Architecture is the designing and construction of buildings. Every era that the human civilization has gone through, in its inexorable progress into the future, has been marked by its own unique architecture, attesting to the craftsmanship of its people. Architecture is art and science at the same time.
Architecture is art because a building that is constructed is an expression of the imagination and creativity of whoever is involved in its design. This is why even buildings used for the most mundane of purposes transform into a work of art in the hands of a gifted architect. Moreover, certain architectural wonders, be it a house or a public building like a museum, bears the signature of the architect. They reflect the architect’s personality and beliefs.
However, architecture is also science because a building design has to be within the realms of rational thinking: It cannot ignore reality and its boundaries. For example, a house addresses the need for shelter, a basic human necessity. It has to be functional, durable, sustainable and affordable. Ensuring these qualities needs empirically tested and validated knowledge, which we call science. In modern times, scientific principles and data are increasingly being used in architecture, so that buildings may be resistant to such natural disasters as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes. Interestingly, it is not only modern scientific concepts that influence architecture. The ancient Chinese knowledge system called ‘Feng Shui’, developed over 3,000 years ago in China, advises how to balance the ‘energies’ of any given space. In India, ‘Vaasthu Shastra’, an ancient Indian science of architecture and buildings, is hugely popular even today. Both Feng Shui and Vaastu Shastra are thought to guide people in taking advantage of the natural benefits of a given space and ‘energy fields’ for enhanced health, prosperity and happiness.
Thus, being art and science, architecture inhabits a unique space among the modern knowledge systems. In the 21st century and beyond, architecture is all set to satisfy both aesthetic sensibilities, and functional, economic and social requirements of the human race.
How to Write a Research Paper on Architecture
Tips and Hints from Gray Read
- What is a Research Paper?
- How To Pick a Topic
- How to Do Library Research and Narrow your Topic
- Developing a Thesis
- Organizing your Ideas and Outlining your Paper
1. What Is aResearch Paper?
1. BigQuestions and Smaller Ones. A research paper is an intellectualcontribution to your profession that is written for your peers. It identifies a current question ofinterest to the profession (The Big Question) and seeks to clarify the questionor answer some part of it based on an investigation of past events. A small research paper cannotanswer a Big Questions but can answer small well-defined questions within theBig One. Each answer to a smallwell-directed question helps us to understand and eventually address the BigQuestions of our profession. Soidentify a Big Question that interests you then refine it, looking for asmaller question that you can answer on the basis of your analysis of atopic. This process of focusingfrom a big issue to smaller issues within it may take several stages. Ultimately you are looking for a verysmall question that may have big implications.
2. Topics. A paper needs a topic: some specificpast event or person or building or movement that you think will help youapproach the Big Question. Sometimes you start with a question and go looking for a topic. Sometimes you start with a topic and golooking for a question. Often youstart with a vague idea of both then focus them in relation to each other.
For Example: If youare interested in how the design of a building can help to revitalize the city(Big Question), you might choose a building that you consider successful(topic) and analyze it trying to understand specifically what aspects of thedesign make it work (small question). Your goal is to reveal the underlying ideas of the design so you andothers may use some of those strategies in your own design work (thesis). The goal of the paper is to share thoseinsights with your peers so the field as a whole will learn how to designbetter.
3. Do-ability. As you refine your topic and search fora small question within the Big Question, look for one that is answerablethrough research and analysis We can never know what goes on in the minds ofother people (architects or otherwise). We only know what they did. When you pick a topic, be sure that you will have the resources you needto do research. Make a list ofrelevant bibliographic references. If you want to analyze a building, find out if drawings, photographs orother resources are available.
4. Research. Apaper is based on research that usually includes reading what other people havewritten then analyzing a building or an idea yourself. Be proud of yourfootnotes. They acknowledgeyour predecessors and show how your work fits into the larger field. Footnotes are the mark of anintelligent essay.
