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AADRL - From Education to Research
Patrik Schumacher 2002
Published In: Arch+ , Magazine for Architecture and Urbanism, #163
AADRL - From Education to Research
The AADRL - Design Research Laboratory at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London - is a 16 month post-professional course offering a Master of Architecture (MARCH) degree.
In a time of rapid technological change and momentous socio-economic restructuring, the reliance upon the reproduction of given architectural typologies becomes ever more questionable. As the half-life period of any given 'best practise' is rapidly diminishing, so is the value of an education understood as the process of teaching a given set of architectural solutions. As the demand for research increases, the value of such education decreases. This new dynamic pushes education towards research.
Apprenticeship - education - research
The teaching of architecture has traditionally been operating on the model of apprenticeship. To a certain extent this still continues, inevitably, as architecture is a profession as much as a discursive discipline. Since the Renaissance this practise of apprenticeship has been combined with the dissemination of theoretical treatises. On this basis a formal education was first institutionalised in France with the founding of the "Academie de l'architecture" in 1671. Academic teaching was adopted in England and America at the end of the 19th Century and is now everywhere the primary mode of professional training.
However, there is as yet no institutionalised form of research in architecture. Instead the task of innovation within architecture is left to the "avant-garde" segment of architectural practise on the one hand, and to post-graduate architectural education on the other hand. Each of these two surrogate processes has its peculiar limitations. Avant-garde practise, as professional practise, is struggeling to turn any particular commission into a vehicle for the investigation of new architectural principles that might be abstracted and generalised. This in turn demands the renunciation of full attention to all aspects of the concrete project at hand. Also, the establishment of a coherent research agenda across a random string of commissions is rather difficult.
An academic institution is unconstraint with respect to the establishment of a coherent research agenda, but a special effort is required to steer a course that remains relevant to the concerns of society. A severe limitation for research in educational institutions resides in the short-term tenure of the student-researchers and the attendant burden of taking on a whole new generation of students/researchers every year. However, the institutions of post-professional education seem to offer the most promising opportunities to construct a systematic research practise within architecture.
In the domain of the sciences the traditional double-task of the university - research and education - is progressively differentiated into separate engagements, each followed through independently with respect to its specific demands. In contrast, in architecture the very notion of research is so new (and as yet vague) that there is neither recognition nor funding for something like an architectural research institute. Under these circumstances an incipient research practise relies on the institutional support structure of the certain schools of architecture. It is the post-professional students who become the resource which might be forged into an incipient research institute. Thus, while the sciences are moving beyond the classic formula of research&education, architecture is first of all building a research practise in the cradle and guise of education. Ultimately, one might expect, that the limitations posed by wedding research to education, will lead to the full emancipation of research in architecture. In the meantime the educational institutions are mutating from within.
The mutation of education into research has a number of characteristic consequences, which the AADRL successively discovered and implemented:
1. The shift of emphasis from education to research is reflected in the shift from individual work to collective work. All work takes place in teams.
2. The prerogative of a collective work also applies to the staff. All teaching staff focusses upon a single, coherent research programme. All assessments are conducted together.
3. The installation of an open source infrastructure and culture makes all work readily available to everybody. No claim of individual authorship or copyright prevents the proliferation of ideas.
4. In contrast with typical models of teaching that set a different project brief every semester, thus mirroring the condition of the professional practise that has to construct its career across a random string of commissions, the AADRL outlines long term research programmes that allow for the systematic build up of innovative work.
Architecture is a design discipline. Innovation in architecture involves the invention of new types of spatial constructs and the attendant speculation about new possibilities of social use and occupation within a thus transformed built environment. Therefore research can not be confined to the description and explanation of a given reality. While such empirical information and theoretical explanation is a necessary component of architectural research that sets it apart from mere intuitive design, this analytical component has to be instrumentalised within a generative practise that is able to synthesise new constructs. Therefore architectural research must be based upon design projects. The key question here is under which conditions design work can be regarded as a form of research.
