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Miniature as a way of representation in design studio: a case study
Article in International Journal of Architectural Research Archnet-IJAR · June 2019
DOI: 10.1108/ARCH-02-2019-0037
2 authors:
Senem Zeybekoğlu Sadri
Hossein Sadri
Girne American University
Coventry University
Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects:
Non-Anthropocentric Urban Design Studio: Kyrenia Region View project
Assoc. Prof. Dr. View project
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Miniature as a way of
representation in design studio:
a case study
Senem Zeybekoglu and Hossein Sadri
Department of Architecture, Girne American University, Kyrenia, Turkey
Received 16 February 2019
Revised 5 May 2019
8 May 2019
9 May 2019
Accepted 15 May 2019
Archnet-IJAR: International
Journal of Architectural Research
Vol. 13 No. 2, 2019
pp. 408-424
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ARCH-02-2019-0037
Purpose – Learning from traditional miniature painting and from recent studies on their modern and
creative applications, the purpose of this paper is to identify the key qualifications of miniature and possible
ways for using miniature in urban design studios. Following discussions on the pedagogical and professional
effects of using miniature in a design studio, the paper introduces De-Urban Design Studio’s philosophy and
its experience in employing miniature as a way of representation as the case study.
Design/methodology/approach – Different from the urban design’s professional role which materialized
in conventional architectural presentation, miniature appears as a representation way in the search for the
appropriate media for the de-urban design’s activist model.
Findings – Expressing the philosophy of transition design and de-urbanization, and studying some of the
miniatures produced in the De-Urban Design studio, this paper sheds light on the possibilities created by
the usage of miniature in urban design studio as a communication medium in making the processes of design
more inclusiveness, participatory and democratic.
Originality/value – The term miniatecture is used for the first time as a representation technique developed
in the De-Urban Design Studio co-instructed by the authors of this paper.
Keywords Architectural representation, De-urban design studio, De-urbanization, Miniature painting,
Transition design
Paper type Conceptual paper
1. Introduction
Miniature painting is a traditional illustration art, initially used in manuscript books to
strengthen the impact of narratives (Çetin, 2018). The origin of the word miniature can be
traced back to the word minimum, referring to the red lead used for the illumination of
chapter heads and capital letters in the medieval period, also highlights its relation with
scripts. In addition to its association with text which makes miniature painting a
comprehensive communication media, based on its philosophical foundation, it has an
influential relation with design. This art was called nakış in Turkish, deriving from nagsh in
Arabic, in the meaning of pattern or design (Konak, 2015a, b). The act of design in miniature
painting deals with the arrangement and the selection of the representation of multiple
spaces and times simultaneously. This specific qualification of miniature painting creates a
distinctive potential of flexible and creative usage mainly in the transitional and complex
events which happen in various spaces and various times and involve representation of
multifarious actors. The paper proposes that miniature painting can be used as an effective
medium of communication for urban design and reflect the lively, multilayered and
composite characteristics of urban space.
With regard to these ideas, and learning from the research by design works of De-Urban
Design Studio, this paper introduces an original approach to design representation by
reporting the process of design and final products of design studio inspired from traditional
miniature painting.
The authors would like to acknowledge the students who took ARC401 De-Urban Design Studio
Course during 2017–2018 Fall and 2018–2019 Fall semesters at the Department of Architecture, Girne
American University.
2. Miniature qualifications and their advantages in urban design studio
Referring to the recent studies on re-employing the art of miniature for current purposes,
and with the aim of supporting its usage in urban design studio, this paper creates a detailed
description on the qualifications of miniature painting as a guideline for its re-employment
in the field of urban design. These qualifications are listed under the following six titles:
association with a script, multiplicity of viewpoints, multiplicity of events, incompleteness,
absence of hierarchy and descriptive presentation.
Miniature as
a way of
2.1 Association with a script
Miniatures are not only illustrated to support a text, but also coexist with it. Scripts and
miniatures are interdependent to each other. Text and miniature, their orders and focuses,
cooperate and coexist (Şener, 2007). Together, script and miniature create a strong
conceptual and emotional medium for transferring ideas (Plate 1).
Source: Ali Al-Mashhadi (1487a)
Plate 1.
Language of the birds,
funeral procession
Plate 2.
