On the reliability and validity of meaning in arch and urban research


  • Gibson_affordances: how it is that some situations and objects seen to present themselves to us as things we can use
  • Wittgenstein_language games: in which we share common attitudes towards the world and what it presents to us (constructivist view where we make an interpretation of the world that facilitates certain interactions and limits others) Questioning is a kind of malady, a disquiet that can only be satisfied by an answer that makes the question go away.” Our questions occur in a context.
  • Scientific worldview contrasts the constructivist one as “everything about the real world lies out there to be discovered.”
  • Popper_Science is as speculative as other disciplines
  • Feyerabend_ science is much more creative than is stereo-typically assumed
  • Latour & Woolgar_have exposed the the human, interested, motivated world of the science laboratory that is usually excluded from accounts of scientific inquiry
  • Bloor: all kinds of knowledge is motivated and arises in a context of values and beliefs. Many scientific or sociological advances are themselves based on ungrounded assumptions, or on a persuasive narrative, in favor of a particular position at the expense of the alternatives. “Unmotivated decisions are impossible”

ACTIVITY THEORY: An activity is an organized set of actions that combine together to construct our reality; activities are central to our knowledge production; activities are considered as corresponding methods in research and the worldview within which these activities are perceived as meaningful by the actors who deploy them, as methodologies. Methodologies are value and belief sets that provide an interpretative framework for understanding the impact and significance of those activities.

Activity situated in a social context and in an interpretative community of users provides us with evaluative tools, not only for assessing the appropriateness of the proposed methods, but also of assessing the appropriateness of data (…) one can use an activity-theoretic account to explain why an architectural activity is appropriate in response to an architectural question, i.e. a question posed in the context of architecture; or one can use it to identify the architectural worldview and values within which a response is perceived as meaningful by the interpretative community of architects (..) it is false to assume that data alone, or evidence-based assessment, has the potential to point us towards a single narrative or argument leading to an incontrovertible conclusion in research.

By legitimizing alternative ways of interpreting data, and indeed what we might accept as data, the field of architectural research is given a voice with which to express alternative socio-cultural values and to describe how these values give rise to alternative, productive insights and understandings to traditional models of academic research, i.e. significant research outcomes, based in professional practices, which have potential impact.

Science tries to make claims about an external world that exists independently of the observer/ The sociologist is interested in the social interaction of human beings that includes the opinions and personalities of the individuals concerned, it is essentially a science of the social world rather than a science of the material world



Biggs, M.A.R., 2014. An Activity theory of research methods in architecture and urbanism. In City, Territory and Architecture 2014, 1:16, http://www.cityterritoryarchitecture.com/content/1/1/16

Image available here

Research by Design Definition by Johan Verbeke



  1. The Unthinkable Doctorate, 2005, Brussels, Proceedings available here
  2. Design Enquiries, Stockholm, 2007
  3. Research into Practice, London, 2008
  4. Changes of Paradigms in the Basic Understanding of Architectural Research, Copenhagen, 2008
  5. Communicating (by) Design, Brussels, 2009
  6. The Place of Research/The Research of Place, Washington, 2010
  7. Knowing by Designing, Brussels, 2013

Professional Bodies



  • The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, published in 2010, Book
  • Journal for Artistic Research, established 2011
  • Jan Kaila, The Artist’s Knowledge, 2006

“Research” Definition

  • Original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding; it includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of new ideas, images, performances, artifacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved material, devices, products and processes, including design and construction (RAE, 2008)
  • Human learning and (social) constructivist thinking are strongly based on experiences, perceptions, and interactions between people (…) as a result these people develop a mutual intersubjective understanding
  • Research itself is design: there is no such thing as research that is not designed (Glanville) Seen this way, design has the power to facilitate the generation of knowledge
  • Research is the curiosity-driven production of new knowledge. (Nowotny)
  • Research is inherently beset by uncertainties, since the results or outcomes are by definition unknown
  • Any kind of inquiry in which design is a substantial constituent of the research process is referred to as research by design/ act of design is key, peer review is essential to maintain quality/ it has to be openly connected to practice and studio work (EAAE, 2012)

Polanyi: there is more than factual and explicit knowledge

Schon: importance of reflective thinking in the development of understanding and knowledge in creative disciplines, focus on othe rtypes of knowledge

Gibbons Mode 1: Knowledge is the complex of ideas, values and norms that has grown up to control the diffusion of the Newtonian model of science to more and more fields of enquiry and ensure its compliance with what is considered sound scientific practice

Gibbons Mode 2: Knowledge production carried out in the context of application and marked by its transdisciplinarity, heterogeneity, organizational hierarchy and transcience; social accountability and reflexivity-it results from the parallel expansion of knowledge producers and users in society.

Stefan Ostersjo doctoral thesis: critical moments in developing insight during practice/play; it acts as an exemplar of research where the doing plays a crucial role.

Nonaka-Takeuchi: combination, internalization, socialization and externalization

Johan Verbeke: INPUT: local statements/ OPERATIONS: anything that is done to change the input/ OUTPUT-KNOWING: everything that results when the application of an end rule to the process of operating on the input comes to a stop/ DELIVERABLES: all tangible manifestations of the outputs


  • Verbeke, J., 2013.¬†This is Research by Design. In Murray Fraser’s (ed.) Introduction to Design research in Architecture: An Overview, edited by Murray Fraser, Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 137-159
  • Full text available here/ Image available here