Call for Papers: The Practice of Architectural Research. Ghent, 8-10 October 2020

Perspectives on design and its relation to history and theory

‘Are architects who write a dying race?’ asks Belgian architectural theorist and historian Hilde Heynen. This symposium takes up her challenge to reflect on the role of the practicing architect in academia. Building a critical platform for writing architect-scholars and scholars exploring the relation between architectural practice and culture, the intention is to create new and fecund relationships between the practice of theory and that of architectural production. During the 1960s, academia saw the rise of architectural theory as an autonomous discipline, from which emerged theoretical architectural practice: the discipline of critical architectural theory became ever more divorced from the sphere of production and the world of action, instead defining for itself an autonomous, self-referential intellectual realm. In the 1990s architects working in academia like Frampton, Pallasmaa, Ockman or Mallgrave began to bridge the hiatus between practice and theory, developing analytical research methods that combined ontological research with exemplary buildings. These approaches shared a focus on the classical canon of architecture, the authoritative voice of the architect, and the production of grand narratives. Today, it is valid to question whether this approach is still viable, when the current intellectual climate in which debates around decolonization, material and social agency debate and post-metoo feminist perspectives challenge this canonical approach. Inspired, for example, by the strategies of art history, this symposium is looking for responses to such questions as: can we research architectural practice and theory through an inclusive perspective on its ontology? What could be architecture’s contemporary theories, thought systems and methods? How can this knowledge be relevant for current architectural practice?

These questions can also be reversed. What can practicing architects bring to the table in an academic context, when they are researching, drawing and writing? To what extent can a discussion on the tools and methods of practicing architects deepen the academic debate and enter the fields of architectural history and theory? By re-visiting a building through the experience of designing architects, what new readings or versions can be uncovered? More specifically, how can the ‘design knowledge’ of the architect provide relevant interpretations of our built environment? This symposium aims to broaden the scope from research by design, which is usually focused on an architect’s personal practice, towards building, drawing and writing as research activities that actively engage with architectural history and theory. Can ‘design knowledge’ find a more secure position within the academic field as an expertise to develop (critical) history and theory?

The symposium aims to re-define the field of architectural research and invites practicing architects and historians operating within academia to reflect on their lived expertise. Proposals aiming to bridge the gap between practice and theory, and which develop an architectural thinking, method or analysis combining ontological research with exemplary building practice, are welcomed. Papers can take a historical, theoretical or architectural perspective. The research can focus on the relationship between architectural culture and its themes – on a generation of architects throughout history, on the oeuvre of an architect through a specific drawing, building, space and/or detail – within its pivotal position in the design process, or within history. The symposium is interested in narratives that emphasize the processes of making and their effects on structure and material culture. A possible historiography starts not only from buildings and texts, but equally from designs captured in different types of drawings, from sketches to technical plans and structural details.
Preference will be given to papers that evaluate research approaches and methods, and which take a position between historiography and autonomy. How do you study the object? In what ways do you capture or register the essential morphology? What were the tools of the designing architect, how do you describe and critically assess them?

Abstracts of 500 words should be sent to research.arch@kuleuven.be by 10 June 2020, accompanied by a CV of 75 words and a list of three peer-reviewed articles.

The full call for papers with the description of the thematic sessions can be downloaded here and on the symposium webpage.

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