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Sarah Wehmeyer


The Collage as practice of research design

The research perspective of the dissertation is to identify the practical skills and scientific capacities that collage generates as an architecture-specific design instrument and research tool. Different forms and series of collages will be explored as an impulse-giving relation of design and research processes, which opens up new perspectives for designing, researching and teaching with visual and artistically intended media, not only for architects. 

As a specific technique of superimposing and gluing real fragments of paper and material borrowed from the visual arts, collages in the current architectural discipline are experiencing a comeback as an alternative form of visualization. Architectural offices, such as OFFICE and Dogma operating in Brussels or the Mexican Tatiana Bilbao, evoke a spatial atmosphere in their images through a digitally or analogue generated, two-dimensional layering of different, photographic image fragments and abstract color or material surfaces, rather than by means of a reality-simulating staffage and perspective depth. In addition to the visual and representational succinctness of these collages, special attention must be paid to the fact that the previously mentioned architecture firms, in their individual experimentation and interaction with digital collages, demonstrate an approach of an intensified artistic and research-orientated access to the design process. The planned dissertation ties in with this point and focuses on the collage, hitherto primarily a presentation medium, as a present and future-relevant design and research practice. The overarching goal is to examine the potential that collage and collaging offer for conceptualizing and researching on architecture and urban space, as well as for reflecting on individual design competences, ideals and values and develop them further. It is also questioned whether and how the collage as a reflexive approach to creative processes implicitly and/or explicitly supports the genesis of design-specific knowledge. 

Methods + structure
Situated in a phenomenological hermeneutic research tradition, the planned dissertation is structured in different methodical steps: Initially a deeper understanding of the term 'research-orientated design' is developed from an architectural-theoretical standpoint. The bases are current discourses viewing the process and instruments of design in their co-evolutionary qualities as a search for compositional order combined with the search for design-specific knowledge. In addition to this, the focus is also on image related research studies in order to crystallize the overarching communicative and cognitive potential of images as well as to focus on the image as a self-referential research medium. Through the thematization of both discourses, alternative competences and forms of knowledge generation and knowledge communication are to be identified that are not shaped verbally but visually. The further background defines significant characteristics of the collage technique beyond its original use in the fine arts. Moreover, its graphic impulses and ideal influences on design conception, as well as on design stances of architects of the 20th century ­– as they have been focused retrospectively in the works of Mies or Superstudio as well as in the design concepts of Collage City – are examined. The second part of the dissertation is conceived as a case study analysis of the contemporary architectural firms OFFICE, Dogma and Tatiana Bilbao Estudio to define more precisely the creative and scientific capacities of collage. By the scientific investigation, exhibition visits and analyses as well as interviews, it will be analyzed when and with what perspectives they use the collage as a form of visualization, a design instrument and/or a research medium. In parallel, the author herself uses collages as practice in order to identify and test the methodological approaches and objectives of the architects and to expand the research findings regarding her own work as an architect and theorist.