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How to Practice a PhD?

This information has been uploaded in connection with a Lines of Flight seminar that took place on the 6th April, 2016.


Difference and sustainability within and between practice-led PhDs
and PhDs by design

At the moment in the School and in discussion with the PhD by
Design conferences, that some of us have been involved in, there
have been many recurring questions about the difference between a
practice-led PhD and PhD by Design and what forms they take in
Architecture – so we would like to bring this to the table. If you have
examples of PhDs or ways of working within your own research bring
them. It would be good to start to build up a resource between us of
our collective knowledge in this area.

When analysing examples of both practice-led PhDs and PhDs by
Design, we would also like to frame the discussion through
sustainability. When and how a PhD is sustainable? Are some PhDs
more sustainable then others? Can we extrapolate tips and strategies
from these examples for our own project/research?

C – Carolyn Butterworth, Ca – Caterina Giuliani, T – Teresa Hoskyns,
A – Andreas Lang, D – Doina Petrescu, H – Helen Stratford, J – Julia Udall


H – Organised the seminar as a way to discuss research into different types of
Practice-led PhDs and PhDs by design. I’ve looked at 3 types – All different. Made
diagrams to see how I can organise my PhD related to these different types that
were useful for thinking through the format of my PhD and how practice can be
embedded within the structure. Black indicates theory and red practice.
Diagram type 3 – related to Apolonija Šušteršič’s PhD where conversations were
used as a structure – one large project and then conversations were in dialogue
with it – through art practice – Dan Graham, Architectural social practice – Meike
Schalk and art/architecture historic context Mariska van den Berg

D – Question of the use of conversations within Architectural PhD – maybe less
rigid research requirements in Art Practice – see example by Irena Bauman which
was theoretically framed with a specific REF output – so conversation is possible
but it needs to be framed academically.

H – Presentation of other PhDs – Diagram 2 relates to Sophie Handler’s PhD
Exemplary in that her PhD sits comfortably within an academic framework yet the
performative methodology is completely aligned with the practice / gap the PhD is

C – Question of practice-based or practice-led – RMIT for example is based on a
portfolio of projects to which the PhD is applied.

H – Diagram 1 is based on Tom Holbrook’s PhD– where the practice becomes a
reference point keyed into the arguments.

D – Helen’s practice (Diagram 4) – is an example of action research – questioning
/ blurring boundaries between practice and theory – new piece of work is
developed through the PhD. Ways of constructing the PhD so it is a constantly
shifting position
1. reflection on theory through theory
2. reflection on practice through theory
3. reflection on practice through practice
4. reflection on theory through practice

C – Maybe this follows the PhD by design model – new piece of work tests out
theories. Similarity to musical PhDs where the outcome is a new composition.

T – At the PhD by design conference at Goldsmiths (Nov 2015) there seemed to
be a split between more Practice-led research focused and PhDs by design, which
didn’t involve the outside – not real projects – rather a hypothesis or innovation for
industry funded partner.

C – Sounds like Helen’s PhD is very similar to the Research Circle.

A – My practice focuses on applied and situated research. Within this context the
academic framework can be seen as problematic – can see diagram 3 being the
most useful as a systematic way of looking at the work.
Thinking about the question of sustainability in relation to funding – the ability to
produce work and the framing this brings. Recently asked to make a handbook for
LADC on temporary use but recent research project was exactly critiquing that
Question about how decisions get made or shifts occur and that this is most
effective in practice. Based in theories around democracy as a practice, conflict as
a practice – based in acting it out, in the negotiation is the practice the critical point
– values need to be practiced.

D – But theoretical values give actions a use value – the theory you are making
through practice. Marxist viewpoint bring to life ideas and concepts in different

H – Make them visible

C – I’m working with uncertainty with teaching as the area of research within the
PhD, within the context of the privatisation of education. Questioning the desire to
innovate. Bringing in the new vs staying in the same place over time – being far
away vs. being here. Questioning viewpoint that being in the same place limits the
capacity to innovate.

D – PhD then is tactically questioning use-value as a grey area. Notion that
working over time has a different impact on the researcher and the researched.
Community as a process that you can influence and time as a research element.

J – My PhD was about defining tools that reflect on what and how, some pushing
theory, some bringing theory and practice closer together – looking at different
roles within those tools.
‘Design As Distributed Agency,’ Tom Holert
Design also related to how you design a meeting. Difference between each set of
Ethics – need to find a creative way of addressing within the context of the practice

Ca – PhD focusing on social design within a precise context – alternative
education models. PhD will inform a new form and new strands within my own
practice, new way of thinking/working. I wanted to bring in the question of
sustainability, in term of where will the PhD take you? Does it provide time and
space for own research. How to retain criticality – one leg in community research
and one leg in academia?

A – For me its about opening up other spheres – taking another form of influence –
providing an acknowledgement of practice within an academic framework.

D – Moving between worlds – it’s important to maintain practice based within the
community as it provides a different understanding than occasional immersions. It
provides a sustained contribution to knowledge. Loyalty to a community and to a
project is sustainable. Important to be strategic in research – rethink continuously
– what is needed where are the gaps.

