EDRA44 Providence / Symposium

EDRA44_Research_Methods_SymposiumEnriching Environmental Design Research

I had a brilliant time at EDRA44 in Providence last weekend. Every year, I look forward to reconnecting with my mentors, meeting new members, and feeling encouraged in the company of colleagues committed to the design and scholarship of livable environments. At this year’s EDRA, I led a panel on environmental design research methods. The framing of this session was inspired by the symposium on contemporary challenges for qualitative methods held at EDRA43 last year. The concepts and tactics presented during that meeting constituted the growing number of attempts in the last decade at outlining the strengths and legitimacy of qualitative methods for environment-behavior scholarship. What value does qualitative research have for environmental designers? How might qualitative methods inspire newer connections between research and design?

In order to continue the conversation from last year and engage these questions in renewed light, I invited Linda Groat and David Seamon to co-participate in a symposium on enriching environmental design research. Groat’s paper set the stage for other presentations on the panel, and discussed both separate and shared qualities of design and research through distinct conceptual frameworks [1]. Seamon’s work expanded upon the notion of “synergistic relationality,” and illustrated the relevance of synergistic mode for environmental design scholarship using a six-part phenomenological model [2]. My presentation explained how a case study research design with appropriate qualitative tactics might help examine the consequences of polemical theories as embodied in distinct architectural projects.

Elsewhere at the conference, I was delighted to meet Ayda Melika and Susanne Cowen, the makers of a soon-to-be-released documentary film, Design as a Social Act: Social Factors and Participatory Design, 1960-1980. Their two-part film screening and ensuing conversation with panelists (and key interviewees) generated much debate and discussion among members in the audience. Needless to say, it was at once exciting and motivating to engage figures such as Henry Sanoff, Galen Cranz, and Randy Hester in a conversation about current predicaments in the field. My notes and emerging ideas from the meeting are overflowing; I hope to review them over the next few weeks. For now, I am happy to be back in Ann Arbor, and back at the Writing Institute, to continue with my dissertation writing.

[1] Linda N. Groat, “Does Design Equal Research” in Linda N. Groat and David Wang, Architectural Research Methods (New York: J. Wiley, 2013).
[2] David Seamon, “Analytic and Synergistic Understandings of Place: What Does Qualitative Research Offer Environmental Design?” (paper presented at EDRA44 Providence, RI, May 31, 2013).

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