This week, the RIBA launched the President's Awards for Research, aimed at practitioners and academics. The winners of this year's President's Medals (pages 25-40) suggest that students, too, are able to make intelligent use of research, and produce research which can be of real use.
This year's Silver Medallist, Yew Choong Chan, of the University of Westminster, has designed a power station which draws on (very real) research by Professor Marc Baldo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who is pioneering the use of spinach to generate electricity. The winner of the Dissertation Medal, Jessica Hrivnak, of the University of Cambridge, has used Inn the Park, the Hopkins and Partners-designed restaurant in St James' Park, as a starting point for an investigation into meaningful criteria by which to evaluate environmental performance.
Chan's entry is interesting in that it plunders research which has been developed outside the world of architecture. Baldo, who specialises in electronic engineering and computer science, developed his 'spinach sandwich' in collaboration with electrical and biomedical engineers, nanotechnology experts and biologists. Hrivnak's is interesting in that it subverts the conventional relationship between research and design.
Students habitually cite some spurious 'research' process as the key generator of form. But this project takes the building as a given, using it to generate and inform an entirely new body of research.
Perceived wisdom suggests that the measure of the success of our education system is the extent to which its graduates are prepared for life in practice. But it is just as important to encourage students to question the way architectural practice is defined. We'll know we're making progress if Yew Choong Chan gets invited to join Baldo's team at MIT and Hopkins offers Jessica Hrivnak a job.