T – PhD is a space to be honest and to be critical

D – How will a PhD help your practice?

A – It will provide a research role – academic value. Take away from the day to
day – strategic role where research is related to practice – enable funding from
other sources.

D – It can also lead to institutional role – development agency – policy making – as
leverage to influence and to change. Example is Sophie Handler in Manchester
University and Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing.

T – In an Academic context the PhD provides a means to be reflective to theorise
practice and to justify it within an academic context – making the practice
architecture. Ecobox introducing a sophisticated discourse into ‘local squatting’ –
raises the level and puts it out there.

A – I see using the PhD to take influence through and contribute to practice
usefully – focus on what best at and what would like to do best. Moreover in terms
of sustainability – is it possible to live out of that? Working with Queen Mary was
good as used tactically as a source / resource.

D – It’s important to be aware of the recognition framework / impact– in academic
context the key thing is REF output. Research-based practice should focus on how
it can instrumentalise practice- become research grant holder. Demystifying
Architectural Research – useful reference sourcebook.


Diagram 1:

PhD structure 1 diagram

Diagram 2:

phd structure 2 diagram

Diagram 3:

PhD structure 3 diagram

Diagram 4:

phd structure_Jan 2017 diagram


Practice-led PhDs and PhDs by Design

PhD by Design theses

School of Arts and Communication (K3) at Malmö Unviersity. Online resource
Mads Hobye
Designing For Homo Explorens: Open Social Play in Performative Frames
2014 – School of Arts and Communication – K3, Malmö University.

Practice-led PhDs in Architecture

Apolonija Sustersic
Hustadt, Inshallah
Learning from a participatory art project in a trans-local neighbourhood – 2013
Malmo Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts, Lund University
The Bartlett UCL
Some available online
or available for request from UCL Library Store
Sophie Handler
A little bit of TLC – or, the Ludological Curatrix : developing an alternative urban practice of
elderly care – 2011
Ana Paola Oliveira Araujo
Patterning : envisioning strategies for thinking and fabricating architecture through the
textile-inspired procedures of repeating, masking and scaling – 2009
Sprake, J.A
Learning-through- Touring: a new design methodology for situated learning derived through
touring the built environment – 2010 (reflective analysis)
School of Architecture & Design
Mel Dodd
Between the Lived and the Built:
Foregrounding the User in Design for the Public Realm – 2011
Tom Holbrook
Between Furniture & Infrastructure: Expanding Disciplinarity – 2014
Practice-led but more about the writing practice within the PhD

The Bartlett UCL
Emma Jane Cheatle Part-architecture : the Maison de Verre through the Large Glass –
Kristen Kreider
Poetics and Place – The Architecture of Sign, Subjects and Site (published) 2014
PhDs by Design in Architecture (published)
The Bartlett UCL
Jan Kattein
The Architecture Chronicle – Diary of an Architectural Practice – 2009
Published 2014
Marco Cruz
The Inhabitable Flesh of Architecture – 2014
Practice-led PhDs in Visual Art Practice
Patrizia Naldi
The view: a historicized and contemporary socio-political mediation – 2015
Central St Martins
A space to house nothing : examining the spatial complexities of nothingness, emptiness,
zero and void to define the space of nothing, through the adoption of architectural themes
and forms of representation in selected conceptual art projects since 1958
Neil Robert Wenman – 2009 (annotated portfolio) UCL




Mapping workshop afterthoughts

The mapping workshop that took place on May 24th 2017 was a nice gathering of PhD architecture researchers from different stages in their research. We first started with an introduction of the workshop structure, which looked as such:

  1. Introduction
  2. Presentations by Nishat & Doina, followed by questions
  3. Group discussion semi-guided by the following questions:
    – How can maps and the activity of mapping be useful in research?
    – What are the potentials and pitfalls?
    – How do you use maps in everyday life today?
  4. Group activity: sharing of an existing map.

The goal of the workshop was to collect common and unusual questions, doubts, perspectives, answers, experiences, techniques, methods, and approaches on mapping in open and discursive ways.

Nishat Awan started off with a presentation of her work, mainly on her PhD project on ‘diasporic territories’ where she interviewed migrants in clubs to find out what they were doing there. Through these conversations, she started to map the interactions taking place in these spaces, following Bruno Latour’s ANT (Actor-Network)-theory. The diverse relations between the different actors were actually the ones making up the spaces. What was really impressive was this typological overview of what maps can be, do, and effectuate:

mapping diagram3-01

Nishat’s presentation was followed by Doina, who was talking about the designing of social agencies in her work with aaa. Through mapping, they were analysing social and ecological potentialities of wastelands and interstices to see what kind of user groups there could be. The activities were documented as an image log, mapping the different actors and relations locally and beyond – a network of relations and the evolution of it through an ANT-analysis. Maps were used as a documentation of its emergence and its complexification. In other projects, such as R-URBAN in Colombes, color-coded diagrams were used to visualise the different interests and gender of participants to make their composition and distribution visible. Here, for example, it was clearly more women who were involved in the project. The boundary between mapping and infographics feels thin here, which links up nicely to Nishat’s diagram shown above. In the end, mapping is a research method, so a research question and categories of what is supposed to be visualised is always needed.

