The Purpose of Research in Architectural Design

I’ve given introduction lectures to both my design classes earlier this week. I might as well put it here since I saw a blog post I was trying to make one months ago about this topic. I would’ve wanted to know all of this as a student; so maybe those of you who’d like to learn (even if you’re not attending my class) can access the information.

Architecture is both a product and an intellectual process. Architecture only arises in two instances: if a systematic intent (process) and if the exercise had been fully accomplished (product). What we do in school is basically refining how we approach this systematic intent. The word systematic means that there is a process behind the intent. It presupposes that the umbilical cord of architecture is tied to a deep sense of profound human use. It can’t just be out of a whim or a desire to create something purely artistic (Pallasmaa, 2015). This is where research comes in – it is what integrates science in the art of building.

A design solution is only as good as the quality of research. In the framework of Evidence-Based Design, it calls for the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence from research and practice. Yes, observation is part of learning and gathering data but this would limit the designer with the things s/he experienced. Current best evidence widens your horizon to help you make critical decisions to building an informed solution.

It’s very much like connecting the dots. Imagine each dot as a representation of information gathered. In research, you’re basically connecting relevant ideas depending on what you want to create. Always remember that in design, there is no wrong solution; just a differentiation as a mediocre or an intelligent solution.

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Research is not about the complexity nor the quantity of information. Depending on what idea you want to form, it is about presenting a clear picture of ideas. Remember how you can’t just connect random dots with this exercise? Research needs to tell a logical and coherent progression of how you arrived at a solution. What if I told you that it’s possible to create a Mona Lisa with forty dots?

See the photo on the left? It already has a ready form of the bow and the body. Think of these as your theories. Theories are sets of ideas condensed into one thought; it is a substantive description of reality. It helps you complete your picture by providing certain portions of how you got to your solution.

The difference between theoretical framework and conceptual framework

So this is where it get a little complex, but let me try and make it simple. The theoretical framework is a singular theory that you use as a basis to construct your solution. Conceptual framework is a map on how you arrived to your solution that reflects the relationship of parts. See, a Review of Related Literature would usually be delivered in parts: a theoretical framework first and then your discussion of relevant research leading to your solution. The theoretical framework sets the lens at which the entire study is to be seen. It sets the tone for your literature review.

The entire Review of Related Literature (discussion) is your Conceptual Framework (map of relationships) discussed.

*Well now you have to attend my classes to get a better hold of these things*

In conclusion

Research puts the science in architecture. Evidence-Based Design is a perfect way to attain Architecture as innovation, because you can’t answer tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. Current best evidence provides us with enough data to work with. It is now all up to you how to make sense of that data and formulate new solutions; so that in the future, your work can be basis of future studies. Continue the growth of knowledge!

In school, we can’t teach how you create intelligent solutions. We can only teach you how to think critically while introducing you to possibilities – the possibility of a better version of yourself and the possibilities of better futures. Ultimately, it’s about finding your own truths.


Hamilton, D. & Watkins, D. (2009). Evidence-based design for multiple building types. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons
Mallory-Hill S., Preiser, W. & Watson, C. (2012). Enhancing Building Performance. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Pallasmaa, J. (2015). Foreword: The Use of Art. In The Architecture of Use: Aesthetics and Function in Architectural Design (pp. xiii-xvi). New York: Routledge
Rockinson-Szapkiw & Spaulding (2014). Navigating the Doctoral Journey: A Handbook of Strategies for Success. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield
Sampa, E. (2012). Developing Research Instruments. Steps in College Research Writing. Mandaluyong: Books atbp. Publishing Corp. p.46

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