33 kb PDF - Edinburgh College of Art


33 kb PDF - Edinburgh College of Art

For "Architecture Research Futures" Conference

Edinburgh, 15-16 December 2005

051121 3371 words

Research in the Profession and Discipline of Architecture

Stanford Anderson

MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Research in architecture should be broadly conceived, serving not only

the profession but also the discipline of architecture. That will be the thrust of my

argument, but I would like first to construct some context through current issues

and examples.

Our conference is a national conference, and I am asked to assist in an

international perspective. Nonetheless, I start from aspects of two documents

written in preparation for this conference.

The ScotMARK document "Architecture Research and the Profession in

Scotland" is in itself a commendable piece of research, and has considerable

nuance. But I think it is fair to say that the document recurrently and principally

dwells on the need for "practice-oriented research" of a "problem-solving"

character. To the extent that the report touches on architectural education, it

notes the practitioners' call for "all around" graduates who can enter an office and

"hit the ground running." 1

Turning to the announcement for this conference, "Architecture Research

Futures," it is noted that: "Architecture as an academic discipline in the UK is …

relatively recent, especially as the main form of professional training." 2 That is,


architectural education has been pushed toward university standards and to a

consequent emphasis on research production. No doubt the UK has a distinctive

position in this transformation, but it also accords with the Bologna Declaration,

and later documents, that have driven the same kind of changes throughout the

European Union. The university is held as the model of higher education, even

for those schools of architecture that are not fully reconstructed on the university

model. The principal evidence for success in reaching this new standard is a

solid research base for faculty and even for students.

The distance between architectural practice and academia, perceived so

notably in the ScotMARK document, is exacerbated by these pressures on

architectural education to achieve a research base. I just spoke of "distance," but

between the lines one reads also, I think, of "antagonism" between practice and

academia. Perhaps this phenomenon is exaggerated in Scotland with the high

percentage of very small practices, but it is not unique to Scotland. My

experience of this situation in Boston is relatively benign. As a long-time member

of the Boston Society of Architects and simultaneously as an academic, I found

little professional antagonism toward our five schools, nor insistence on "practiceoriented

research." However, this benign state is owing to the fact that the bonds

between the profession and academia through research are probably as slight in

Boston as was revealed to be the case in the Scottish study.

One way to diminish the gulf between practitioners and academia, as

strongly suggested in the ScotMARK report, is the encouragement and


dissemination of professional research. I fully agree and would like to spend a

few minutes advocating the cause through the example of Eladio Dieste.

Though one of our Edinburgh colleagues, Remo Pedreschi, has written a

book on Dieste and was also a close colleague on my own book on Dieste, many

of you may be unfamiliar with this Uruguayan structural engineer who died in

2000. Dieste may be an exceptional case due to the great remove of his country

and, more importantly, for his excellence; nonetheless, I think his example is


[Brief presentation of the work of Dieste:

Vault types


Architect and master of light]

Engineer who was de facto also an excellent architect.

A designer who also built most of his works.

I argue that Eladio Dieste was as much an architect as an engineer. There

can be no question but that he conducted professional research in the office and

in the field.

Invention of types of vaults that had not been seen before.

Innovations in design and construction that allowed him to push these

vaults to ever greater spans with ever greater efficiency in materials and


Architectural innovations in form and, I would say especially, in the variety

of qualities of light that was possible precisely due to his structural innovations.


Dieste was a highly esteemed professor at the University of Montevideo,

remembered fondly by Uruguayan architects and engineers today.

Dieste published his work, including how to calculate and how to build his

works. Engineer, architect, teacher, with published documentation of his

achievements. Research through practice.

Dieste sets an outstanding example. It would be too much to expect this

kind of performance across disciplines as even an occasional phenomenon. Yet

we might see in Dieste's example an encouragement toward collaboration in

design: architect and engineer or architect and other disciplines. And

collaboration not only in design, but also on the construction site: architect and


What Dieste could contain within one person in a long-sustained research

program may seem admirable, but also daunting. We can refer to the first

sentence in the announcement of this conference:

Architecture is essentially a cross-disciplinary activity,

and as such what is architecture research is not as clearcut

as what is research in many other disciplines. 3

What was a wholistic discipline for Dieste, must be broken into parts in our

collaboration across disciplines. The result is that often the research programs

that are easiest to define and to fund are not about architecture per se, but rather


about the potential findings of another discipline that may have effect in


In the United States (and in the Scottish report, it appears), research

funding in the broad scope of environmental design is most readily obtained in

building technology — and especially in energy issues. These are extremely

important issues that deserve the concern they receive. My commentary on

Dieste shows my positive attitude about engineering-based research. But there

can also be disappointments when engineering takes the lead: the neglect of

architecture itself (more on this later) and what is sometimes a too narrow

construction in engineering-focused work.