A nice discussion followed afterwards, with many open questions on how to use mapping in our different research projects. The previous inputs were really helpful to get a broader understanding of what mapping can be. We finished off by sharing a mapping example with each other – only one was brought along, Judith Schalansky’s ‘Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands – Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will’. In this book, Schalansky brings together imagination, story-telling and mapping. She researched the history of fifty different remote islands where she had never been and added her own stories to them, to enable readers and herself to travel to these places in our own imagination. Combining maps with a narrative element is a nice method to give them more depth and felt proximity.

Atlas of Remote Islands

With this, we wrapped up the workshop and hope to meet soon again for some other workshops on other research methods. Thanks to both Doina and Nishat for their time and inspiring presentations and to all participants for taking part in the workshop!

Here, you can download Nishat’s whole presentation, Doina’s is to follow soon.

Further references:
_Mogel, L., & A. Bhagat, (Eds.). (2007). An Atlas of Radical Cartography. LA: The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press.
_Pickles, J. (2006). On the Social Lives of Maps and the Politics of Diagrams: A Story of Power, Seduction and Disappearance. Area, 38(3), 347-350.
_Tufte, E. (2006). Beautiful Evidence.  Cheshire CT: Graphics Press.
_Turnbull, D. (1989). Maps are Territories: Science is an Atlas. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
_Schalansky, J. (2009). Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands. Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will. London: Penguin Books.
_Antoniou, A. & Gestalten eds. (2013). A Map of the World. The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers. Berlin: Gestalten Verlag.
_Latour, B. (2005). Re-assembling the Social. An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Storytelling Workshop (27.04.17)

The storytelling workshop that took place this week was a big success. While we didn’t generate a lot of people, those who came really took on the challenge and everyone noted that they came away with a lot of ideas and inspiration for their work going forward. It was the general consensus that we should schedule a another session, perhaps at the start of the new academic year. We will also likely set up an online discussion space for storyteller researchers to throw ideas around.

Please see attached the slide show from the afternoon. We are aiming to add to the video and referencing section as a lot of good material came out of the discussion. I will post an updated version once that has been completed. If anyone would like a pdf copy of the full slide show or if you would like a copy of the audio visual files that we recorded from the session, please do email me at

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Story-telling Methodology

A new lines of flight session will be held on the 26th April 2017. It will take place in the Arts Tower, University of Sheffield from 2-4pm.

We will discuss story-telling methodology – in particular, the different ways narratives can be constructed as a framework for understanding subjects/objects and interview data within qualitative research.


Jenny Pickerill — LoF session on scholar activism


Next Wednesday, from 12 noon to 1pm we will host a session with Jenny Pickerill, in which we will collectively explore the possibilities of scholar-activism.

The session will be built up as follows: a brief history of why scholar-activism is necessary, important and some of its roots; then a discussion around a typology of different ways to be a scholar-activist. This includes shaping policy debates, long term community work, situated solidarities and direct action. Each will be discussed with examples, discussion of their impacts and reflections on some of their limitations.

6 May, 12.00 – 13.00
Sheffield School of Architecture
Arts Tower, floor 13
The seminar room next to the administrative office

Some reading:

The Autonomous Geographies Collective. (2010) Beyond Scholar activism: Making Strategic Interventions Inside and Outside the Neoliberal University. ACME, 9, 2,

Derickson KD and Routledge P (2015) Resourcing Scholar-Activism: Collaboration, Transformation, and the Production of Knowledge, Professional Geographer, 67.

Scholar activism table


Lines of Flight in Hackeny Wick


Today, Lines of Flight will move to London, where, from 2pm onwards, we will discuss around mapping with Andreas Lang and Mara Ferreri. We will meet at public work’s studio in Hackney Wick at 2 and then walk over to the Wick Common Shop, a temporary space in residence until July in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. As part of R-Urban Wick, it “hosts events, workshops and exhibitions around the idea of the ‘Common Object’, artefacts which are not conceived for individual gain but which express ideas of a common good while at the same time unearthing and revealing hidden relationships or narratives about the locality.”

Heidi Svenningsen Kajita – Fragile Possibilities in the Big Plans

Wednesday 28 June 2014 – 18h00 – room 16.03
Fragile Possibilities in the Big Plans
Balconies, extensive and robust asphalt surfaces,  ground floor flat windows and toilets,  sand,  back- and front gardens,  occupied basement air-raid shelters,  doors …
These are some of the material and spatial dimensions that residents’ appreciate and care for in three Scandinavian post-war modernist housing estates. 
Revolving around such details this lecture explores fragile architectural strategies and theories that may contribute to the redevelopment of the Big Plans by motivating engagement with place and change over time. 
Heidi Svenningsen Kajita is a Danish architect and currently PhD student at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
She was a senior lecturer at University of East London 2003-10,  and has practiced in London with muf architecture/ art amongst others.

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