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This is re-written from “Architectural Research for Survival with Dignity”
Strategic research improves the tools and knowledge available to a profession. Tactical research identifies the characteristics of a unique project and applies the strategic tools and knowledge accumulated. Improving our ability to forecast and evaluate architectural options is a strategic professional objective. Applying that knowledge to a specific architectural commission is a tactical effort. Distinguishing the difference is a milestone for any profession, since it removes the leadership burden from practitioners who cannot carry the load.
Product research confuses the term “research” in architecture. Strategic research in this context is conducted by others to improve the product offered for sale. Architectural research is a tactical effort to select from the products available for incorporation in a building.
Historic architectural research further complicates the term. History offers both strategic and tactical knowledge, but repeating the past responds to the future with ancient practice. Unfortunately, the Modern Period felt that a new response simply required a change in appearance and the adoption of science from others.
Programming research adds another element of confusion. It is focused on the client and his / her building objectives. (For non-architects, programming is a unique term that means a list of building rooms, spaces, relationships and services needed to serve owner activities.) The program was a given when I was a student. Client opinion was removed from the creative process and replaced with academic criticism of our opinion. We became the client and may have assumed that one day we would inherit the dictatorial power of our professors. This may sound familiar and implies potential educational improvement, but I’m getting off the point. Programming is a project-oriented research effort similar to a medical diagnosis. Evaluation only improves with expanded knowledge regarding options, implications and recommendations.
I won’t go on since I think I’ve made my point. Tactical architectural research is project-oriented. Strategic architectural research is profession-oriented. It is dedicated to the improvement of architectural evaluation, recommendation and decision. The distinction is needed to identify the strategic organizational knowledge required to improve the tactical value of architecture.
In closing, I have never believed that the client is always right when his tactical interests conflict with public policy. This policy has determined that land use and building construction must be regulated to protect the public interest in health, safety and welfare. The rule of law has been a burden to private interests and their architectural representatives; but it actually represents a great architectural opportunity, since it is the only way an architect can successfully oppose owner demands when persuasion fails.
The problem is not public policy; it is with the regulations adopted to implement policy. They need leadership improvement. This will only happen when architecture can offer convincing alternatives from its strategic research efforts.
Research regarding intensity will produce strategic knowledge and improved regulation in the public interest. Intensity is simply the gross building area (GBA) that can be introduced when parking, building height and project open space are stipulated. It can be measured, forecast and evaluated from many points of view. This is relevant because GBA capacity defines our ability to shelter human activity. The strategic importance of this potential can’t be overstated, because the options chosen will determine the scope of shelter available to growing populations within symbiotic limits. The solutions chosen will affect an entire population’s health and safety, not to mention its physical, social, psychological and economic welfare -- and its sustainable future.
AUTHOR NOTE if you wish to read more: This essay concept was taken from Land Development Calculations, second edition, and its attached software entitled, “Development Capacity Evaluation”, by Walter M. Hosack and published by McGraw-Hill in 2010. The book explains a software collection of forecast models, which predict intensity based on the design specification values entered and a vocabulary written to support the city design of sustainable, symbiotic cities.