5. Analysis. A paper contains your analysis of someaspect of your research. Simply reporting what you have read is not a researchpaper. This analysis should bedirected toward the answer of some small question within the Big Question. Often you start with a vague idea ofthe type of analysis you want to do and a vague idea of the question you wantto ask, and then refine them both in relation to each other.
For Example: You are interested in how to design for the tropics(Big Question). So you do somegeneral research on strategies for tropical design and find out that airflowmakes a space feel cooler. Youdecide to look at indigenous dwellings of the Tequesta of South Florida(topic). You find some drawings ofa house in a book. You apply yourknowledge from the general research and ask whether the form of the houseinduces airflow that would cool the space (small question). You redraw the building on the computerand model how air would flow through it (analysis) based on other studies youhave found (research). From youranalysis you believe that the form of the house induces airflow (thesis) andyou demonstrate that it does through your analysis. Then you suggest that this form might be adapted tocontemporary design in Florida (arguing back to Big Question).
5. Thesis. A papershould have a thesis. A thesis isa proposed answer to the small question within the Big Question. A thesis is an idea or proposalthat is tested by the analysis of specific examples within your topic.
For Example: A paper might propose that the sheet metal techniques that Frank Gehrylearned in trade school affect his design (thesis). Then the paper would explain exactly what those techniqueswere, based on research, and select one or two of Gehry’s buildings foranalysis. The analysis would showclear parallels between the sheet metal techniques and the design of thebuildings. The examples shouldtruly test the proposal, eliminate alternate explanations and demonstrate thatthe proposal is either true or false. The goal of this essay is to show that material techniques have asignificant impact even on design that is considered abstract.
6. Sometimes apaper will take an accepted “truth” and question its validity, again usingspecific examples to make the case
For Example: Somepeople believe that Le Corbusier is a rationalist. Based on your general knowledge, you are not so sure. Your research may turn up evidence thatsome of his decisions were not based on rational analysis but on superstitionor chance. You argue that theaccepted belief is not true using the specific examples that you have found. The goal of this paper is to correct amistaken assumption and to narrow the historical support for Rationalism.
I hope you see a pattern here. Research papers test ideas by examining specificexamples. They are written toadvance the understanding of the field, not just the person writing them.
The Learning Center can help you through this process stepby step. They are in PC 247, 348-2180.
Books that may help:
- Barnet, Sylvan and Hugo Bedau Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing: a Brief Guide to Argument 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. This is a basic guide to writing a paper
- Barnet, Sylvan A Brief Guide to Writing about Art Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999 This one describes several methods of analysis common in Art Historical studies
- Williams, Joseph Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace NY: Addison Wesley Longman, 2000. This one helps you to improve your writing style by revising your drafts.
2. How to Pick a Topic
1. If youstart with a Big Question, then picking a topic requires some general researchto scope out possibilities. You are looking for some specific person, building or event that wasengaged with some aspect of your Big Question. In the process of looking for a topic you will have to defineand narrow your question. Often atopic will suggest aspects of the Big Question that you hadn’t consideredbefore. This is good. You are looking for a topic thatwill help you to find a small question that you can answer.
For Example: If youare interested in how to make cities better. You may choose a city that you think is nice, likeParis. Then you read anEncyclopedia article on Paris and find out that Baron von Haussmann radicallyrenovated Paris in the 19th century. So you read more about Haussmann and find out that Haussmann made Parismore enjoyable for folks with money but displaced many poor people from theirhomes. So you change yourquestion: How to make citiesbetter for poor people. Then maybe19th century Paris is not such a good example. So you go looking for a city thatplanned for poor people. SeveralSouth American cities are seriously considering how to design for barrios. Pick one of them. This is the first step toward refiningyour Big Question to a small question and refining your topic to address yourquestion.
2. Talk topeople and use general reference books such as Encyclopedias to get a generalidea of the facts of a topic before you commit yourself completely.
3. Be sure thatyou can find information on your topic. Scope out sources before you commit yourself to a long-termresearch. Many promising topicsare simply inaccessible in the time given and with the resources that we have.