Engineers may often give a clear definition to a problem and to the

methods of inquiry to be employed. The clarity of such proposals facilitates, as it

should, research funding. But in environmental matters, it is my experience that

the engineering definition of a problem is often too constricted. Recently,

enthusiasm for the use of computational fluid dynamics has been extended to the

scale of buildings. I have seen idealizations of HVAC systems based on rooms

so constrained as to inhibit architectural design (or to be irrelevant to the spaces

architects design). [Illustration] I have seen wind studies conducted to affect the

shape of buildings, but where the underlying premises carry no conviction:

assumed wind conditions are too limited and idealized; or surrounding

development is moving so rapidly as to render assumptions about the contextual

conditions quite unpredictable. [Illustration] Or another concrete example: In

hockey and skating arenas, it was found that the carbon monoxide fumes from


Zamboni machines were retained at the playing level, creating both unpleasant

and unhealthy conditions for the skaters. Using computational fluid dynamics,

mechanical engineers could propose expensive HVAC systems that would

partially dissipate the fumes. One might rather ask, "Why not change from fossilfuel

Zamboni machines to ones using electric power?"

While that suggestion would remove the research project from our

colleagues in HVAC research and place it with other mechanical and electrical

engineers, I think the story brings us to what I consider an important aspect of

the discipline of architecture. What was a poor example of "problem-solving," or

of solving the wrong problem, could be turned into a different research program

by interrogating and reconfiguring the assumed problem.

As noted, the ScotMARK study found many of its architect practitioners

insisting on "problem-solving" research. Many years ago I wrote a paper in which

I argued that the field of architecture has as one of its strengths to begin by

putting problem statements in questions. I called this "problem-worrying" as

against "problem-solving." [Illustrations] The inventive British architect Cedric

Price was an exemplary "problem-worrier." He was prepared to find that the

solution was not through building at all. But he could also introduce new criteria,

or new resources, or other problems that had not previously been related to the

first problem – and thus completely reinvent the problem and how it should be

approached. I think most schools of architecture inculcate this skepticism about

problems as received. They value re-invention. This is a valuable capacity that

architects can bring to collaborative research. It is an encouragement to schools,


and as much as possible to practitioners as well, to retain their critical faculties

and to entertain new problems and new solutions.

In my remaining time I would like to turn to a more general discussion of

research in the Discipline and Profession of Architecture.

Please allow me to begin by what may appear to be a considerable


I want to reflect briefly on the current confrontation of science and religion

in the contest of Darwinian evolution vs. creationism and intelligent design.

In recent years in the United States we have seen the rise of

fundamentalist Christianity that, in political terms, forms the Christian Right.

Working from the ground up, they have reached the levers of power that are

deployed throughout our government and notably in the White House itself. The

Right is close to controlling the Supreme Court, and seeks to assure that

ascendancy through a current nomination to the Supreme Court.

Currently battles extend from local school boards to the Supreme Court

nomination process in which the Right seeks to pursue its own ends and to

undermine societal conviction in science by advancing creationism as opposed to

evolution. The current euphemism for creationism is the politically more effective

term "intelligent design."

Relative to education, the usual strategy of the Right in this matter is to

insist that evolution is only a theory. All they ask is that their theory, intelligent


design, be taught in parallel. Their strategy introduces theology into the science

classroom and involves a very dangerous inversion.

In their own minds and for many in the public at large, the political Right

believes it can undermine any conviction in science by labeling science, in this

case evolution, as merely theoretical. They thus tempt their opponents on the

political scene to defend science with absolutist claims. Meanwhile, the political

right, which does hold to creationism from fundamentalist, absolutist conviction,

plays the political card of placing their "theory" alongside that of scientific theory.

