Building a culture of doctoral scholarship in architecture and design. A Belgian-Scandinavian case
Journal article, 2012
The objective of this paper is to present how a strongly practice oriented school of architecture in Belgium has tackled the challenges of the European policies for establishing a doctoral level. Some top-down activities of formal research education and some bottom-up initiatives by the PhD students and tutors are presented and discussed. These developments can indicate that a new practice-based scholarship, initiated by the doctoral studies, is emerging at this institution.
The Bologna-Berlin policies recognized doctoral studies as the third cycle in European higher education. For Sint-Lucas School of Architecture it has meant to develop a new culture, a culture of research and doctoral scholarship. The intentions of the school were to develop experimental, practice-based concepts for this research. The process, started in spring 2006, built on four Research Training Sessions (RTS) intended to help primarily younger teachers without any research experience to define their research interests, based on their double practice as professionals and teachers of architecture. Furthermore, it was expected that their doctoral studies would be commenced based on a research proposal defined during the RTS series.
The authors, both with extensive experience from Scandinavian research education in architecture, spatial planning and design, and from research in the professional fields, were requested to develop one of the four RTSes. This RTS is called Forms & Processes of Knowledge and “…focuses on different forms of knowledge and how these forms originate. There is a specific focus on the forms of knowledge present in the domain of architecture and design, put in relation to other kinds of knowledge. Established modes and notions of scientific knowledge are discussed together with other ways of knowledge production” (1). Subsequently, they were offered positions as guest professors with responsibility to provide supervision to participants of the sessions. The RTS represents a meta-level of the research education, while the micro-level is being constituted by various forms of mentoring, like the traditional doctoral supervision of one PhD students by one supervisor, as well as the peer-learning in assignments and collaborations between PhD students.
The authors developed, besides “their own” RTS, an autonomous research education unit within the curriculum, since we through our collective learning process identified a need to build a mezzo-level for the pedagogical concept. While the macro- and micro- levels rely on the traditional pedagogy of lectures and supervision in the doctoral studies, the mezzo-level is based on the assumption that in order to become an innovative researcher within post-academic sciences, (which practice-based research is a representative of) a young researcher should first strengthen her identity and master the craft of the traditional research. In every profession its craft is constituted by certain professional skills and by critical attitude to quality of the professional results. Thus we offered to the doctoral students a series of workshops in “Scholarly Craft & Criticism”. These workshops included assignments, presentations and critical discussions on e.g. recent doctoral thesises, phases and requirements for producing a dissertation, research design of their projects, and philosophy of science for architects.
In April 2009 eight RTS-alumni, now doctoral students enrolled at various European institutions, organized a seminar documenting their growing epistemological awareness regarding practice-based doctoral scholarship. The seminar witnessed emergence of a community of research practice with potential to initiate a new profession-based scholarship.
The paper presents and discusses this autonomous research education unit within the emerging doctoral curriculum of the Sint-Lucas School of Architecture. It also describes how the practice-based PhD students recognized the role of this unit in the process of their growing epistemological awareness and maturing as prospective design scholars. These presentations are based on observations and documentations from research training activities during the years of the RTS program.
The value of this paper is the positioning of an epistemological-pedagogical stance with regard to research education for practitioners. Some opinions hold that practice-based researchers do not need epistemological and scholarly foundations in order to pursue practice-oriented research, and there are research educational programs with aims to “avoid verbal theorising or credential-seeking through reference to texts from other disciplines”. Our stance is that practice-based PhD students should be introduced to and trained in certain generic research skills. By that the professional doctorate will be trained to contextualise and position their research as well as to be communicative and innovative in a broad professional field.