Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reference models - what examples exist in mature domains

To gain an insight into reference models we can examine how more industry deal with reference models. I am looking at this through a very narrow lenst focusing on patterns for the built environment.

In Alexander's seminal work on Patterns he describes a set of patterns. Some of these patterns relate to each other. The patterns based on the physical size of what they apply to i.e. first come those applying to large areas (e.g. towns), then comes patterns relating to buildings, then to space in buildings (e.g. rooms), then patterns relating to elements within buildings (e.g. column details).

We could regard these as a reference model (RM) for design.

These patterns as a whole sit beside an extant set of reference models some of which are so well known that they hardly need articulation e.g. lists of:
  • types of space - rooms - a dwelling could have;
  • functions a dwelling could facilitate;
  • measures: structure, construction, lighting, acoustics etc.;
As well as beside reference models that are encapsulated within various regulations and laws, or by technologies
  • building best practice (codes)
  • products
  • safety and efficiency
  • etc.
Lastly we could consider the set of psychological and physiological requirements people have for a buildings:
  • warmth, quiet
  • peaceful, welcoming
The original work, while seminal, has several limitations resulting from a lack of semantic precision and the form of the work (a document). These are that:
  • it does not relate the patterns RM to other RMs requirements, space-types, functions, products etc. which as a set are the constraints reflect requirements and technologies.
  • the mode of presentation does allow one to automate the analyse of the use of patterns for referential of inferential integrity.
These limitations can be now be easily addressed with modern methods of managing reference models.

Perhaps in architectural domain they can be effectively dealt with be people (though looking at building one sometimes wondered). But I don't think this is true in some other increasingly complex domains where technology and expectations change too rapidly to allow best practice to encapsulated in documents, taught in a professional school, and reflected in regulations.

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