A page from
Divan-e Hafez
Different than conventional drawings in architecture and urban design which only reflects
the final product of design, this qualification of miniature can help to illustrate different
aspects and processes of design, such as conceptual background, environmental conditions,
social dynamics, usage of spaces and change in design by time.
2.2 Multiplicity of viewpoints
Viewpoints in miniature are multiple, because the designer of miniature tries to see the scene
from diverse viewpoints and depict them in different views, for example, from the top,
bottom or front simultaneously (Şener, 2007) (Plate 2). Accordingly, it is possible to see the
same object, building or event, simultaneously from different views. The front and back,
inside and outside can be presented in the same scene.
This qualification helps designers to show the relations and connections and
emphasize on what can be essential to be followed. Going beyond the limits of
conventional drawings, the multiplicity of viewpoints let the designer to combine section,
plan and perspective in the same image.
Source: Muhammad (1530)
2.3 Multiplicity of events
Miniature painting represents not only spaces and events but also different moments and
places in which these events happen. The conception of time in miniature painting reflects
the multiplicity of events and moments. Multiple events can be represented, without
having a sequential and hierarchical order (Keskin, 2018). The conception of time in
miniature is not limited to a frozen moment of the design, but includes various events
happening at different moments within the same period of time, which also gives the
opportunity of presence in different places at the same time (Şener, 2007). Accordingly, in
miniature, designer tries to locate representations of different spaces and events in a
non-linear organization (Plate 3). These represented different events and places come
Source: Jami (1600)
Miniature as
a way of
Plate 3.
Yusuf is drawn
up from the well
Plate 4.
The anecdote of
the man who fell
into the water, Mantiq
al-tair (Language
of the Birds)
together and create a pattern (Konak, 2015a, b). Each of these places and events are
depicted with their own compositional features and simultaneous views, free from the
subjective and classifying viewpoint of the designer, but with a holistic view.
This qualification of miniature painting provides an urban designer the practicability to
present diverse stages of the same project in different moments or different places. This ability
of representing multiple times and events is more valuable for transitional or long-term projects.
2.4 Incompleteness
Frame is absent or ignored in miniature. Sometimes the frame is hidden in the depiction, and
sometimes it is the inner side of the extended figures. The absence of frame promotes continuity
and makes an impression of incompleteness and openness to contributions (Plate 4). Miniature’s
open composition and freed and ignored frame create an open-ended and fluid presentation
(Şener, 2007).
Source: Ali al-Mashhadi (1487b)
This incompleteness paves the way for additions and contributions. In urban projects, it
improves the inclusive, democratic and bottom up processes and enables revisions during
the implementation of the project or even later.
2.5 Absence of hierarchy
In miniature there is accumulated reverse perspective, which illustrates each object or event
with its own perspective based on its unique angle and center, rather than a central
perspective in which the whole image is drawn upon a single horizon line (Plate 5).
This accumulated reverse perspective removes the hierarchy between objects based on their
distance from the eyes of the designer. Conversely, objects and events are located beside
each other without any superimposition or order (Şener, 2007).
This qualification of miniature painting makes it possible to decentralize and distribute
the focal points. In urban projects in which diverse strategies for various places are
proposed, this qualification can support the clarity of representation and can prevent any
supremacy between them.
Miniature as
a way of
2.6 Descriptive presentation
Rather than constructing and representing a space, miniatures illustrate the environmental
aspects which complement the events happening in a narrative. Miniature avoids the use of
volume, distance and atmospheric effects which create three-dimensional and realistic
representations, but rather utilizes two dimensional, descriptive and schematic illustrations
of spaces (Plate 6). This kind of illustration is organized along linear axes which can develop
toward different directions of the painting surface (Keskin, 2018).
Source: Önel (2016)
Plate 5.
A map of Haleb
designed by
Matrakçı Nasuh
Plate 6.
A page from
Shahnameh of Shah
Source: Javat (2014)
The descriptive presentation of space creates the opportunity of including various agents of
the same event in the image. Accordingly, representation of a holistic view is possible by
using miniature paintings in urban design projects.
