My education was in architecture and urbanism coupled with a PhD in philosophy as the basis for my research training in the humanities. This is not a common background within architectural education and I have sought throughout my career to merge my passion for architecture with the speculative power of philosophical research. Given my central research interest is in globalization, the nature of its complexities, and its direct affect on the creation of the contemporary built environment, I pursued a PhD in philosophy because its research methods are better equipped to uncover globalization’s hidden attributes and larger ramifications than those found within the narrower frame of architectural history/theory. Philosophical investigation is foundational to my research as well as teaching and guides my exploration into how philosophically based architectural strategies can positively engage predominant global trends in ways that foster innovative practice. The central question of this work is: How can architects and designers become more reflective of conventional design processes to develop more ethically responsive and collaborative view points, strategies, and practices affecting more than the creation of individual buildings? In short, my research is focused on the evolving agency, meaning, and ethical context of the contemporary global architect. This broader focus seeks to understand the larger context of architectural agency today in contrast to the more conventional research frame of many architectural educators that largely focus more directly on the artful crafting of buildings.
With rapid globalization being the central influence of our time, reassessing the conventions of architecture and the agency of the architect is imperative. The long-established ‘guild’ mentality of the architectural profession has traditionally set quality/wage values as well as defined disciplinary standards through a normative set of practices that helped establish a highly respected identity. While beneficial, this mindset also produced a conservative attitude towards innovation. Until recently, the most pertinent questions to the practice of architecture were seen to be concerned almost exclusively with connotations of style, technology, and construction. Contemporary global circumstances in both design and construction demand that architects be more speculative, flexible, and critical in a broader spectrum of contexts ranging from the economic to the tectonic. Truly innovative designs must now adapt simultaneously to short-term cultural turmoil caused by global forces while retaining architecture’s original role of embodying both the material/spiritual needs of those dwelling within its spaces. This demands a slightly different mindset: though being knowledgeable in construction and design is still paramount to a successful architect, understanding the ramification of the broader cultural and economic context is also imperative.
I believe that philosophy can afford architecture a means to access a method of speculative questioning — one more detached from the burden of certainty demanded by the perception of expertise — that can foster innovative and transformative ideas that better address the complex problems of globalization from a more widely informed frame of reference. Philosophy demands every circumstance be analyzed anew, not from the oft-prejudiced viewpoint of tradition, but with an intellectual “distance” that seeks to understand the highly integrated reality of a particular circumstance. From this broad understanding of the interconnected contextual issues involved in the larger “site” of a particular project can more strategically sound decisions surface within the design process. Potential outcomes of this critical process can reinforce our confidence in the use of disciplinary conventions in a given circumstance, or suggest ways to transform them when necessary. By this, the traditional “canons” of architecture need not be discarded; however, investigations concerning their validity must fall under more open and flexible methods of critical inquiry based on careful and rigorous methods as untethered from disciplinary bias as possible — an essential quality to any serious philosophical endeavor.
Therefore, both my teaching and research seeks to conceptually define practices that can emerge as open critical forms of thought instead of the more conventional means of architectural practice relying on the implementation of fixed, largely predetermined sets of operations. Methods and theories utilized by philosophers are particularly relevant here, because their goal of an impartial understanding of the “invisible” or “surface” forces of a subject affords new connections to be made in architecture and urban design. Comprehension of these conditions can then drive the reassessment of initial goals/strategies to better integrate design solutions within the unique qualities of their surroundings.
My research interests focus on the nature and complexities of globalization, the opportunities for innovation it creates, and the challenges it brings to architectural practice. More specifically, it explores how architects can benefit from a philosophically-based viewpoint that fully embraces the changes and challenges that globalization currently brings to the table. Understanding this complexity and fluidity as it relates to our conventional practices can aid in their adaptation to our current age of wholesale global integration —economic, cultural, and technological.
Several questions guide this exploration into the potential connections of architecture and philosophy:
1) What ways can design thinking be changed to become a more open reflexive system of critical thought that relates to broader more complex agendas?
2) How can a systemic agenda of “critical practice” manifest broadly throughout the design professions that taps issues informing design thinking in ways that reinforce its capacity to operate effectively in the current intensely integrative, fluid, and complex global climate?
3) Can the traditions of the design be translated into disciplines that previously felt its mindset not relevant and, if so, effectively adapt them to this flux?
To explore the implications of these questions fully, an interdisciplinary frame of critical thought has guided my research by utilizing investigative techniques, subjects, and frames of reference that are inherently philosophical to create interdisciplinary dialogues investigating how architects can better confront complex qualitative issues. It seeks to adapt the philosophical frame to guide both practice and cultural attitudes to address issues normally thought to inhabit the periphery of the discipline at best. These investigations seek to further the architect’s interpretation of site and potentially enlarge the discipline’s sphere of influence. Issues such as the concept of place, representation, virtual reality, and space are investigated in ways that re contextualizes them within architecture in an age of rapid globalization through connections to other pertinent discourses within the humanities.