The Growing Importance of Research in Practice

Daniel Davis – 24 February 2015

Recently I’ve been trying to establish a research program at CASE. We’ve got Andy Payne working on some really cool indoor tracking technology, and we’ve been forging closer relationships with universities so we can invite PhD students like Mani Williams to use CASE as their laboratory.

In establishing CASE’s research, I began looking more critically at how other firms were doing research. There are a number of firms doing some pretty noteworthy research. While these firms talk about their research, they often don’t talk that much about how they manage to do research within the pressures of practice. In order to discover how the most successful researchers were working, I took my column in ARCHITECT magazine and used it as an excuse to interview some of the best researchers from practice.

In talking to Ajla Aksamija from Perkins+Will, David Benjamin from The Living, and Billie Faircloth from KieranTimberlake, what struck me was how integral they considered research. While they each represent a different type of practice, they all view research as essentially inseparable to their practice.

This feels like a new phenomena to me. While firms undoubtably did research in the past, there seems to be a new type of research emerging. In many ways I think the driving force is technology. Firms working with computational design, new materials, and ambitious building performance targets are working with technology so new, so innovative, that there isn’t an established body of knowledge. Research is the only way for them to use this technology. So I conclude my article:

As the pace of innovation quickens, research opportunities may become necessities. Already far more specialists are involved in the production of architecture than in the past. And we are seeing signs that these knowledge workers are increasingly becoming knowledge generators. While architecture hasn’t traditionally involved researching the structural strength of fungus, or developing electronic sensors and selling environmental analysis software, some firms are now asking why not? If technology is going to change architecture, why shouldn’t it be architects who lead the research and development?

Read the full article here. Thanks to Hallie Busta and Wanda Lau for their amazing editing, and thanks to the people I interviewed. Cover image: A rendering of an aerial view of the The Living’s Hy-Fi at MoMA PS1, courtesy of The Living.