This is the 2nd of twenty-one lessons for design students, gathered from the combined experience of being a student, and teaching students. I will published one lesson each weekday until they’re done.
2. Good research is essential
At the beginning of your project, you are eager to begin designing. Some of you might sketch in the obligatory solar paths and circulation routes over your site plan, but then you impatiently dive head first into design. Some of you might even read up on the latest architectural theories floating around the internet, but you too are impatient to get started on the good stuff.
But design is fundamentally about problem solving. How can you hope to design an appropriate solution if you don’t know everything there is to know about the problem?
If good design is a house, then good research is its footings.
Good research is much more than site analysis. It means researching the best examples of your typology from around the world, together with its history and its proponents. It means understanding the theoretical, political, cultural and social context of your project. It means reading books, journals and newspapers (and not just the internet). It means testing ideas over and over again, via esquisse model or diagram. It means visiting your site many times, getting a feel for it and speaking with the local community. It means getting away from your computer for a bit, and out into the world to see what’s there.
Most importantly, good research is about questions not answers. Start the process with hypotheses, not theories. A theory will give you the answer you’re looking for, but you’ll have no way of knowing whether it’s the right one. A hypothesis leaves room for the research to drive you, to produce objective and ultimately useful answers.
Richard Leplastrier, one of Australia’s great master architects, is famous for camping on his sites for weeks before he starts on design. His tent is essentially a drafting table with a roof, allowing him to sketch within its shelter while he watches the weather, feels the wind and immerses himself in the environment. He sketches what he sees, and what he can’t see: the invisible forces that shape the land. By the time he packs up to go home, the place is in his bones.
- Good research is essential, author’s own image.