Amhoff, Tilo: “The architect as travelling researcher”, in: Kuroishi, Izumi (ed.): Sensing Cities, (Tokyo: Aoyama Gakuin University, 2009), pp. 84-85. ISBN 978-4-9904773
The text derives from a long interest in travelling architects, the architectural fieldtrip and discussions on fieldwork, the writing of culture, and questions of representation in architecture, anthropology and ethnography.
After my first ever publication ‘Travelling in The Generic City’ in 2003, lectures, and my seminar of many years ‘The architect as travelling researcher’ this was the chance to propose something methodological.
When I was invited to take students from Aoyama Gakuin University Tokyo on a series of walks through London on which they wanted to conduct ‘fieldwork’, I realized the importance of the guide, insider, informant, native, and local.
The text lays out a methodological structure for the critique of the architect as a travelling researcher. The two notions of the field trip and fieldwork, most widely established in anthropology and ethnography, are suggested as conceptual tools in this endeavour. I furthermore draw the attention to the way architects have conducted fieldwork before and how this has informed their other practices.
The reason for the field trip, as James Clifford has pointed out, involves a gain, and is about obtaining knowledge and having an experience. The practice of travelling to another place establishes a first set of dialectic pairs for the analysis and understanding of fieldwork in architecture. These pairs are home and away, travelling and living, the self and the other.
Fieldwork is shortly described as participant observation. One of its main requirements is the time the researcher spends in the field. I argue that the difference between the architectural fieldtrip and fieldwork forms the basis for a second set of dialectic pairs that are the length of they stay versus passing through and the depth and interactivity on the ground versus the gaze from the top.
In architecture the spatial practice of fieldwork promises to capture the real existing conditions on the ground. It claims to produce knowledge of the site, the city, its architecture and occupation that goes beyond traditional methods of analysis. In a critique of that particular ideology the architect’s products of fieldwork - the map, the photographs, and the text – are reinvestigated.