Those conditions can not be identified within an isolated project. They pertain to the specific academic context in which the projects are developed, assessed and super-ceded. The individual projects are embedded within a whole series of projects that are processed together according to a well-defined research agenda that furnishes the level of abstraction, comparative scope and criteria of success or failure according to which the projects are assessed and moved forward. Scientific work can not be considered separate from its ongoing process of self-criticism.
A double edged research programme
At the same time as a restless society pushes architecture by posing a new set of characteristic problems, the new digital design media and the micro-electronic revolution pulls architecture into an uncharted territory of opportunity. The key question here is whether the exploration of the new creative opportunities can be directed towards offering new architectural resources that can help to answer the problems thrown at architects today.
Innovation is always suspended between two poles: the investigation of a domain of problems on one side and the expansion of the domain of potential solutions on the other side. Within the discipline of architecture this polarity of innovation has often been an occasion for a productive division of labour between the analysis of new societal/programmatic demands on the one side and the proliferation of new spatial repertoires on the other side. Embodied by Dutch avant-garde and the US avant-garde respectively, both aspects have been pursuit semi-independent from each otherthe, with considerable success. This however, lead to two opposing ideologies, equally one-sided.
The independent elaboration of the two domains begs the question of their synthesis. The synthesis requires a broad-minded as well as light-footed oscillation between the two domains. This is no trivial matter, but itself an act of creative intelligence. There are no one-to-one correspondences between "problems" and "solutions". No obvious matches anounce themselves. Instead systematic search engines have to be launched that can process huge series of trials against a set of test criteria. Solutions can go in search of problems as well as problems in search of solutions. What we call design research is the attempt to systematise this oscillation within a well circumscribed frame that narrows down both the realm of problems and the realm of solutions.
The initial mission statement of the AADRL, formulated at in 1996, promised such an innovative synthesis. The task was to give a socio-economic/programmatic interpretation to an intense wave of formal proliferation that has been advancing for a considerable period without any problematic to work against. The wave seemed adrift and in danger to collapse onto itself, in the absence of any problem domain that could offer friction and resistance to select, shape and substantiate the work.
The strategic problem domain to be investigated was identified:
The paradigm shift within the theory and practise of business organisation, from clear-cut corporate hierarchies toward open, self-organising networks of collaboration. For three years our design research focussed on "Corporate Fields", systematically instrumentalising a well-constraint band-width of recent formal and conceptual repertoires for the spatial organisation and articulation of an equally well-constraint set of recent concepts, tendencies and practises within the emerging post-fordist enterprise culture.
The managerial problematic of self-organisation, together with the insatiable need for flexibility and permanent reconfiguration, encountered in the new business culture, inspired the as yet uncharted utilisation of animation software for the design of kinetic, self-organising environments. The current research programme of "Responsive Environments" was abstracted from the latest instantiations of "Corporate Fields" where the dynamic of the work-flow and team reconfigurations was reflected in the scripted responses of a kinetically adaptive office-scape.
The research was re-focussed to foreground this new capacity to design spaces that actively engage with their users. We believe that this capacity opens a whole new domain of design research, a new paradigm where design moves beyond the delineation of form to the creation of complex behavioral systems.
The research programme is founded upon two technological presuppositions:
1. Various sensor as well as actuator technologies become readily available, easily linked by computer. At the same time robotics research is trailblazing further towards ever more advanced forms of artificial intelligence, including sophisticated possibilities of distributed problem solving and learning.
2. The tools to design and simulate responsive systems are readily available in the form of animation software like 3ds max and Maya. These software packages offer modelling tools that allow the designer to set up complex systems of dynamic interaction involving techniques like scripting, force-fields, inverse kinematics etc. Any parameter of any object might be dynamically correlated with any parameter of any other object within the model. This means that the designer has the freedom and power to craft artificial worlds, each with their peculiar "laws of nature".
On this basis The AADRL design environments that are augmented with electronic sensitivity and intelligence, proposing artificial life-processes that would be symbiotic with prospectively transformed human life-processes. The speculate about these symbiotic life-processes the dynamic modelling always includes the modelling of occupational patterns. Thus it becomes possible to work on complex social scenarios and to speculate in detail about prospective behavioural patterns unfolding within and in response to the proposed dynamic spatial configurations.
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