Practice-based research in architecture at the University of the Free State

Original Research

Keywords: architectural research, creative research, design-based research, practice-based research, design exegesis, design PhD


The Department of Architecture at the University of the Free State (UFS) established a new practice-based research programme in 2018, facilitating creative research toward master’s and doctoral degrees. The programme is a first for South Africa, and possibly for Africa at large. In this paper, I consider research modalities that are proving to be pertinent to the programme, illustrated by examples of work currently underway at the university and which are new to South Africa. I seek to locate the specificity of creative research within the expanded nature and qualities of architecture conceived as a medium. This medium constitutes a vast nexus of relationships involving persons, environments, and things. I argue that creative research in architecture aims to harness and document the ingenuity of the designer’s medium toward a rejuvenation of design practice. I address three primary questions: What is the medium of architecture?; What is research in the medium of architecture?; and How might one go about designing a creative architectural thesis? I also consider operative concepts such as design as proto-research, the research gap, speculative hermeneutics, tacit knowledge, exegesis, and discovery that leads to the renewal of creativity.