Let’s say you start with a Topic. Then you must seek the question
4. Do somepreliminary research on your topic and scope out what you might learn.
For Example: If you were assigned the topic of 19thcentury urban design in Paris then you would find out that Haussmann designedboulevards. You may be moreinterested in architecture than street design, so you might ask howarchitecture is affected by street design. This question might then lead you to look at Haussmann’sinstructions to architects who designed along his boulevards. (Check to seewhether that information is available)
5. This backand forth reasoning between question and topic should help you to focus both.
3. How to do Research andNarrow your Topic
1. There aremany different kinds of research: experimental, historical, visual,imaginary. Even dreaming can beresearch. We do research to findout about something and we often need to invent ways to find out what we wantto know. Architects are alwaysengaged in research. We might makea mock-up of a detail in order to test how it works or how it looks. We might ask how other people have donea detail before, or how they have used a material or used a form. Steven Holl does experiments withmaterials directly to better understand their properties.
2. If you beginwith a Big Question (something you want to find out), you will have to decidewhat is the best way to go about answering it or answering a part of it. You should design your research to beboth effective and doable.
3. In Architecture, we often rely on two types of research:research in books and visual analysis. We read what other people (generally architectural historians) havewritten about buildings then we look at the plans and photos ourselves.
Often the most accessible way for us to find out aboutthings is to see if anyone else has asked the questions before and whethertheir research is available to us. Is it published? This takesus to the library. Funny how oftenwe wind up there.
1. Start with general resources: Encyclopedias, even the Internet. (Remember thatthe Internet is an unregulated resource so the material you find there is notnecessarily reliable. The Internetis also very limited; never stop there). It is easier to look up topics than questions so you often have to skimthrough a fair amount of material to find out if it is relevant to yourquestion. When you have settled ona topic use the library catalog to find books. You often have to seek out a number of different books andarticles to get a complete picture of how your topic relates to your question.
2. After yourpreliminary research, when you search for both books and journal articles, usea broader database than our FIU Library Catalog. I recommend Eureka RLG(Research Libraries Group). Youget there from the Library Home Page by clicking on “Subjects” then on“Architecture” this will take you to a list of the databases that are mostrelevant to architectural research. Click on Eureka. When itloads you will be able to search the main RLG database of books. If you are looking for journalarticles, click on “Change Files” then on “Avery Index.” This is the most comprehensive catalogof journal articles related to Architecture. Then do your search as usual.
3. Bibliography.Keep track of it. Get referencesfrom footnotes of articles you read
When you find a book on your topic that is useful to you,look up the other books that the author has written. They may also be interesting. Some computer programs are designed to keep bibliography andfootnotes in proper form: “Endnote,” “Procite” etc.
4. Take notes. Keep track of your research. Alwayswrite down the citation: the author, name of book or article, Name of Journal,Date, Publisher, and the page numbers of important points. TheLearning Center has tips on Taking Notes
5. Don’t hesitate to use the Interlibrary Loan service. Itmay take a couple of weeks to get a book but it’s often worth the wait. From the Library Home Page, click on“Forms” then go to “Interlibrary Loan” “Display Forms”
6. How to Avoid wasting time reading too much irrelevantstuff: Read abstracts ofarticles. Read prefaces,introductions, Tables of Contents and scan footnotes of books to see if theyapply to your topic. Read reviewsof books
Narrowing Your Topic
By now you have too much information. You need to focus both your question(from Big to small) and you need to focus your topic. Here are a few things to try: You may have to do this a coupleof times before you arrive at a topic and a question that are manageable.
1. Take notes as you read. Keep the bigquestion in your mind and make notes when you your reading or building analysisgives you an insight. As you get aclearer idea of how your topic relates to the big question, you can focus yourresearch. As you start to havemore insights into the topic, you can formulate more precise questions. Take notes on your own thoughts on thetopic and the questions is raises in your mind.
2. Pick an examplethat seems to represent a larger group or an idea and analyze it in terms ofyour question. Refine both as youproceed.
