Keith Diaz Moore, AIA, is the new dean of the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning and the current president of the Architectural Research Centers Consortium. “Architects have been engaged in research, even if we haven’t always called it that,” says Moore, who holds a doctorate in architecture from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture & Urban Planning. “Looking anew at the term, we can see a continuum of purpose that drives design innovation.”
For me, the value of architects and architecture is very personal. Research should matter to architects because what we do has such an impact on quality of life. So having the best understanding we can of building performance, for instance, improves the quality of our work. To me, research is about inspiring creativity. When you know more, you see things from different perspectives—it’s that simple. What we can then provide to our community is innovation. Certainly, we can start off in a participatory process with the community and our clients, but it’s the feedback after the fact that matters immensely. We need partnerships with our clients, in other words, to build a knowledge base for successive generations of buildings, whose architects are working smarter and better than ever before.
To me, data is an overlay for architectural education. Aggregating data, looking for themes and patterns, and designing accordingly is really an important component of architectural education, one that enriches the design fundamentals that students need to learn. We may respond to new technologies or new conditions pedagogically, but as educators we are still trying to train students to be creative about ensuring the health and well-being of our communities and environments.
One of the issues, in terms of research in architecture, has been cultural assumptions of what research means. When architects hear “research,” sometimes they confront a mental hurdle that has to do with onerous statistical calculations. But interviews, focus groups, surveys, observational data, mapping—the things architects have always done—are all legitimate qualitative spheres of research. In the last decade or so, and thanks in large part to sustainability as a unifying focus and cause, architects are learning to be both qualitative and quantitative—and increasingly rigorous with both.
Here in Utah, there’s a strong sense of community resilience at play—in terms of preservation, conservation, resource management, and infrastructure. Since we sit in a valley, there’s also an air-quality issue here, with all of the automobiles driving around the basin. This is exacerbated by the fact that we’re also experiencing one of the fastest urban growth rates in America. Utahans are very proud of the fact that they have five national parks in the state, so there’s a strong spirit of ecological awareness. If our students can harness that spirit, we can drive the conversation about resilience research in this arid mountainous setting and create more ecologically caring environments. —As told to William Richards