This wide-spread, grass-roots phenomenon no doubt owes little to, but

does follow upon, the strategies of post-modernist thought. Post-modernism

accuses science of being falsely and destructively absolutist. Science should

rather be understood by historicizing it as part of Enlightenment thought, which in

turn is understood as theoretical constructions of self-serving societies

dominated by rationalist white males.

So science is under siege both as being absolutist and as being merely

one among many competing theories.

From my first ever lecture, at the Architectural Association in 1963, I have

been interested in the implications of the thought of Karl Popper and, later, the

criticism and nuanced reconstructions of that thought offered by Imre Lakatos.

The consequences of the political attack on science and on liberal thought

["liberal" as in "liberal arts," and as in American, not European, political thought]

is too great and proximate to be ignored. We must fight for a more adequate

understanding of science and secular rationalism. We cannot allow the political


right to push science (and especially the politically charged popular

understanding of science) to an absolutism that the Postmodernists falsely

attribute to science.

We might begin a resistance to such pressure by turning again to the

central claim of Popperian epistemology. All claims to knowledge must be

understood to be fallible. Under that condition, how do we understand the

operations of science, and why should we grant it standing?

This is not the place, nor do I have the time to develop an answer to that

question at length, but I will at least introduce a few issues within the context of

our concern with architectural research.

With my life-long attentions to Popper, I have been criticized as being

scientistic in my understanding of architecture and architectural research. But I

think it is precisely the non-absolutist understanding of science in the Popperian

tradition that allows one to speak simultaneously of science and of architecture

without making larger claims than are appropriate.

Recurrent in architectural discourse is a division between science and art

or between science and architecture that must be open to question. I suggest

that drawing such firm boundaries is counterproductive and not even descriptive

of the enterprise of science. In these rhetorical strategies of division, science is

characteristically equated with positivism and reductivism — an equation that,

despite its inadequacy, admittedly can be supported with some historical



Yet if we begin from the notion that human knowledge — including

scientific knowledge — is fallible, then one immediately removes science from

some austere or misconceived realm that aspires to and succeeds in achieving a

kind of knowledge that is radically different from that of other fields of inquiry.

Even Popper's Logic of Scientific Discovery 4 is not the positivist or reductionist

account it is sometimes rhetorically asserted to be. Furthermore, in pointing to

logical, epistemological and historiographic problems with his construction,

Popper's students and critics offered still more flexible interpretations of what

scientific practice is. Such criticism could reach the radical differentiation from

Popper represented by Paul Feyerabend. 5

I would emphasize, however, the more limited criticism embodied in the

work of Imre Lakatos. 6

Relative to Popper's attention to theories and the defeat

of theories, Lakatos shifted the unit of epistemological analysis from theory to

research programs and their comparative analysis and judgment. At the very

core of the research program, as understood by Lakatos, are metaphysical

principles about which we have no certitude, but which we allow the scientist (or

any other enquirer) to assume by convention as a necessary ground for any

research enterprise. Such constructed research programs are examined for

logical consistency and empirical corroboration, and it is also important that there

be competing research programs. Among these competing programs, we make

judgments neither reductively nor by some absolute test but rather by enquiring

into the comparative strength and fruitfulness of the programs. Even if the

relevant scientific (or other) community comes to the point of making a decision


to prefer one program over another, this is no final defeat. The seemingly less

fruitful program has the opportunity to continue and may yet prove to be superior.

As a final reflection on the evolution/creationism issue, following Lakatos,

we accept that both are theories and both will exist within our society. The test is

between them as research programs. Which one accords better with facts; which

one opens unanticipated propositions and discoveries? Our conviction for one or

another program, and certainly our admission of any theory to the science class

room, is determined by the willingness of its adherents to entertain challenges

and allow inquiry to test the research programs that are implicit in the theory.

Architectural research programs. I turn now to two points on architectural

research related to the epistemological point from which I have begun. The first

is the notion of distinguishing profession and discipline. The practice of

architecture and the profession of architecture understood in its current

conventional sense form one extraordinarily important part of what we in a larger

sense term "architecture". Architectural practice is an important part of our

"professional" schools of architecture since we are legally accredited to aid in the

development of individuals who will take their place in a licensed profession.