Sometimes bringing in information from outside your topicwill give you a new point of view so you can see things from a new angle.
3. Compare two examplesfrom opposing camps. Pick twoexamples that seem to represent two opposing ideas. What do they have in common? How are they different? Refine your questions and theses as you proceed.
4. Take a written idea and a building andanalyze the building in terms of the idea. Ipicture the idea as an arrow that can pierce through a complex thing like abuilding and make a clean hole.
For Example: Frank Lloyd Wright wrote several books and built hundreds ofbuildings. Choose one idea fromone text that seems related to your question and a building that he was workingon at the same time and ask if the idea in the text appears in the design ofthe building.
Take a written idea fromelsewhere and ask if it fits the case at hand.
For Example: Many historians have describedPicasso’s use of collage. Are someof those ideas applicable to Le Corbusier’s work?
5. Focus. Whenthe number of points you are trying to make becomes unmanageable or the detailsbecome overwhelming, try to zero in on the most significant point. Spend your time analyzing one aspect ofsomething in terms of the whole rather than trying to analyze everything.
6. Refine your question. Sometimes your question is bigger thanany example can answer. Focus yourquestion
For Example: If you are interested in how Eskimo culture affects their buildings andyou are analyzing an igloo, you may find that the form has implications for:social relationships, cooking methods, communications, dress, games, sexualmores, etc. It’s too much. Focus on one aspect like cooking orgames and find out all you can about it.
7. Just pickone. If you come up with a whole array of ideas that is too much, just pickone and consider it carefully in terms of your Big Question. See if it presents any opportunitiesfor a small question.
Every academic field has developed different kinds ofanalysis to help them answer the questions that they ask. These include Statistical analysis,Logical analysis, Textual analysis, Historical analysis, Financial analysis,and as many others as you can imagine or invent. Architecture draws on many of these for various purposes butthe ones we normally rely on for research papers are the following:
1. VisualAnalysis. This is usually the best part of your research. Look at the plans and photographs of abuilding and try to picture it in three dimensions. Then use your knowledge as a designer and askquestions. How does the spacefeel? Does it work as thearchitect intended? What is thespatial sequence? How does aperson move from one space to another? How does it fit the site? What are the views from one place to another? How does the structure work? How does it work in the local climate? How does it work in the city? Thequestions are endless. They arethe same ones you ask yourself when you are designing. Write down your observations. They are valuable. Hopefully one of them will resonatewith your Big Question and this will become your small question.
2. Textual Analysis. This is close reading of text. What do the words mean? What does theauthor mean? Where did these ideascome from? What are theimplications of the ideas expressed? Often understanding what an author is saying requires reading beyond thetext at hand. What else has theauthor written? Is the authorresponding to other people or ideas? What are his or her references?
3. Historical Analysis. This requires research into thehistorical circumstances surrounding a person or building or event. What was going on at the time? What were the dominant issues of theday, both political and philosophical? What ideas and circumstances was the author or architectaddressing? Who was theaudience? You might also ask whatwere the precedents of an idea. Where does an idea come from?
4. Sometimes aquestion you might try two kinds of analysis in order to focus the question.
For Example: Youare interested in how Deconstructivist theories affected Design (BigQuestion). So you ask how PeterEisenman’s deconstructivist ideas affected his building. You survey his work both written andbuilt and pick one theory and one building (narrowing your topic) and ask howthey relate (small question). Youread the text carefully and try to understand the ideas and why he is writingthem (textual analysis). Withthose ideas in mind, you analyze the building (visual analysis). You draw your conclusions (thesis) andsupport them with your findings.
5. Developing a Thesis. Whatis a Research Proposal?
By now you havedone some reading on your topic.
You have focused your question so that the topic you areresearching will address some aspect of it.
You have focused your topic so it will address the questionprecisely and the research can be done in the time given
1. Your research may draw you in directions that you had notthought about before.
Consider these leads.
Do they seem fruitful?
Do they address your questions in some way?
