Date: Fri, 15 Aug 1997 20:03:48 +0200
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Michelle A. Rinehart

CREATING A MULTIDISCIPLINARY ARCHITECTURE:
STRATEGIES TO INTEGRATE RESEARCH INTO THE ARCHITECTURAL CURRICULUM


ABSTRACT

Even with the advent of doctoral programs in architecture, there has continued to be a split between "research" and "practice." No true relationship exists between the "discipline" of architecture and the "profession" of architecture. With such a division within our own field, establishing a discourse between architecture and other academic fields has been difficult, at best. This lack of discourse has resulted in producing architects who are unprepared for the cross-disciplinary dialogue necessary in today's complex society. This paper will examine this lack of discourse and propose strategies for creating a multidisciplinary architecture whose practitioners recognize the need to be integrated with their colleagues in other fields.

Crucial to this examination is an understanding of the continuing distinction between "research" and "practice." This dichotomy has created several crippling obstacles for our profession. Schools of architecture continue to be perceived by the humanities as "professional programs" which train practitioners incapable of understanding the more philosophical and epistemological concerns of the academic world. On the other end of the spectrum, scientists often view architects as "artists," unaware of the complexities of the scientific world and, as a result, are unable to conduct true "research." Precariously balanced between the two, architects see themselves as the answer to the split between science and art the only profession able to merge the two into an harmonious relationship. They fail to realize that, as outcasts in both worlds, they can never be the catalysts for this happy union. Another obstacle is that architecture schools often see themselves merely as "profes! sional programs," whose primary goal is to train architecture students in the subtleties of passing the licensing exam. In this scenario, students are never given the opportunity to understand the role of research in the practice of architecture. As such, they are never trained in the fundamental methods of research akin to almost every discipline but our own.

While many of these obstacles are perceptual differences on the part of both architects and members of other fields, the architectural community can do much to help eliminate these misunderstandings and work toward creating a multidisciplinary approach to the design process. Ultimately, we are designers. This does not imply, however, that the design studio should be the end-all and be-all of an architecture school. The studio-centered system, as it currently exists, focuses on the formal qualities of architecture, rather than its human ones. Of primary importance is the image that the building creates, not how it responds to the community and how the community responds to it. To be a "responsive agent," architects must be trained as researchers, able to conduct research in a number of related fields: technology, history, theory, sociocultural issues of design, etc. This can be accomplished by removing the design studio from its pedastal and placing an equal importance upon the "support" curriculum. By eliminating the hierarchical structure that exists within the current core curriculum, students will come to understand research to be a necessary part of their design process. Integrating the "support" curriculum into the design studio by means of collaborative assignments will also aid in developing a research-based design process. It is also imperative to remove the hierarchy which exists within the design-studio itself. Creating studios where the professor:student relationship is replaced with a colleague:colleague relationship, as well as supporting consensus-based decision-making via the community design studio or other related options, will go far to eliminate the social and political relationships that have helped to foster the current feeling of isolation and separation.

Making research a partner in design by bringing it into the design studio is the only way to encourage architects to be researchers to welcome a dialogue with other disciplines. Through this dialogue, architects will learn that architecture is not an autonomous discipline. They will come to realize the inter-connectedness of knowledge and understand that our real-world problems are interdisciplinary and can only be solved by working together.


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