The typical definition of research in the academic realm places importance on the solitary individual. One that produces reproducible results in a specific field of study, which works toward advancing the knowledge in that field. This definition isolates and divides design and research, and places research at a higher standing within academia. Does architecture’s place within the ranks of academy fall beneath that of research? There is a wealth of published work examining the relationship between design and research. This paper will explore the positions taken by David Wang in “Design in Relation to Research” and in B.D. Wortham’s article “The Way We Think about the Way We Think”. Both authors support amending the relation between design and research. The purpose of this essay is to compare the domains of design and research to reach an understanding of why the definition of research should be broadened to include design methodologies.
Placing research into the context of academia requires understanding what research embodies at its highest level. At the forefront of research in academic settings is advancing knowledge within the specific field of study that it focuses upon. Wortham explains the tendency towards specialization and specificity through what she calls “The Myth of Progress”: “The valorization of the specialist became and is especially prized in academia… Professors are encouraged to be as narrow and deep as possible. While this work is vital in the production of knowledge, it leaves gaping holes in [. . .] what we mean by knowledge” (Wortham, pp. 46) While this specificity generates knowledge within the field it in turn eliminates the possibility of open-ended knowledge and that which cannot be scientifically proven. Wortham sets up that the investigation in research does not ultimately lead to an answer, but that the investigation itself is the answer. Also of great significance to research is the employment of the scientific method. Scientific methodology in research allows the discoveries of an individual to be reconstructed by others and therefore confirmed as fact.
The process of design can benefit from as well as employ methods of research. With the advancement of knowledge design must in turn make advancements to accommodate for new materials and technologies. These advancements have a direct effect on the design of built forms. In the laboratory setting materials and construction assemblies are tested Wang describes what the impact of these findings in the lab setting: “These affect the writing of codes and regulations for the construction industry…” (Wang, pp. 121) This describes a way in which design benefits from experimental research, and in turn advances the knowledge of the design field. While research leans toward specialization design in turn leans toward generalization. Wortham explains: “The generalist is able to move between disciplines with a facility that allows for knowledges to overlap and produceunexpected discoveries.” (Wortham, pp. 47) Due to the designer’s training in architecture he must be a generalist to posses the ability to bridge the gap between the art and science of building. Wortham’s argument is not an attempt to undermine the importance of the specialist, but its intent is in arguing to unite the work of the specialist with that of the generalist. The work of the generalist is not to be disregarded because its foundations are not in that of the scientific method. Though design’s roots do not lie under the teachings of the scientific method the methodology can be employed with success. Wang describes the use of a mixed-method research approach that is often used by designers in explaining the work of Dr. Lie Jiaping and his graduate students in China. The technique of mixed-method research involves the collection of and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. Dr Liu and his students use: “[. . .] a multimethod research approach that includes, at the tactical level, ethnographic, survey, participant design, and experimental methods.” (Wang, pp. 125) Their work has helped in designing sustainable cave dwellings in a rural village in northern China.
The position of the process of design within the academic realm must be reconsidered in relation to research. As Wortham so clearly states: “The argument is not to abandon scientific methods of research but to make them one of the many ways of pursuing knowledge so that scholarship does not sacrifice connection and interaction at the altar of rationality.” (Wortham, pp. 46) If research in academy continues to be considered in the way it is currently, as being more legitimate than design one must assume that the audience for research is only that of experts. Design as research allows for the inclusion of both academics as well as society as a whole as the audience.
David Wang. “Design In Relation to Research”. Architectural Research Methods (2004), V. 6, No. 1
B.D. Wortham. “The Way We Think about the Way We Think: Architecture is a Paradigm for Reconsidering Research”, Journal of Architectural Education (Sept., 2007), V. 61, No. 1