Architecture as Research

In a recent blog entry, a CMU freshman recently asked me and his classmates why Kahn seemed to have a predilection for pure geometric shapes.  My response:

Adam’s question about Kahn and his shapes is a good one, a valid architectural question, to which answers can be found, through research.  I’d like to urge everyone, whether in a question like this, or in a design project, to do less speculation through intuition or spur-of-the-moment guessing, and instead work to do research as a way to propose more rigorous answers and solutions that others can build on.

At a research university like CMU, in a discipline with a rich research and theorizing tradition like architecture, with access to so much information through the computer and the campus library, we must resist guessing, especially as beginners, and start doing research to answer all our questions.   The web will have some material, but is usually a bad source for good questions.  Instead, read some of the recent Kahn biographies by McCarter, Goldhagen, Brownlee or Wiseman, and have them point you to writings by Kahn himself (available in many anthologies).  Please let us know what you find.

Next semester I will suggest that all architectural thinking ought to be done as a kind of research, in which new knowledge is generated by building on previous research, whether your own, or that of others, always with careful attention to rigor, method, and technique.   Good architectural designers (and Kahn  was certainly one of them), have always seen their work as part of a larger, often career-long research trajectory.   Much as in science or any other discipline, true innovation comes not from inventing something out of the blue and by yourself, but instead is only possible when one engages the profession, adds to an existing knowledge base, discourse, or dialogue, and opens up new frontiers on questions asked by yourself AND others.

It is only by participating actively in the 2000 year old discourse of architecture that we can move ahead.   Only if we all begin to see our work as “research” can we begin to raise the level of architecture and the quality of ideas at the CMU SoA.    My suggestion: READ AS MUCH AS YOU CAN, on architecture, or any other subject that fascinates you, take notes, and let it influence your work! The best architects have a rich history of reading and loving books, of being bibliophiles!

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