SNSF-Research Project and Doctoral Thesis
Design studios as research cultures

SNSF-Research Project and Doctoral Thesis
Kim Nørgaard Helmersen

Design studios as research cultures: A comparative ethnography of studio teaching in architecture schools in Denmark, England, Holland and Switzerland

Since the turn of the century, architecture schools in Europe are undergoing far-reaching changes as the Bologna declaration, in 1999, established architectural education as an academic discipline, i.e. based upon research. Bringing the relationship between theory and practice under pressure, this academization has caused tensions and emotional stress within architecture schools, not least in relation to the design studio – the backbone of architectural education. Resting on practice-based knowledge, studio teaching has struggled to fit into the Bologna-scheme, which implies a natural scientific perception of research and its relation to teaching.

In this context, an increased interest in architectural design as a research practice has motivated new scholarship, connected to the material and practice turn in literature on knowledge production. Looking at the concrete proceedings, transactions and instructions by which knowledge is produced in the form of material artifacts, these studies have developed a conceptual framework that can challenge resistant perceptions of studio education as mere acculturation. Instead, pointing to architecture as a distinctive epistemic culture, it has been argued how studio teaching can be research-based in its own respect.

While it has been shown that academic learning indeed exists in the design studio, the concrete practices and processes through which design proposals are translated and obtained into the knowledge culture of the design studio remain underexposed. Particularly, there is lacking specificity in descriptions of variation in the nature and use of socio-material references between studios in varying contexts of architectural education, including perceptions of ‘good practice’. This lack of clarification motivates the thesis study looking into design studios as research cultures. Employing a focused ethnography, the study compares studio teaching at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Delft University of Technology, ETH Zürich and the Architectural Association, pointing to distinctions between protocols, processes, practices and contexts to clarify the differences between various approaches to research.