Yet, for all the importance of this professionalism, it is far from being the

full extent of what we understand as architecture. The discipline of architecture

reaches outside the profession to the population at large, incorporating amateurs

(in the best sense of the word), historians, preservationists, ecologists,

environmentalists, and others. The discipline incorporates knowledge that was


developed in other times or cultures and which seemingly may be of little interest

within the professional activities of the moment. Such knowledge is nonetheless

present to us and remains a potential resource. The discipline also offers the

opportunity to speculate and push beyond what is likely to be available within the

constraints of current practice.

Research should extend across the entire range of the discipline of

architecture, including both those things that are not currently important to

practice and those that are not yet available to practice. At the same time,

research should be concerned with those things that current practice does

require. And often, as it should be, inquiry is simultaneously directed to

particularities of practice and to the more generalized development of the

discipline. There is a potential for the simultaneity of practice and discipline.

[Illustration] To illustrate this I have often drawn on Le Corbusier's Maison

Domino and his "Five Points." Le Corbusier entered on that research program

with a concern to address the post-World War I housing shortage through

rationalized and industrialized construction methods. The structural system and

the construction methods he explored were not in themselves new or radical.

Engineers and builders had plowed this ground. But Corbusier's "Five Points"

draw from his simple building construct implications for architecture that had not

been known before. [Illustration] Working in combination, the Five Points

opened a new architecture that achieved impressive stature in Le Corbusier's

villas of the late 1920s.


Today we do not hold the Five Points in the central and even necessary

place that Corbusier claimed for them. Nonetheless, the Five Points and the

types of buildings they propose were innovative and are now something that

every architect must know. To build in that way — or not — became a conscious

choice within the Discipline of Architecture.

Finally, some comment on the history of architecture in relation to

architectural research. It is important to look to history in order to learn about the

extent of the discipline of architecture. Admittedly it is possible to conduct

historical inquiry that incorporates information about architecture without touching

on what is integral to that discipline. That is, what may be included under the

general umbrella of the history of architecture does not necessarily engage

architecture or architectural research. Yet even such historical inquiry may serve

to define or criticize the perceived boundaries of the discipline.

More importantly, there is a range of widely accepted historical inquiry

about architecture that also constitutes architectural research. I make this

general comment as a preamble to recognizing that, under a Lakatos model, one

is encouraged to push beyond conventional history to what he termed "rational


The concept of space as central to the understanding of architecture

developed in Germany in the late nineteenth century, especially in the thought of

the historian August Schmarsow. Imagine that we reconstructed Schmarsow's

research program on architectural space. 7

I think it is impossible to demarcate


precisely the contribution that Schmarsow made at a historical moment from that

which we can, partially through hindsight, understand through his thought. We

may be projecting and learning something that is rationally present in his thought

but which he had not cognized — or might even have rejected. The rational

reconstruction of such research programs, while pushing beyond a history of the

events, is even more important as architectural research and has a greater

potential for the discipline of architecture.

I will end by summarizing very briefly, really as a list, the thoughts I have

presented on architectural research. There are a number of kinds of architectural

research that all have their place and deserve to enter into critical discourse:

•Research conducted through architectural and building practice

•Research on building and environmental issues conducted by

neighboring disciplines, including those in engineering and science

•Research in architectural institutions that may be more abstract than in

practice but is directed to issues currently confronting the profession

•A broad realm of research within the discipline of architecture that may, or

may not yet — or may never — impact practice.

•Research in the intersection of profession and discipline: I have used Le

Corbusier's Five Points to illustrate the perhaps rare but important research that

emerges from, and engages, both profession and discipline – and has a lasting

effect upon the discipline.


•And finally, a type of inquiry, rational reconstruction, that draws on both

historical and architectural resources — starting from historical data but open to

new questions that may affect the discipline and/or the profession of architecture.

1 Scottish Matrix for Architectural Research and Knowledge (ScotMARK), Architecture Research

and the Profession in Scotland (July 2005 edition), 8.

2 ScotMARK et al., "Architecture Research Futures," 1

3 ibid.

4 Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery [in German, 1934] (rev. ed., London:

Hutchinson, 1959 [and later rev. eds.]); Conjectures and Refutations (New York: Harper & Row,


5 Paul K. Feyerabend, Against Method (London: New Left Books, 1975).

6 Imre Lakatos, The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. Philosophical Papers

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).

7 August Schmarsow, Das Wesen der architektonischen Schöpfung (Leipzig, 1893).

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