Pedagogy for architectural education has always included space for engagement in research methodologies in various capacities. For every architectural project in our architectural schools, some initial time for research is always allotted and encouraged. But it becomes increasingly important to understand what defines research in our profession and to what end is research pursued and conducted. With the clear dearth of rich and conclusive research, academic papers and even PhDs within our field, it becomes clear that most of this research-oriented pedagogical intent that our institutions have is tapering off as we pursue professional careers.
Most of the methodologies for conducting analytical research are taught improperly within our institutions or without proper structure. Within the professional sphere, research has become something that refuses to ask pointed questions, but more an end or a justification to a design process that has already been carried out. More often than not, simple analytical diagrams of site and context are peddled as ‘research’. This site and context analysis is a basic prerequisite to any design project, and therefore cannot be bracketed as a ‘research’ question. Research is a systematic investigation into a specific study matter to understand and establish certain facts and conclusions. Research is and should be conducted with a certain intent at the outset, with a preordained hypothesis, and with a certain methodology that though not regimented, does not meander into several avenues. It should be clear what the motivation and output are for conducting the said research, and whether the content is in line with the site or the subject matter investigated. The research, therefore, should be conducted in a way that it adds to the discourse and to the vast vocabulary of knowledge regarding the subject that can be tapped into in the future.
Since the past year, I have been given ample opportunities to understand how adequate research is conducted in post-earthquake heritage sites in Nepal. The method for conducting this research has been quantitative but also involved understanding the theoretical and historic framework that has led to the underlying geometries of these temples and palaces. These hypotheses are then supported by creating extensive inventories of salvaged material, by understanding the structure, and by conducting archaeological excavations of foundations in order to understand materiality. All of this is a necessary prerequisite before taking any decisions on site but it also leads to several other lines of interest that became subjects for further research. The empirical data excavated from the site became evidence for hypotheses regarding Kathmandu’s history and monarchical patterns, and also regarding geometries that define temple architecture. The whole process of research was tabulated and presented in the form of periodic reports and case studies. The output of this research not only defined the construction process but also will culminate in an academic paper and a publication.
Invariance to this method of investigation, I was involved in another project to create an existing situation report in order to suggest sewage and sanitation systems in informal settlements in Orissa. This method suggested a more qualitative approach, with community involvement with grassroots NGOs, and mapping and documentation of everyday life. The objective of using this methodology was that since informal settlements and their lifestyles are often overlooked in urban development schemes, nuanced bottom-up plans are rarely devised for the same. This method allows for communities to be more involved in the processes influencing their lives and provide valuable suggestions and objections.
Another example is the large scale urban planning scheme for the rehabilitation of those residents whose structures on the Tansa Pipeline in Mumbai that had been demolished. The strategy for conducting this research was to focus on larger policy frameworks governing these large scale decisions and understand policy decisions in similar situations.
There are several examples of effective research that have been conducted and are being conducted as we speak. But on the other hand, there are several others that are conducted shoddily, with half-hearted methodologies and intent. Perhaps the root cause of this is the way research methodologies is taught in our institutions, with limited time and improper methods. Perhaps what would be a better idea would be to inculcate inquisitiveness and a scientific spirit, and also prescribe a stricture for writing our reports and theses. With these tools in hand, there are myriad ways of developing original research strategies suited to individual needs and the site and the problem to be addressed.