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Architectural Design

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Professors Humberto Cervantes and Rick Kazman discuss software architecture, along with the main inputs to the design process—what they call architectural drivers, plus the design concepts that will help you satisfy these drivers using proven solutions.

This chapter is from the book

We now dive into the process of architecture design: what it is, why it is important, how it works (at an abstract level). and which major concepts and activities it involves. We first discuss architectural drivers: the various factors that “drive” design decisions, some of which are documented as requirements, but many of which are not. In addition, we provide an overview of design concepts—the major building blocks that you will select, combine, instantiate, analyze, and document as part of your design process.

2.1 Design in General

Design is both a verb and a noun. Design is a process, an activity, and hence a verb. The process results in the creation of a design—a description of a desired end state. Thus the output of the design process is the thing, the noun, the artifact that you will eventually implement. Designing means making decisions to achieve goals and satisfy requirements and constraints. The outputs of the design process are a direct reflection of those goals, requirements, and constraints. Think about houses, for example. Why do traditional houses in China look different from those in Switzerland or Algeria? Why does a yurt look like a yurt, which is different from an igloo or a chalet or a longhouse?

The architectures of these styles of houses have evolved over the centuries to reflect their unique sets of goals, requirements, and constraints. Houses in China feature symmetric enclosures, sky wells to increase ventilation, south-facing courtyards to collect sunlight and provide protection from cold north winds, and so forth. A-frame houses have steep pitched roofs that extend to the ground, meaning minimal painting and protection from heavy snow loads (which just slide off to the ground). Igloos are built of ice, reflecting the availability of ice, the relative poverty of other building materials, and the constraints of time (a small one can be built in an hour).

In each case, the process of design involved the selection and adaptation of a number of solution approaches. Even igloo designs can vary. Some are small and meant for a temporary travel shelter. Others are large, often connecting several structures, meant for entire communities to meet. Some are simple unadorned snow huts. Others are lined with furs, with ice “windows”, and doors made of animal skin.

The process of design, in each case, balances the various “forces” facing the designer. Some designs require considerable skill to execute (such as carving and stacking snow blocks in such a way that they produce a self-supporting dome). Others require relatively little skill—a lean-to can be constructed from branches and bark by almost anyone. But the qualities that these structures exhibit may also vary considerably. Lean-tos provide little protection from the elements and are easily destroyed, whereas an igloo can withstand Arctic storms and support the weight of a person standing on the roof.

Is design “hard”? Well, yes and no. Novel design is hard. It is pretty clear how to design a conventional bicycle, but the design for the Segway broke new ground. Fortunately, most design is not novel, because most of the time our requirements are not novel. Most people want a bicycle that will reliably convey them from place to place. The same holds true in every domain. Consider houses, for example. Most people living in Phoenix want a house that can be easily and economically kept cool, whereas most people in Edmonton are primarily concerned with a house that can be kept warm. In contrast, people living in Japan and Los Angeles are concerned with buildings that can withstand earthquakes.

The good news for you, the architect, is that there are ample proven designs and design fragments, or building blocks that we call design concepts, that can be reused and combined to reliably achieve these goals. If your design is truly novel—if you are designing the next Sydney Opera House—then the design process will likely be “hard”. The Sydney Opera House, for example, cost 14 times its original budget estimate and was delivered ten years late. So, too, with the design of software architectures.

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