Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Field/work - AHRA Conference

I recently joined the Architectural Humanities Research Association - a not for profit and interdisciplinary academic organization for humanities research in architecture.

Their next conference, to be held in November at Edinburgh College of Art, is on a topic very relevant for archaeological and anthropological engagements with architectural history (and one I've been thinking and writing about a lot recently) -- fieldwork.

The details are below - more at http://www.ahra-architecture.org/events_2009.php


6th AHRA International Conference

University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh College of Art
20-21 November 2009

Fieldwork has always been integral to the work of architects and landscape architects and the many forms of associated scholarship, from the site visit to the grand tour to the social survey. We visit sites – real and imagined – to collect, order, and interpret data, to establish parameters, frameworks, contexts, and outlines for design work. As the sites of design work and scholarship have become increasingly complex and mediated, the questions as to what and where the field is, how we collect data, how we ensure its reliability, and how it informs design work have renewed practical and theoretical significance. New configurations of fieldwork have blurred traditional distinctions between subject and object, observer and observed, audience and performer, material and immaterial, and even fact and fiction. Relationships between the field, data and creative work have, as a consequence, become integral to many contemporary forms of design practice and research.

In this respect, design based disciplines such as architecture and landscape architecture share a wider heritage with empirically-oriented disciplines such as anthropology, ethnography, archaeology, material culture and geography amongst others. This conference seeks to examine the question of fieldwork in its historical, contemporary, disciplinary and inter-disciplinary terms. The conference aims to explore the meaning, relevance and specificity of the term to architecture and landscape architecture by consciously stretching normative inherited conceptions of site visit to include notions of crime scene, reconnaissance, pilgrimage and beyond into corelate practices. The conference also seeks to draw attention to and consider the often ignored routines of design work, the habitual or casual handling of ‘data’, ‘evidence’, ‘facts’, ‘parameters’ or ‘contexts’. Included in this is the wider issue of what it is to work in the field, the trip to the field, tramissions from the field, the translations between field and studio, and the processing of data after the field. With an emphasis on the interplay between theory and practice, and a focused commitment to exploring the particularities of design work, we invite critical, historical and creative approaches to the legacy, currency and potentiality of Field/work, that seek to complicate, extend, contest and subvert the normative sites, practices and itineraries of field/work:

to the field
Often regarded as a less than formal registration of place, how do we update our understanding of site visit, field trip, study tour as a potentially critical device in globalised architectural design and research practice? Implicit conceptions of distance and proximity are complicated by emerging global networks of personal and institutional mobility. How do we think of multiplicities of fields and they way they interact? The three (or multiple) dimensionality of fields? Are imagined sites still valid as destinations? How can critical distance be activated locally?

in the field
What is it to look and see? What, who and where is: the point of view, the scale, the witness and the gaze, focus and distortion? How has time and history impacted on the value of embodied visual experience? What artefacts, networks, narratives are worth looking ‘at’ or ‘for’? How has the necessary, useful, obsolete of a field or site been conceived or articulated in the history of architectural practice and spatial production? What are the inflections and implications of individual and collective looking? How do disciplines of observation (mapping, surveying, tagging, tracking) operate and how do they relate to disciplines of design? Has architecture's interest in / study of / contact with ‘other' been assisted / mediated / filtered by the work of anthropologists? In what ways might recent developments in 'revisionist anthropology' suggest critical (re)-readings of (canonical) 'field work' and site-specific research in architecture?

from the field
Architects, landscape architects and urbanists employ a range of graphic, textual, spatial techniques/practices in relation to field and site. How are hybrid, experimental or contingent methodologies or processes a practice of design? How is or has fieldwork been 'taught' in architecture and related disciplines? How do anthropological debates on power-knowledge, ethnomethodology, sociology impact on architectural fieldwork? Cyberspace has re-defined notions of space and field, what are the consequences or opportunities for design praxis? What techniques and processes are privileged and why? What is edited in or out?

between field and studio
If field-work always implies a transmission of material back 'home' from the field, what media, tools and mechanisms are used and what are the consequences (ideological, productive, persuasive, etc.) of specific choices made? How does contact with the field act upon or transform mediation practices? What is lost in translation? What ways of making ‘field’ and ‘site’ (indexical, critical, historical, diagrammatic) are evident and particular to spatial production, rather than other materially sited production (film, sculpture, installation art, music etc)?

after the field
The field as a saturated condition that extends conventional concepts of 'site' or 'context' in architecture has opened performance- and process-based conceptions of design. What are relevant re-scriptings of ‘genius loci’, ‘site-specific’, ‘contextual’ and related architectural field terms? If empiricism tends to value a contemporary reading of landscapes, foregrounding subjectivity and subsuming historical takes from other eras, what are the ramifications for an architectural practice rooted in the contemporary and the at-hand? How does finding the limit, tolerance, saturation of a field influence design action? How do transformations of the term ‘field’ for instance as a boundary concept versus a concept to do with intensities and patternings transform knowledge in architecture and landscape architecture?

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