A couple of months ago I attended a public conversation between Brett Steele and Marc Wigley which was moderated by Mark Cousins. Not surprisingly, the conversation revolved around contemporary education. Of the many things that stuck with me from that night, one statement by Mark Cousins remains strongly imprinted. He said that “if you hear someone start a sentence with the statement ‘architecture is...’, leave the room.” That attitude is one where architecture is not seen as a series of answers that are set in stone, but one where architecture is understood as a conceptual and material field that continuously evolves to transform the way we live. Our research has to provide an environment where new forms of teaching and learning can evolve and mature. It is through this pursuit of novel - yet relevant - forms of teaching and learning that we can foster a discourse about novel – yet relevant - ways of conceiving architecture. Design research is partly an attempt at creating and shaping ideas about buildings, and by extension, ideas about living, as opposed to mere constructions.
If I want to put this in the context that I’m operating within today, then it is the 3-year agenda titled Proto-design. While the agenda is laden with significant potential as scenarios of - conceptual and material - prototyping have become accelerated, the notion of the prototype can be very misleading. There is a mistaken elasticity attached to the idea of developing a prototype and this is partly a result of the lack of finality attached to prototypes. This results in prototypes (prototypes here can also be prototypical systems) sometimes being developed in conceptual and material vacuums. If we are truly dedicated to conceiving of new ways of shaping architecture, overhauling the whole process within which our field current operates, then our prototypes need to be specific (systems), setting out to answer specific answers, notwithstanding that the process will change conceptual and material trajectories along the way. Prototypes have to be specific; they cannot operate in conceptual and material vacuums. This is not to say that the design process needs to be collapsed or flattened, and that all answers and results are known from the initial stages of the design process, and all that is left is the production of these results. This divorces the act of production from its inherent creativity. What bothers me in the notion of the prototype is that its lack of finality allows it to become a crutch. For some reason, we avoid the reality that our ideas about buildings are almost buildings in themselves, (almost) buildings that have to respond to specific concerns. A clear question needs to be tackled head-on, and as soon as possible; what is a prototype?
p.s. This is a slightly edited version of a short paper submitted to the class titled Synthesis: Architectural Research, Writing and Project Documentation.