If yes, then consider changing the focus of your question sothe topic fits.
If no, keep looking for some set of details that doesaddress your question.
2. As you analyze what you have found, you are looking forsome set of details that seems to answer some aspect of your question. These details should be representativeof a more general condition. What do these details suggest about your question? Keep track of these details (notewhere you found them); you may want to use these details later to build yourargument.
3. Think aboutyour research. Do the details youdiscovered suggest a thesis? Writeit down. Does this thesis relateto your question? Is itinteresting? If so pursue it, ifnot, think and research some more. If you come up with several theses, none of which seem satisfactory,write them down.
Are these theses interesting? Do they teach you something you don't already know?
Are they provable? Can they be supported by evidence?
4. Try approaching your topic from another angle. Pick another topic, or method ofanalysis, or theory and try to see your topic from that point of view. Sometimes even a very distantcomparison can make poetic connections that suggest ideas that you hadn’tthought about yet.
For Example: Traditional poetry is written inspecific meters and with certain kinds of rhythms. Can you see visual meters and rhythms in a building of yourchoice?
Here’s a wild one: Physics describes quantaas series of steps with fixed quantities of energy, mass and charge thatparticles must have so there is no continuum between them. Does Architecture have a parallelcondition?
5. Now you haveone and hopefully more than one thesis. Go back to your research with these theses in mind. Try to find other detailsthat either support or contradict your theses. By now you should be familiar enough with your sources thatyou can find things without fuss. However the theses might take you to other resources as well.
At this point you may want to focus some more. Perhaps your details are still toogeneral. Focus, focus.
When you have two or more specific details thatsupport an interesting thesis, then you are in good shape.
Now outline your argument using the details (withreferences) that you have discovered to support your case.
What is a Research Proposal?
A research proposal is a paper that explains:
1. The Big Question that you want to consider
2. The topic and specific examples that you are going to use
3. The small question that you propose to answer
4. The resources (bibliography) that will give you theinformation that you need
5. The kind of analysis are you going to do (formal analysis,historical, statistical etc)
6. Explains how you are going to argue from your example back tothe large question.
6. Organizing your Ideas and Outlining your Paper
An Outline is a method of organizing your ideas and yourpaper before you actually write it. This way you can focus on thinking the ideas through and on putting theminto a logical sequence, without having to struggle with sentence structure atthe same time. You can changeelements of the outline and rearrange things easily
An Outline should be the paper without thesentences. It should be almost aslong as the paper and should contain everything that will be in the paper: All the ideas, all the thinking, allthe evidence, and all the references. An outline is not a list of sub-topics. Someone should be able to read the outline and know exactlywhat your thesis is and how you are going to support it, point by point.Writing outlines helps you to think things through without the pain of makingsentences. With a good outline,writing is easy.
Microsoft Word has an Outline function in the “View”menu. It’s easy to use and veryhelpful
1. You have a thesis or two by now and a reasonably goodgrasp of your question and topic though they probably need some refining andclarification
2. Try writing a paragraph that explains your thesis. After several drafts this may wind upas the first paragraph of your paper. You are trying to explain it to yourself.
3. Now layeverything out in front of you and try to put it in a logical sequence as ifyou were explaining the ideas to someone else. Where to begin is tricky.
4. Identify themain ideas and the evidence that supports them
5. Identify your thesis.
Organizing your Paper
1. The firstsection should introduce the Big Question, the Topic, the small question andyour thesis. This will become thefirst page of your paper. Keep theintroductions short. If it’s a person you should say when and where they wereactive (not when they were born) and what was their major contribution to thefield. If it’s a building: When,where, what, why, by whom and for whom.
