Research can be a challenging subject to pin down and explain for practising architects. It’s a term that might mean different things to different people, but research can be the intellectual fuel that drives many organisations, including architectural practises, to develop and grow.

What exactly does research mean to architects? What is the role of research in architecture? When and how do architects research the course of their work? What research skills are required of practising architects? What value does research add to the practices of architects and their clients? How do architects collaborate with academic and other research institutions? The RIBA commissioned this brief investigative report, which uses interviews and case studies to try to answer some of these important concerns about the nature of research in practice.

Article in Focus: How architects use research – case studies from practice- RIBA - Sheet1
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The RIBA hopes that it will encourage architects to recognise the research they perform in their daily work, to actively support research activity and involvement as part of their business models, and to take advantage of the research data that is accessible to them. The same will also be useful in shaping the RIBA’s future research strategy, particularly as they monitor progress against the goals set out in Leading Architecture as mentioned on their RIBA Professional Services column and begin to create their strategy in 2016. 

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Research and knowledge in architectural practice ©BOP consulting

The study employs interviews to create a series of case studies that depict how practising architects regard research as a component of their work. They aimed to explore the many ways in which architects define, obtain, undertake, and use research by speaking with a variety of different types and sizes of practice. The research is a sample of research activity in the field, providing valuable insights into an often overlooked and misunderstood component of architectural practice. 

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The perceived trend in approach to research ©BOP consulting

The articles key findings as listed are:

  • The majority of practice-based research is focused on the requirements of individual building projects, and it is considered vital to architects’ work.
  • In architectural practices, there is generally little privately sponsored research work, and few practices have access to public research grants.
  • The majority of study is technical/functional; common areas of interest include environmental sustainability and energy efficiency, precedent analysis, and material, product, and construction technique research.
  • Post-occupancy evaluation is progressively gaining traction as a valuable research tool.
  • Where broader research programmes are done, they tend to focus on creating sector knowledge, which boosts credibility and gives a competitive advantage. 
  • Some practises use research in fields such as design theory, sociology, and policy to deepen their philosophical approach.
  • Academic and other research organisations and knowledge bases have few connections, and those that do exist are often based on personal connections.
  • Practices recognise the potential for research as a separate practice activity that may be integrated into a broader service offering, but this has yet to be realised on a large scale.

All of these conclusions are covered in greater depth in the article’s content, but some additional discussion is helpful here. Likewise, It illustrates that Architects believe research to be an essential element of their project work as case studies. Understanding customer needs, evaluating project circumstances, and evaluating the performance characteristics of materials and construction components are all part of this process. 

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The road to zero carbon ©PRP and Zero Carbon Hub

The eight case studies listed in the article explain various research studies and further illustrate, in actuality, most practice-based research appears to be in project proposals, which is somewhat unsurprising. The exploration of environmental sustainability and energy efficiency, additionally precedent analysis and research into materials, goods, and construction procedures, are all part of this project’s research. Although we know from earlier studies that there are numerous challenges to systematic POE, post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is growing as an area of increasing interest and importance.

Practices ranging in size from solitary practitioners to larger practises with an international presence were interviewed in semi-structured interviews. The practises were chosen to provide a variety of focus, size, and location. The researchers attempted to interview a variety of architects of various levels of experience, but gaining access to younger architects was frequently difficult. More striking examples of formal collaboration with academic and research organisations, which went beyond teaching or individual research, were found in larger practices. 

However, the picture that emerges is one in which the importance of research in a knowledge-based profession is widely recognised, but with some practical impediments that have prevented architects from realising their ambitions. Because of the project-oriented nature of the architectural practice, research is typically conducted concerning specific building projects and is largely funded through project fees.

Ultimately, interconnections to research organisations and knowledge sources were often tenuous and sporadic. However, this article shows that there is a growing understanding of research’s potential position as a unique field of practice activity with case studies, potentially becoming part of a diverse variety of practise services, not merely as part of project procedures.

Reference

Architecture.com. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.architecture.com/-/media/gathercontent/how-architects-use-research/additional-documents/howarchitectsuseresearch2014pdf.pdf> [Accessed 5 September 2021].

Author

Spoorthi Nagaraj is a freshly graduated architect who is intrigued about urban studies and sociology. She is an architect by the day and a writer by the night. Her passion towards equity, resilience and sustenance is what flows through the content she writes.

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