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Why the AJ is publishing more practice-based research

Christine Murray
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In the new AJ we have returned to publishing examples of research as it gives practices a competitive edge, says Christine Murray

You most likely take for granted the research that occurs in even the most commercially-minded practice. This usually begins in the early stages of a project, when architects stray into scholarship in their attempt to understand a site, its context and people, alongside studies into the type. But it often happens in the absence of any commission at all, in the form of sabbaticals, white papers and study trips. Bartlett director Bob Sheil commented in his opening address to the school’s recent successful conference on the importance of research-based education and its connection to practice – held as part of the Bartlett’s 175th anniversary celebrations, that research-based practice is so commonplace nowadays that architects do not even realise how unique it is. Little of this work is published, but it is a great way to attract and retain clever graduates who might otherwise be stuck on toilet packages – and this gives practices an edge.

In the new AJ, we have returned to publishing select examples of practice-based research, from studies into the performance of Passivhaus schools by Architype to the housing estate open space studies by Dinah Bornat of ZCD Architects exploring the correlation between active use of space and its location in a masterplan.

Sinan by Ben Blossom 06

Accompanying this week’s magazine is another example of research and the broadening of practice: Mimar Sinan: The First Starchitect is a 112-page book focusing on the work of Sinan (1489-1588), the great Ottoman architect. Sinan built 146 mosques, 35 palaces, eight bridges, six aqueducts and three hospitals in his lifetime. Having strengthened and made additions to Hagia Sophia, he is also considered one of the first earthquake engineers.

Produced in association with Turkishceramics, the book is the product of an 18-month mission by former AJ editor Rory Olcayto to raise awareness of Sinan. At its launch event at the Royal Academy last week, Olcayto – who edited the book – posited that it is perhaps the artificial divide between East and West that has led to Sinan being less well-known in the UK than he should be, despite his historical significance as an influence on structures such as St Paul’s Cathedral and even on the work of modern masters, including Le Corbusier.

Featuring commissioned scholarship and research by several leading critics, the book also brings Sinan’s work to contemporary relevance through contributions from architects DSDHA, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Sam Jacob Studio, Ian Ritchie, Reiach and Hall, and Bureau de Change, which were invited as part of the project to travel to Istanbul to explore Sinan’s astounding array of work.

This research will be further explored in an exhibition at the Building Centre from 18 May until 10 June, where study models and more arising from the project will be displayed. Our special thanks go to these architects for participating in this research project and I hope you enjoy the book.

To read Mimar Sinan: The First Starchitect, click here.

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