What is Research in Architecture?


CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS: deadline extended to 15th of December

In this first full issue, Contour is asking a larger audience one of its central questions, “What is research in architecture?”  Are there tools and methods specific to it, or are we merely borrowing from other fields without any specific tradition of our own? Can we even attempt to define a common ground among architects doing research, or is the nature of our research centripetal, sending us off in multiple directions?

Core or periphery?

Despite architecture’s status as an old and supposedly well-established discipline, its core always seems unstable and subject to redefinitions and polemics.  Today, what we call scientific and academic research may sometimes seem foreign to the way in which architecture investigates, comprehends and seeks to act upon the built environment.  For a long time, any research endeavor in architecture has been considered in the best case to borrow from—if not to directly belong to—other disciplines. The very synthetic and projective nature of architecture does not seem to have an easy and evident correlation in the language and methods of academic and scientific research. Indeed, some go as far as to claim that research in architecture does not exist.  We are told that, as a field, it does not have a stable, accepted and autonomous set of methods, nor even validation criteria. Furthermore, it obviously lacks credibility among other fields as its journals are, for the most part, neither peer-reviewed nor adhering to scientific standards. Nevertheless, a stubborn perseverance from the community of architects pursuing research seems to constantly defy such status. We are practitioners of research, reflection and inquiry. The claim of research as practice reaches into the core of architecture’s first subject matter: the act of thinking, designing and building our human environment. What does research in, for and through architecture have to offer to the scientific community?  How can it even go beyond architecture and find a harmony between its vision of the world and that of other disciplines in the social and natural sciences? In our inaugural issue, the editorial board began to explore this question.  The result was anything but exhaustive—and that’s okay!  Contributions could, but are by no means required, to touch on some of these observations and questions:

  • We are told that architecture has a tendency to see itself as autonomous, but when it turns its lens on what exists rather than what is to be, how much can it rely on its own research traditions without disappearing into those of the social or natural sciences?
  • We are told that proper research deals only in text, in a standard, commonly-accepted (universal) language that can be produced and reproduced without the researcher. If an image speaks a thousand words, can it also speak five thousand (with bibliographic references)? In a multimedia, multi-platform world, who is our audience and how do we communicate to them?
  • We are told that our research contributes nothing to the everyday production and experience of the built environment. How do we reconcile a desire to be relevant both to theory and practice?
  • We are told that the built environment is greater than the sum of its parts, but how do we delimit the object of our research without excluding too much or taking on more than we can reasonably investigate? Other disciplines adopt a particular way of looking at the world. Can research in architecture comfortably do the same? Whose model of the world does it borrow?

CONTRIBUTION GUIDELINES For this call, we accept contributions in two formats:

  • Non-verbal abstract: One image, diagram, sound or short video (10 seconds only) being the author’s original work, accompanied by a sentence. If selected the contributor will be asked to submit a Non-verbal visual or other material (image, drawing, map, diagram, video, animation, sound) with a 500 words text which does not describe but rather complements the non-verbal piece significantly and meaningfully.
  • Text based abstract (300 words): If accepted, the contributor will be asked to submit an article (3000-5000 words) which can be accompanied by non-verbal material (image, drawing, map, diagram, video, animation, sound).

Contributions will be reviewed in order of submission according to our reviewing process protocols and published on our journal website (http://contour.epfl.ch). A selection of the contributions will be included in a future paper edition of the journal. Contributions can be in French or English and are to be sent to contour@epfl.ch by December 1st 2014 December 15th 2014.  Acceptance of proposals will be communicated to authors by January 15th. For more information concerning contribution guidelines including quality requirements for digital files, please visit the “Formats and Conditions” section of our web site. We ask the contributors to evaluate their submission according to the following scales: Fundamental/Theoretical (1) to Applied/Practical (5) Specialized/Disciplinary (1) to Transdisciplinary (5)


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