Methods of knowing:

grounded theory in the study of future-use architecture


  • David Fannon
  • Michelle Laboy


Unlike disciplines defined by well-established methodologies, no single method characterizes architectural research. Instead, scholars and practitioners adapt approaches from across disciplines in the humanities, natural, and social sciences to answer the questions at hand. Questions in, of, and about contemporary practice demand the systematic creation of new knowledge; but design inquiry necessarily yields knowledge highly-situated in specific projects, and struggles to integrate qualitative and quantitative data, to address uncertainty, and to demonstrate validity. While the discipline produces and consumes research, the study and dissemination of research methods in education and practice remain rare, ad hoc, and anecdotal. This paper traces the methodology of a multi-year research project bridging research and practice conducted by a team of academics in response to a call from the profession for research advancing adaptive and regenerative buildings. The work builds on years of speculative design research and historical-theoretical scholarship in the context of the academy and was awarded a significant research prize to support a two-year program of research seeking significant advances in the profession. The resulting knowledge addresses both scholars and practitioners, supporting application in practice and scholarly discourse about the built environment. The team adopted a grounded theory approach: seeking not to test a specific hypothesis but to develop an organizing theory. Through a mix of methods, architectural practice and architectural products became both the subject and object of research. The team conducted dozens of structured interviews with selected designers, clients, and building occupants, which were recorded, transcribed, coded and synthesized. Nearly one-hundred building projects were identified as possibly valuable case studies, and documented through analytical design drawings, and compared using graphic matrices. This paper describes and evaluates the methodological choices and their implications for research in the built environment.




How to Cite

Fannon, D., & Laboy, M. (2019). Methods of knowing:: grounded theory in the study of future-use architecture. ARCC Conference Repository, 1(1). Retrieved from