For Example: First Section of Outline:
I. How does “Organic” Architecture relate to the site? (Big Question)
1. Frank Lloyd Wright’s theory of Organic Arch inre: climate (Introduce Topic)
2. Do Wright’s buildings relate well totheir climate? (Small Question)
3. I will look at the Robie House and one example of a typical19th century house in Chicago to see which relates better to theclimate (focused topic and question)
4. I will analyze both for energy use and living spaces thatrelate to the outside (Analysis Method)
5. I will show that the Robie House does not conserve energynor does it provide living spaces that relate to the climate such as sunnywindows in winter (thesis)
II. Explanations and supportingdetails, etc.
2. The “meat” of the paper is your analysis laid out indetail. This is your originalcontribution to the field. Takeyour reader through it carefully so they understand what you have done and whyit is important. This analysisshould support your thesis, point by point.
3. Theconclusion relates the thesis back to the Big Question and explains itsimplications:
For Example: Theend of the paper above on the Robie House might be outlined as follows:
IV. This paper shows that RobieHouse does not conserve energy nor provide living spaces related to the climateany better than other typical houses in Chicago in the 19th centuryand is worse than some.
1.Wright’s defined his architecture as “Organic”
2. Our current definitionof ‘organic’ is a description of how a building works in its climate
3.Wright’s building does not work well in its climate therefore his definition of‘organic’ must be different than ours.
His criteria for “organic”do not address how the building works so must address only how it looks.
4. Even though he calls it ‘organic’,Wright’s architecture may not be an appropriate model for contemporary sitesensitive design.
V “Organic” Architecture may not be appropriate to its site inall aspects of its design.
7. WritingTips and Pet Peeves
Writing requires concentration so plan ahead. No one can write effectively for morethan 4 hours per day. Afterthat you become very inefficient. Do something else. Writingis a craft. The more you do it,the better you become. It’s nevereasy, but it can be very satisfying. There’s nothing like the thrill of a well –wrought essay.
Your goal is clarity. You want someone else to be able to understand your ideas.
Be brief. Avoidunnecessary words.
1. Follow your Outline. Just do it.
2. Your goal atthis stage is simply to get your ideas on paper. Don’t stress out too much over grammar and sentencestructure, you can fix it later.
You should focus on clarity, organization and sequence soone idea follows another in a logical flow.
3. Sometimes you wind up writing one idea several times,each time thinking to yourself..”What I really mean is…” Good. Pick the best; delete the rest.
1. Now pay attention to language. Read what you havewritten. Ask “Is this what I really mean to say” Tryagain to say it better. Often yourideas change from the beginning of a draft to the end. Perhaps you need to rewrite the beginningto agree with the conclusions you have reached in the end.
2. Fix thegrammar.
3. The firstparagraph is the most important. You will probably rewrite it several times before you are satisfied thatit really states the premises of the essay:
Some Language Tips
1. Avoid value-laden generalizations: Do not tell me abuilding is “important, marvelous, beautiful, remarkable.” Show me why. Use specific examples; demonstrate yourideas with descriptive detail rather than hyperbole. When you resort to effusive praise it usually means that youhave not understood why it is so.
2. Write in theactive voice. It makes yoursentences more forceful and keeps the energy moving forward. Use passive voice only when you trulyneed it.
4. Writepositive statements rather than negative one such as: “Do not write negativestatements” Positive statements are stronger and less confusing. In general, use negative statementsonly for emphasis.
5. Say thingsin the most direct way you can. You sound more intelligent that way.
6. We live inthe 21st century, we do not call it the 2000s. Likewise in formal writing, the 19thcentury should not be called the 1800s.
7. In generaluse “to use” rather than “to utilize.” Avoid other complexifications of simple words
8. To native Spanishspeakers: Be careful not to confuse singulars and plurals. Be consistent with present and pasttenses. It’s “where” not“were”
9. Computerspelling checks are often wrong. They do not check context and meaning so often confuse words.
9. Compute orspell in cheeks ore oven rung. Daydonut cheek contacts ant mining so
oven conduce wards.
Polishing your Prose
1. Have afriend read it and comment. Youread their work too. You can helpeach other. Your goal is clarity.
2. The bestbook I’ve found to help you polish a draft is:
Joseph Wiliams, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace Addison, Wesley Longman Co., 2000