Introduction

Research
and Essays

Matthew Barac presents a selection of the finest writing in architectural research

In this, the research section of the AR Academic Annual digital edition, we publish collected papers and essays that address a range of architectural topics. The editorial brief we set ourselves was to draw on the intellectual resources of well-regarded refereed journals to celebrate writing at the forefront of disciplinary knowledge. What we found is that some methodological traditions fare better than others. The rubric of history and theory, under which architectural knowledge has conventionally been organised, remains a key driver for debate, with much enthusiasm for theorising spatial experience. Approaches emphasising social process and architectural counterculture are also strongly represented. Yet, and notwithstanding a proliferation of innovative outlooks, we found building criticism – surely a key mode of enquiry for scholarship – to be all but absent. Also missing is holistic engagement with environmental issues; most submissions concerned with sustainability were steered by building science, and fell short of embedding their findings in wider debate.

Covering diverse topics, and authored by researchers from around the world, the seven papers chosen are the best of those submitted. While not all written by architects, each article is anchored by an architectural sensibility: by a spatial or urban intuition, or subject matter fundamentally connected to disciplinary concerns. We commissioned three essays to provide a reflective context for the extended debate to which the Annual aims to contribute. For this, the first edition, we invited three noteworthy women in architectural academia to write, from their own perspectives, about research. Our editorial purpose in doing so is not to focus on the theme of women in architecture as such, but rather to implicitly comment on the background conditions for architectural scholarship today. Between them, our essayists cover much of the territory for debate about architectural research. Kester Rattenbury charts the ‘gold rush country’ of the knowledge base embedded in practice and design research. Mpho Matsipa offers a youthful, cosmopolitan take on critical and field methodology, as seen from the global south. And Joan Ockman – something of a legendary figure for a generation of students – reflects on how far the very idea of architectural research has come.

Our editorial purpose in commissioning three noteworthy women in architectural academia is not to focus on the theme of women in architecture as such, but rather to implicitly comment on the background conditions for architectural scholarship today