3. De-urban design studio
De-Urban Design Studio is a research by design laboratory which re-imagines human
settlements as de-urbanized, ethical, equitable, self-organizing, self-sufficient, resilient,
autonomous, eco-centric and ecological co-habitats. In addition to the research agenda,
De-Urban Design Studio leads an educational program for the students of the fourth
year of architecture undergraduate studies at Girne American University (Sadri and
Zeybekoğlu-Sadri, 2018). De-Urban Design Studio’s main focus is de-urbanization as an
urban transition project which aims:
(1) reversing back the social and ecological destruction of urbanization through
de-urbanization process, in order to create permanent and communal habitats in
harmony with nature and regenerate and restore social and ecological systems; and
(2) creating a new understanding of contents, applications and scales of spatial design
both in educational and professional milieu.
3.1 De-urbanization as a vision
Imagining the most appropriate mode of habitats, as a long-term visionary project is the
first step of the de-urbanization process. This includes a vision for re-organizing the
relationships between humans, other animals and with living and nonliving components of
nature. These visionary projects lead us through the whole planning and design process of
our environments in order to transform them into:
Ethical, resilient and self-sufficient human settlements which are free from any kind
of oppression, hegemony and violence.
Independent, communal and collective communities where people can work, produce
and enjoy their lives in solidarity rather than competition; access to all resources,
services and amenities (including cultural, artistic and scientific productions) equally;
and establish their local governance structures in which all inhabitants can
participate actively and equitably.
Localized and humanly scaled habitats, which are in harmony with their local
environments’ natural, climatic, biological and ecological conditions.
Clean, fertile and productive landscapes, which are detached from centralized
distribution systems of food, water, energy, and products and independent
from the use of fossil fuels and other pollutants, which can generate their own
energy from renewable resources, produce their own food without using any
chemicals, harvest their own water without destroying water resources and use
local materials for construction without polluting the environment (Sadri and
Zeybekoğlu-Sadri, 2018).
3.2 De-urban design as transdisciplinary knowledge
De-Urban Design is a transdisciplinary knowledge which unites different fields of
design (such as transition design and permaculture design), philosophy (social
ecology, ethics) and science (such as architecture, urban design, social science and
environmental science) together.
To be able to make the long-term visionary project attainable, quick, realistic and
applicable short-term and middle-term strategies are created. De-Urban Design borrows this
methodology from transition design. Transition design is a design approach which received
inspiration from transition town movement, a grassroots movement that was initiated in
2006 in Totnes, UK and then spread to several other cities, towns and neighborhoods
worldwide (Hodgson and Hopkins, 2010).
To be able to create self-sufficient and holistic design, De-Urban Design Studio also
employs techniques and methods of Permaculture Design, a holistic design philosophy
and methodology that was first introduced by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978
Miniature as
a way of
in their book “Permaculture One” (Mollison and Holmgren, 1990). Permaculture design
has its roots in appropriate observation of natural ecosystems, their elements,
relations between those elements and their behaviors under different circumstances.
Permaculture transforms this information obtained from the observation of nature into
creation and continuation of productive, integrative, regenerative, self-sufficient and
permanent human habitats. Through Permaculture design, these human settlements
not only sustainably respond to and take advantage of existing conditions of any site,
such as climate, topography, water, soil, biomass, natural energy resources, but also
maintain social and economic development of communities inhabiting those settlements
(Mollison, 2002).
The design approach of Permaculture is based on web of life system, which means
creating a cycle where outputs (e.g. chicken manure) can be utilized as inputs
(e.g. fertilizer) within the system that is being designed. This approach requires creating
connections between all the components of any given system (if, e.g. a garden is being
designed these components can be water, soil, topography, existing ecosystem, climatic
conditions, existing structures on site and human beings) in order to create maximum
yield ( food, soil, energy, biodiversity, networks, etc.) with minimum intervention and
energy input. This principle of understanding, utilizing and maximizing existing
components and connections in natural settings can be applied to social, cultural, political
and economic organizations of human beings, namely the invisible structures of
communal life (Mollison, 2002).
