The decline of the welfare state is often connected with a change in attitudes towards politics, technology and environmental consciousness. However, this change may also be connected with new attitudes towards science. As science philosophers like Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn questioned the accumulation of research through positivism and linear models, this critique undermined the epistemological foundations of social engineering and thus the legitimacy of the welfare state.
This paper will discuss the epistemological turn that took place in architecture during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, focusing on the relationship between architectural practice and education while analysing some of the texts that appeared during this period. The body of these texts are of American origin, but their impact goes far beyond the development in the United States. As an example, Sweden fits perfectly into the discourse introduced in American architecture.
A dominating feature of this discourse was the rise of professional practice in architecture. The introduction of a new epistemology is evident already in the early 1960s, when Stanford Anderson took Popper’s theory on conjecture and refutation as his departure. During the 1970s, modern science remained an inspiration for architectural scholars like Colin Rowe, who drew on Popper’s critique of utopia while criticising Kuhn’s paradigm theory on the structure of scientific revolutions.
By the late 1970s, the importance of investigating the social foundations of professional practice was confirmed by Spiro Kostof’s influential anthology on The Architect (1977). This book started a new research tradition, which reached its peak more than a decade later, when Dana Cuff published her important book Architecture: The Story of Practice (1991). Cuff also took the opportunity to criticise the profession, proposing possible areas for future change.
In the field of education, this rethinking of the social in architecture found its philosopher in Donald Schön, who devoted himself to an epistemology of practice. His starting point was the crisis of confidence experienced in many schools of architecture during the 1970s. In his seminal work, The Reflective Practitioner (1983), Schön observed how professionals act in social situations. Strengthening the legitimacy of his arguments with references to both Popper and Kuhn, he also secured a place for architectural practice in modern science.
However, Schön did not choose actual professional practices for his study but pedagogical situations in design studios at different American schools of architecture. Thus, the design studio became the norm not just for architectural education but for professional practice as well. Highly influential among educators, Schön’s contribution cannot be overestimated. Through the reflective practitioner, the sense of crisis of the 1970s could be replaced by a newly born professional pride.
Today, the rapid development of information technology calls for a new reform in architectural education. In Sweden, the balance between design studio and classroom pedagogy seems to be developing in favour of classroom courses. Thus, the recent heyday of the design studio seems to be over for now, but the question of architectural epistemology still remains to be answered.
Stockholm: Architecture in Effect: Rethinking the Social in Architecture, KTH School of Architecture , 2013. 15-17 p.
Architectural Epistemology, Architectural Education, Architectural Practice, Dana Cuff, Spiro Kostof, Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, Donald Schön
Rethinking the Social in Architecture, Umeå School of Architecture, February 6–8, 2013