research in progress: themes in architectural design studios

Architectural Design Studio and the Real World Out There

PhD Candidate: Beatriz C. Maturana
Supervisor: Dr Greg Missingham

Central to architectural education is the design studio where all knowledge acquired converges to be given form. Critique of design studio education has focused on its methodology, its power relations and pedagogy. However, seldom has the content of the design studio been scrutinised. While the general architectural education curriculum is accessible, public and subject to periodical scrutiny and evaluations, the core of the discipline, the content of design studio is not. In spite of its problems, it is widely accepted that the design studio is at the centre of architectural education. Consequently, we can assume that what matters in design studio will influence what matters in the practice of architecture and architecture itself.
Concerns and aspirations by universities and education in general assert their reasoning on science, on rational thought and processes, validated by their grasp on reality. This has prompted some to claim that the question of reality is one of the most fundamental questions currently faced by humanity. This research centres on this question, as it contends that without an understanding of what version of reality is brought to the design studio, assertions and aspirations regarding architectural contribution can become self-referential and operate in a vacuum. Thus, exploring themes in architectural design studio becomes crucial to establish what is currently important in architectural education (by default or design), the implications of this importance to the actual wider contribution of architectural design studio and more importantly to plan for the future of architectural education.

This research investigates the themes that architectural design studios explore in three Australian architectural faculties: from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), University of Tasmania (UTas) and The University of Melbourne (UoM), in the states of New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, respectively. The premise is that without a systematic engagement with reality, what makes architectural design studio an attractive and an important method for learning, might also be a device for the distancing of that learning from its ultimate alleged goal as a ‘profession’, a service to society. Accordingly, professional and academic’s efforts to contribute to, for instance, minimisation of climate change may be compromised.

The problem(s) selected and explored by the studio is what this research calls the theme. If the design studio is about problem-solving, what problems do these studios focus on and what problems do they leave out? This thesis examines data contributed by the three participating architectural faculties to ascertain preference for certain ‘realities’ above others. It does this by exploring degrees of distance or proximity to the real world, through notions of Immediacy, Groundedness and Urgency, among others. This research understands reality as external and independent from us, external from our awareness and interpretation, however, understood through these processes. So far this exploration suggests that, finding the ‘real’ in design studio is a matter of degree, of context, relevance and also a matter of definition. It is about creative imagination for a purpose, one that frames the exploration and clearly articulates the purpose of imagination with all its ‘imagination’ related terms.

I hope that through this investigation a different way of looking at the themes in architectural design studio will emerge. One that is cognisant of the connection between what is explored in design studio today, the resulting practice of architecture and the role of architecture within society.


[1] H. R. Maturana, "Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument," Irish Journal of Psychology 9, no. 1 (1988): 25. Note H. R. Maturana is not related to this author.

[2] An intrinsic aspect of the formation of the professions is their pledge to the ‘greater good’ or social commitment. See Mike Saks, Professions and the public interest: medical power, altruism and alternative medicine (London: Routledge, 1995). See also: M. MacEwen (1974), K. Frampton (2000), S. Salama (1995 & 2007), among many others.

[3] In describing the state of architectural education in Australasia some have referred to it as in a “state of crisis”, augmented by pressures to adapt education to consumerism, competition and corporatism. It is also argued that this is due to “a relative lack of self-knowledge”, particularly in regards to teaching and learning. See Michael J. Ostwald and Anthony Williams, "Understanding Architectural Education in Australasia: Volume 2: Results and Recommendations," ed. The University of Newcastle (Newcastle: The Association of Architecture Schools of Australasia (AASA), 2008), 10.


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