predict all possibilities.

The drive to use a single digital medium across the construction industry to avoid clashes has restricted the opportunity to introduce analogue mediums which have different grammatical rhythms capable of working at different scales and speeds. Despite the seemingly convergent limitations of the BIM process there are users who believe that BIM software does not need to be so restrictive. They propose that it does not need to be confined to a single software environment and instead choosing the right tool is critical to enhancing creativity (Smith, D.K. & Tardif, M. 2009 p.16). ‘By understanding how you work, you build a framework for integrating technology—in ways that work best for you. By tailoring your processes, you deliver the benefits available from today’s best tools and high-performance processes’ (Jernigan, F.E. 2008 p.142). Architect Jared Banks believes that the creativity found in pre BIM tools has yet to be explored (Banks, J. 2014). Stating that we have not embraced and internalised the idiosyncrasies of these tools yet. ‘We instead view their limitations as points of failure and reasons to not unravel their mysteries’ (Banks, J. 2014).

The potential to develop a tool that can intervene and alter the grammar of the BIM process is already a reality. This approach has been coined as openBIM and is based upon openly sharing information through common standards and workflows. ‘openBIM is an initiative of buildingSMART and several leading software vendors using the open buildingSMART Data Model’ (buildingSMART. 2015). The potential of openBIM software has already led to tools that can plug into the BIM process. Examples include Fasktrack by CSK (UK) which provides a quick way to create a viable structural model. Ecotect by Autodesk which allows a building’s potential energy performance to be predicted and analysed (BIM forum. 2011).


Banks, J. (2014) Making BIM the best Tool for Design. Available from: http:// [Accessed 3 March 2016].
BIM forum. (2011) BIM tools matrix. Available from: content/uploads/2011/02/BIM_Tools_Matrix.pdf [Accessed 03 Feb 2016].

buildingSMART. (2015) Technical Vision. Available from: http://www. [Accessed 19 March 2016].

Cabinet Office. (2011) Government Construction Strategy. Available from: [Accessed 27th August 2014].

Cross, N. (2006) Designerly ways of knowing. London: Springer.

Crotty, R. (2012) The impact of building information modelling: transforming construction, Spon, London.

Dorst, K. & Cross, N. (2001) Creativity in the design process: co-evolution of problem–solution, Design Studies, vol. 22, no. 5, pp. 425-437.

Jernigan, F.E. (2008) Big BIM, little bim: the practical approach to building information modelling: integrated practice done the right way! Salisbury, MD: 4Site Press.

Lawson, B. (2006) How designers think: the design process demystified. Oxford: Architectural Press.

Smith, D.K. & Tardif, M. (2009) Building information modelling: a strategic implementation guide for architects, engineers, constructors, and real estate asset managers. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.

Stiegler, B. (2010) For a new critique of political economy, Polity, Cambridge.

Tinnell, J. (2015) Grammatization: Bernard Stiegler’s Theory of Writing and Technology, Computers and Composition: An International Journal for Teachers of Writing, vol. 37, pp. 132.