“Practice without theory is blind, and theory without practice is empty,” is an expression I have heard several times this semester in an architecture and urban design theory class. The expression itself relates to the cyclical feedback between these ‘two entities’ – practice informs the direction and development of theory, and theory guides the design of practice.
Theory is what pulled me into architecture in the first place during a time of confusion, and it helped keep me going for the last two years in grad school. I’ve struggled with a lot of that design theory that I’ve encountered, however; so much of it – including a lot of the most influential theorists – seems completely abstract, without any base in reality, research, or practice. Conversely, there seems to be a vibe from visiting jurors that many of them volunteer only so they can have the discussions they once had in school.
Although I see the value of both and want to participate in both, my interests align more with thought than practice. And in an age where our patterns of settlement and inhabitation need to be rethought and reshaped, theory – high-level thought about the very nature of what we’re doing – seems as valid a tool as its counterpart. But I’m not getting the impression that it’s as valued.
I wanted to take a different approach for this post: to ask questions, solicit answers from anyone who has experience in practice and has opinions to offer, and start a discussion on the subject if I can, because the student sector of ’emerging professionals’ might be interested in the answers to these questions.
First off, perhaps the most obvious:
“Does theory have a place in conventional practice, or do architects only have those conversations in schools and juries?”
I have my own suspicions about this answer, but I prefer to hear someone else’s informed opinion rather than offer my ignorant thoughts. If theory does, indeed, have a place in practice, I am curious about the manner in which it does. What discussions are had and between whom? In what part of the design process do they take place? In what ways do they inform the practice? And in what ways does the practice return and inform the theory that had been used?
If theory doesn’t seem to have a place, why is that? Is that high-level thought and theory so ingrained in architects that discussions are unnecessary? Or is there some other force at work?
As a second major question:
“How have architects handled the transition between the discussions of grad school and those of practice?”
My post and my questions might sound ignorant and unenlightened, and that’s because they are. I appreciate any and all answers and discussions anyone is willing to give.