The main philosophy and ethics of De-Urban Design Studio derives from two main
sources: Ethics of Permaculture design and social ecology. Permaculture design
introduces three ethics, namely care for the earth, care for people and fair share
(Mollison, 2002). Social ecology provides De-Urban Design with another ethical
framework, “the ethics of complementarity” in which “human beings would
complement nonhuman beings with their own capacities to produce a richer, creative,
and developmental whole – not as a ‘dominant’ species but as supportive one”
(Bookchin, 2006). By Bookchin’s (2006) definition, social ecology:
Challenges the entire system of domination itself – its economy, its misuse of technics, its
administrative apparatus, its degradations of political life, its destruction of the city as a center of
cultural development, indeed the entire panoply of its moral hypocrisies and defiling of
the human spirit – and seeks to eliminate the hierarchical and class edifices that have
imposed themselves on humanity and defined the relationship between nonhuman and human
nature. (p. 46)
According to social ecology understanding, the way human beings interact with nature is a
reflection of social relations of human beings. As long as human social relations are defined
by hierarchy and domination, the human civilization will continue to dominate, exploit,
destroy and pollute nature. This is why Bookchin (2006) underlines that “ethics of
complementarity” should be a driving force for human beings’ actions, so that rather than
dominating nature and other human beings, human beings can re-establish their relations in
a way that will nourish nature and enrich human beings’ lives”.
Since De-Urban Design aims to restore social and ecological harms of urbanization and
capitalism, it needs deep studies on social and environmental issues. Accordingly, De-Urban
Design benefits from diverse fields of science including but not limited to social science and
environmental science.
In addition to the transdisciplinary sources of design, science and philosophy,
Architecture and Urban Design constitute the foundations of De-Urban Design present as
the main source of knowledge, by providing spatial analysis, building, and organizing
skills, including but not limited to: analyzing any given site, its environmental conditions
and the human needs in detail; organizing and planning buildings, spaces and interactions
adequately; utilizing the most appropriate resources, materials and building techniques
for any given context; managing the whole process of analysis, design, and construction
efficiently; and communicating ideas and proposals to a number of audience including
colleagues and users through a variety of visualization and representation techniques.
Empowered by the transdisciplinary contributions, and with the core knowledge coming
from the field of architecture and urban design, de-urban design is enabled to have an
ethical, scientific, holistic and political approach to the design of space.
A De-Urban Designer is not a professional arm of a production system but a consultant,
activist or facilitator in the service of local community. Accordingly, s/he needs strong
communication devices and skills. The existing communication medium of the profession is
not appropriate; therefore, a new medium needs to be developed. In the past two years,
De-Urban Design Studio employed miniature painting as a way of representation and
communication in the design studio to free the discipline from the limits of profession and
find a way to serve to the activist role of de-urban designer.
4. Miniatures of de-urban design studio
The usage of miniature painting as a communication medium, the engagement of students
in related research and studies, feedback processes, and employing the methods of
miniature design and testing its qualifications enhance the potential of active and
experiential learning (Salama, 2008) in urban design studios. In addition to supporting an
active and experiential learning environment in urban design studios, simulating real
urban projects and their related processes, miniatures free students from the limits of solid
professional perspective and its top-down and hierarchical attitude. Contrary to the
conventional representation techniques, miniatures express strategies, processes and
products of design. Accordingly, this medium opens the contributions of local inhabitants
in the decision making and during the implementation processes of projects. Especially
in the transitional or long-term projects, such as the projects of the De-Urban Design
Studio, these qualifications can play important roles in creating more democratic and
inclusive projects.
Miniatures of De-Urban Design Studio can present to the inhabitants of the selected
neighborhoods about the essentials of the transition process, which can be given as follows.
4.1 Design philosophy
As it is seen in the sample miniature (Plate 7) designed by Mona Alchehadeh for the
transition of Tabriz city, using the multiplicity of events, absence of hierarchy and
descriptive presentation qualifications, the transformation of city from urbanized one to
de-urbanized and the impacts of this transformation on people and physical environment
is clearly presented.
4.2 Design approach
The work of Muzaffer Yürekli (Plate 8) uses the qualification of multiplicity of viewpoints
and shows the relations and connections between components and, accordingly, the
approach of design in creating connections and raising the resiliency.
4.3 Design scope
Ceyda Oflaz’s miniature uses absence of hierarchy to distribute the focal point and represent
diverse strategies for diverse places in Fathabad Village (Plate 9).
Miniature as
a way of
Plate 7.
Transition of Tabriz
City from urbanized
(top) to de-urbanized
(bottom) city
Source: By Mona Alchehadeh, student of De-Urban Design Studio 2018–2019
Fall, unpublished work
4.4 Design vision
Nursultan Eshenaliev in his work for Manhattan demonstrates the long-term vision of a
neighborhood by using the qualifications of multiplicity of events and descriptive
presentation (Plate 10). Additionally the incompleteness of the image creates the potential of
revision for the local inhabitants.
