Michelle A. Rinehart

CREATING A MULTIDISCIPLINARY ARCHITECTURE:

Strategies to Integrate Research into the Architectural Curriculum


(Name) Michelle A. Rinehart
(Title) PhD Candidate, Doctoral Program in Architecture
(Institution) The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
(Email) michrine@umich.edu
(Topic) The Definition of Architectural Research
(Paper Title) Creating a Multidisciplinary Architecture: Strategies to
Integrate Research into the
Architectural Curriculum


TEXT

As we prepare to enter the twenty-first century, it is impossible for any of us to ignore that our society is growing increasingly more complex. As each year passes, the postmodern condition reveals that problems cannot easily be categorized and separated into neatly formed disciplines. Boundaries are breaking down and multiplicities of difference exist. Harlan Cleveland stresses that "'in the latter part of the of the twentieth century, we came to realize that most of our troubles stem from neglecting the interconnectedness of knowledge and the interdisciplinary character of all real-world problems'." [1] This does not bode well for architecture, a profession which in many ways fights to retain its position as one of the "gentlemanly" professions. This unwillingness to change has led to an adherence to "practice," where the burgeoning field of architectural research is commonly dismissed as being irrelevant to the advancement of the profession.

Even with the advent of doctoral programs in architecture, a split between "research" and "practice" still exists. Stanford Anderson has defined the profession as being "centrally concerned with the current structure of practice in order that it may fulfill commissions to the highest standards."[2] It has a temporal dimension in that its focus is on issues that have relevance to current practice. By the discipline of architecture, on the other hand, Anderson meant "a collective body of knowledge that is unique to architecture and which, though it grows over time, is not delimited in time or space....The structure of knowledge within the discipline is such as to preserve the memory of, indeed to continue to study, that which is external to the range of current practice."[3]

This split has led to a fracturing of our field, which has resulted in a "discipline" of architecture and a "profession" of architecture. With such an internal split, how can we expect to establish a discourse with other fields, one which is vital to the success of today's increasingly more complex architectural projects? Our inability as a profession to engage in a lively and active discussion with other fields has resulted in producing architects who are unprepared for the cross-disciplinary dialogue necessary in today's society. This paper will examine this lack of discourse and propose goals and strategies for creating a multidisciplinary architecture whose practitioners recognize and welcome the need to be involved in an active relationship with their colleagues in other fields.

The split between research and practice can largely be attributed to the problems associated with educating professionals in a university or academic setting. Although architecture has been a part of the university system for over a hundred years, many practitioners today are arguing that university control has led to a debasement of the architectural profession.[4] It is precisely this mindset which broadens the gap between research and practice. In the late nineteenth century, architecture was brought into the university setting to accomplish several goals: "upgrade the social rank and intellectual eminence of architects" and to "democratize access to the profession."[5] It was hoped that by establishing an educational system similar to that of law and medicine, architecture would achieve a comparable status and pay scale. Early on, it seemed as if all this was accomplished. Architects were seen as members of a discrete profession with the ability to remain distant a! nd separated from the rest of academia. Gradually, we began to learn that architects alone could not cure the ills of society. Collaboration with other fields and disciplines became seen as a necessary and vital part of architecture in the 1960s, the same decade which saw the advent of doctoral programs in architecture.[6] While researchers often recognize the need for collaboration, practitioners often sit alone in an ivory tower and avoid the changes necessary to welcome this integration. Architecture programs are caught in the middle between academia, which attempts to foster multidisciplinary activities, and the profession, which fights to retain its autonomy in the face of a society which sees the architect as an expendable part of the building process.

Stanley Tigerman, in Architecture magazine's August 1996 focus on the status of our schools, pointed out that "the people who make things look down on those who think -- and, of course, those who think look down on those who make."[7] This distinction even exists within architectural academia between the practitioner/teacher and the researcher/teacher. Practice-oriented faculty "are educationally unprepared or intellectually disinclined to do scholarly work as their colleagues in other disciplines have been trained."[8] Unlike their colleagues, architecture faculty have not been trained in the skills basic to almost every other academic discipline. As an example, "in the tough areas of refereed journals, most practice-oriented professors are unprepared to write and to revise manuscripts to the satisfaction of editorial board members who have been selected for their research and writing acumen."[9] Teaching in the all-too-exalted design studio, these faculty exert! a tremendous amount of influence over their students and often encourage the future architects to turn their backs on research.

The dichotomy of research and practice seems to have rendered our educational system "mute, unable to voice direction, and worse yet, not even seeing the need to do so."[10] The lack of focus in our own discipline has created several crippling obstacles. 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, unable to conduct true "research." Architectural design problems are currently seen as being of an intuitive nature and requiring an "integrative rather than analytical process." Scientific problems (both in the physical and social sciences) require "systematic, analytical methods of investigation" where the researcher is "trained discursively."[11] Whil! e the university strives in the "pursuit of knowledge, the production of those who will continue that pursuit, the production of educated people for society, and the preservation and transmission of society's values," architectural education draws from an "artistic" profession "and has had as its dominant goal the production of design practitioners," introducing "students into the profession of architecture, instilling...skills appropriate to membership in that profession."[12]

Somewhere between art and science, architecture is precariously balanced. "Caught on the cusp between the sciences and the humanities architecture is both either and neither, and, more often than not, is displaced into the refugee camp of academic alterity."[13] Architects see themselves as the answer to the split between science and art the only profession truly in a position 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. Currently, the primary goal of an architecture program is to train practitioners. With such a narrow view of what the profession is and what it can be, it is impossible for us to educate students who can help to form a bridge between art and science.


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