On The Architectural Laboratory as a Hybrid Interface Between Theory and Practice
Architecture as a discipline is focused on the architectural project. But whereas professional designers produce architectural projects, academic researchers use the architectural project as an object of study in order to produce new theoretical knowledge. This clear distinction between the goals of professionals and academics has divided the field into two groups, a polarization that mirrors the often-mentioned opposition between design and practice on one side and research and theory on the other. However, in recent years, what appears to be a hybrid model incorporating both these approaches has been emerging: the architectural laboratory. The scientific laboratory is a space where new knowledge is produced and is therefore naturally linked to academic institutions and to research. However, since their emergence at the end of the 19th Century, architectural laboratories have been appearing as much in the academic field as in the field of professional practice. If all the activities at the heart of the scientific laboratory are related to research and to the production of theoretical knowledge, one can wonder why architectural firms would choose to refer to this model to describe their design practices. Are these references to the laboratory model in the naming of professional architectural firms a sign of practices that go beyond “traditional” design? Do these professional “architectural laboratories” incorporate a research approach that was once only found in academic environments? What exactly is an “architectural laboratory”? This presentation will discuss the hybrid nature of the practices at the heart of the architectural laboratories by considering and comparing two remarkable cases. The first, the Laboratory for Visionary Architecture is a contemporary professional practice set up in 2007. The second is a series of interrelated academic laboratories that have been set up since 2002 within the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (Columbia University). Through a description and comparison of the productions of these cases, we will offer a clarification of the figure of the architectural laboratory and show how this emerging model is an indicator of a tightening hybridization of the once distinct activities that are theoretical research and design practice.