4.5 Design concept
Seda Baydur presents the main concept of her project in addressing the problems of the
neighborhood, the city, the region and the planet in a holistic way by using the multiplicity
of events and descriptive presentation in her miniature (Plate 11).
Miniature as
a way of
Source: By Muzaffer Yürekli, student of De-Urban Design Studio 2017–2018 Fall
(Sadri and Zeybekoğlu-Sadri, 2018)
4.6 Design outputs
In the work of Kaan Benli, the qualifications of the absence of hierarchy and the multiplicity
of viewpoints and events enable the presentation of diverse design outputs for diverse
places without creating any supremacy between them (Plate 12).
5. Conclusion
Different from conventional presentation techniques in architecture and urban design
which are useful for the concrete and rigid, previously designed inalterable
projects, miniatures and their accompanying texts empower local residents to use
Plate 8.
A Self-sufficient
collective and
communal living
unit in Istanbul
Plate 9.
Local transition
strategies for
Fathabad Village
in Tabriz
Source: By Ceyda Oflaz, student of De-Urban Design Studio 2018–2019 Fall,
unpublished work
and interpret design philosophies, processes and outputs for creating their own
transition manifestos, and building their own projects. Diverse qualifications of
miniature painting play complementary roles in making the urban design process more
inclusive and democratic:
(1) association with scripts makes the projects, their policies and processes more
readable for the local inhabitants;
(2) multiplicity of viewpoints underlines the relations between diverse components and
outcomes of design;
Miniature as
a way of
Source: By Nursultan Eshenaliev, student of De-Urban Design Studio 2017–2018
Fall (Sadri and Zeybekoğlu-Sadri, 2018)
(3) multiplicity of events enables designers to present transitions and various phases
of design;
(4) incompleteness creates the possibility of revisions and contributions;
(5) absence of hierarchy prevents the supremacy of one part of the project over the
others and accordingly avoids exclusions; and
(6) descriptive presentation expresses the diverse agents of design and their relations in
a holistic way.
Plate 10.
A vision for
Manhattan 2050
Plate 11.
Present and future
connection between a
selected neighborhood
in Istanbul with the
city and region
Source: By Seda Baydur, student of De-Urban Design Studio, 2018–2019 Fall,
unpublished work
In addition to the pedagogical benefits of using the creative medium of miniature in urban
design studio, the potential of miniature in not limiting designers and students to the final
outcome of their design and encouraging them to include the process of design which has
the potential of transforming design professions toward more democratic and inclusive
practices. Miniature helps to create a more direct and organic direction between the design
and users of the projects. Just as the language shapes our thinking, this new representation
tool provides a new way of thinking for designers.
Miniature as
a way of
Source: By Kaan Benli, student of De-Urban Design Studio, 2017–2018 Fall
(Sadri and Zeybekoğlu-Sadri, 2018)
Ali Al-Mashhadi, S. (1487a), “Funeral procession, Folio 35r from a Mantiq al-tair (Language of the
Birds)”, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
Ali Al-Mashhadi, S. (1487b), “The anecdote of the man who fell into the water, folio 44r from a Mantiq
al-tair (Language of the Birds)”, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
Bookchin, M. (2006), Social Ecology and Communalism, AK Press, Oakland, CA.
Plate 12.
A proposal of
activities for the
transition of Kibera
in Nairobi to
its inhabitants
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story/775780/aga-khan-museum-decoding-the-muslim-past/ (accessed February 9, 2019).
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Bilgiler”, Atatürk Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 227-238.
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pp. 285-303.
Mollison, B. (2002), Permaculture a Designer’s Manual, 2nd ed., Tagari, Tasmania, AU.
Mollison, B. and Holmgren, D. (1990), Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human
Settlements, Tagari Publications, Tasmania, AU.
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of Divan of Hafiz”, Resim, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.
Önel, D. (2016), “Matrakçı Nasuh İstanbul’da”, available at: https://oggito.com/icerikler/matrakcinasuh-istanbul-da/11006 (accessed February 9, 2019).
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Further reading
Bookchin, M. (1992), Urbanization without Cities the Rise and Decline of Citizenship, revised ed., Black
Rose Books, Montréal and New York, NY.
Lefebvre, H. (1991), The Production of Space, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford and Victoria, Malden, MA.
Corresponding author
Hossein Sadri can be contacted at: hosadri@gmail.com
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