Reformulation in a Design-driven Approach

Authors: Ignacio Borrego, Ralf Pasel, Jürgen Weidinger

Category: Group position statement

Affiliation: TU Berlin

Reformulation is an productive action that questions the preliminary conclusions and enables, after an iterative process, to reach a higher and unexpected knowledge. To transit again along a known path with fresh eyes, with a reconstructive attitude, lets the uncertainty get inside the method, but at the same time makes it possible to proof the results and acces to new discoveries.

We understand the reformulation for design-drive research in CA2RE Ljubljana 2021 in two different levels: the first and more inherent to the design-driven research is the reformulation of the research itself, and the second level appears in the frame of the doctoral training itself, and it would refer to the necessary reconfiguration of the structure of the CA2RE event under the light of the experience and conclussions of the series of events in the last five years.

The methodology for design-driven research that is developed in the design-based doctorate program [PEP- Programm Entwurfsbasierte Promotion] at the Technical University of Berlin focuses on different phases which promote the reformulation of the research question.

The design-based doctorate program [PEP] is organized and executed by Prof. Dr. Ignacio Borrego, Prof. Ralf Pasel, Prof. Jürgen Weidinger (TU Berlin); Prof. Donatella Fioretti (Kunstakademie Düsseldorf) and Prof. Dr. Matthias Ballestrem (HCU Hamburg). It is dedicated to the design disciplines, in particular architecture and landscape architecture. The design-based doctorate creates a direct reference to architectural practice and other design practices, which drives the further development of research methods, especially through the interaction of theory and practice.

Design is a means of acquisition scientific knowledge especially specific to prospective disciplines such as architecture and landscape architecture. The goal is to use this capacity as a research tool. PEP pursues an integrative approach to design, education and research, in which the design process provides a new access to knowledge.

In design-based research, the implicit knowledge that is inherent in the creation process of design, which is mostly based on practice, is made explicit. Design-based research reflects on self-design practice as such and is reflected on the basis of one's own projects and design processes. Both design-based and the more specific practice-based approaches are suitable to produce knowledge. The materialization implied in a practice-based research introduces a deeper immersion in the design process, but the core of the knowledge production is situated at any design level.

This design-based doctorate is ultimately about iteratively encircling a topic area through continuous design and through the design process to such an extent that a concrete and well-founded discourse result becomes explicit. This iterative process, where the research question is analysed once and again is the core of the reformulation of the research till the final definition of the specific contribution. The action of designing is the tool, the design is the research object, and the scientific interpretation of both, design and result, is the outcome.

The action of design is intuitive and the project as a result is a complex substrate with endless interpretations. It os only when the designer analyzes and makes explicit the acquired knowledge, when this process becomes valuable from a scientific point of view. The knowledge must be univocally transferable. In order to bridge the gap between this intuitive process and scientific knowledge, the audience must be able to perceive and understand the same message that the author is producing. There should not be space for external interpretations.

The fundamental question of a research work, i.e., the actual doctoral topic, consequently results from precisely this compression process of creative work, which is carried out, tested, simulated and, if necessary, implemented based on the development of new and thematically relevant design projects. It is crucial that the design-based doctorate goes beyond the subjective approach to knowledge and makes a concrete contribution to the respective research field.

In our case of design-based research in PEP, Doctoral candidates must have already produced a body of work, i.e., a sufficient number of designs or realized projects, which allow the PhD candidate to start the process of extracting knowledge out of them. A design-based doctoral project within the framework of PEP consists of two intertwined and interdependent parts, i.e., a design part and a written part. The design components of the design part are not only illustrative, but represent independent research results.

Besides this iteration around self developed designs, PEP has formulated a procedure that structures the process of extraction of knowledge from design practice, and demands a reformulation on several phases:

To enter the PEP doctoral program at TU Berlin, applicants present the outline of their proposed doctoral studies, based on their own projects. The presentation of their portfolio is based on a reformulation on their practice oriented on a research question.

After that, new projects contribute to the clarification of the research question. Reflections on the new projects sharpen the argumentation and form the basis for those questions that will be investigated through the next projects. The addition of new designs forces the reformulation of the approach.

In the middle of the process, when the research question is outlined, they are required to analyze the state of the art. Search for architects and designers in general who are involved with a similar approach to design to learn from it and reformulate the relevancy of their design-driven research.

Close to the end of the doctoral research there is a milestone presentation that has the structure of approx. 75 % of the doctoral studies, including preliminary studies through the candidate’s own body of work, working out the topic of the doctorate (research question), examination of the doctoral topic by means of at least three projects developed in the process of the doctoral studies and reflection on the projects until the research question has been clarified and comparison of the results with related positions of the discourse in theory and practice. In this presentation a new reformulation of the research is expected before the final presentation.

With this research-by-design approach, the design projects serve as case studies and sources at the same time, with your own design work being constantly compared to existing references and practices and using methods that go beyond that that are suitable for locating the project thematically and in the context of the state of the question.

The other way round, the findings out of design-based research can have an impact on the design practice and, in turn, promote a reciprocal sharpening of architectural creativity.

It is particularly illuminating that this form of knowledge production through research-by-design complements established scientific practices and that expanded knowledge can be achieved through this form of knowledge. The potential of creative and design-based or practice-based research that emerges here impressively shows the extraordinary possibilities that can be combined with this young form of knowledge generation in the future.

Until this point we have expressed the reformulating properties of the design-driven process at our program in Berlin but there is another important level of reformulation in the frame of CA2RE to improve our understanding of the processes of ongoing design-driven research. This new reformulation could affect not just the diverse researches taking part in this events, but the focus and classification of them.

The CA2RE events are outstanding for their diversity. This richness spans different disciplines around art and architecture, and also differnts cultures around Europe. Besides this scope each researcher is focusing on a specific content. We are in a natural way tending to group presenters and peer reviewers according to content and it would be interesting to classify researches just from a methodological point of view without regard to the content. This multiplicity of topics demands a methodological management beyond the specific content, and a taxonomy of design-driven research methodology could be an interesting reformulation of our massive scientific interchange.

Berlin, 7.4.2021
Prof. Dr. Ignacio Borrego, Prof. Ralf Pasel, Prof. Jürgen Weidinger