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Call for Abstracts: ARPA Journal/Applied Research Practices in Architecture

Research is everywhere. Architects incite action, design materials and archive cities. They capitalize upon the excess energy of practice to launch unsolicited experiments into the world, or sidestep clients by joining forces with government think tanks. Discussions from classrooms have found currency at town halls, and findings from construction sites have migrated into basement laboratories. Yet for all of its vitality, research eludes definition. The term describes everything and nothing, leaving its assumptions--the drive towards innovation, certainty, and influence, for example--unexamined.

The ARPA Journal is a forum for debates on what is applied research in architecture. We scrutinize techniques of inquiry to examine their ethical stance and spark ideas for their potential transformation. If the term applied research conventionally describes a practice adulterated by practical concern or funding bias, the ARPA Journal asks how research can embrace its entangled nature, and experiment with the very problem of autonomy in application.

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Call for Abstracts: Issue One

Architects experiment upon the world. Researchers reach outside the laboratory by co-opting existing structures of influence and crafting new techniques of engagement. The practice of human subject research has yielded the benefits of the polio vaccine and horrors of the Tuskegee experiments, reminding us that, as a former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency once remarked, "When we fail, we fail big." Impacts are often unpredictable, but no less powerful. The Coney Islands of the world--experiments like practice drills for emergency conditions or special economic zones--leak beyond their proving grounds without any official sanction.

Test Subjects, the inaugural issue of the ARPA Journal, focuses on the nature of application in architectural research. How do architects wield influence through research? As we weigh the risks and rewards of aggressive experimentation, how careful do we need to be? How do researchers maintain effects of their work, both intended and unintended? How does the agency of test subjects refigure the role of the expert in research?

We seek thoughtful and playful approaches to applied research on the built environment. Contributions may include opinion pieces, examinations of pivotal moments in the history of applied research, investigations of the structures of research practice, research projects that critically apply risky practices, and design projects that have focused, experimental implications. Contributors are encouraged to demonstrate techniques and protocols in meticulous detail.


To apply, submit the following in one pdf document (4MB max) to Janette Kim Eligibility to contribute is not limited by institutional affiliation or area of expertise. Abstracts will be reviewed on a rotating basis. Once selected, contributors to Issue One must submit their completed materials by April 1, 2014.

Info: Title; author name, bio and email, and submission type (critique or project)
Abstract: 300 words maximum
Images: 5 maximum, if applicable.
Related work: Project websites or writing samples on related subjects, if applicable.

Forthcoming topics include The Search Engine, Degrees of Certainty, Performance, and Archives.


Innovation is nothing new in architecture, but has taken hold as a structured practice due to the rise of computing technologies--consider data mining, the search engine, and rapid prototyping. In parallel, architects have sought tools to grasp the volatility of markets and climates, and to capture phantom traces of neoliberal governance and mobile populations.

Research makes explicit political, cultural and aesthetic narratives in the built environment by working with the very mechanisms through which such meanings take shape. Settlement patterns are recognized just as machines for material assembly are retooled. Quarantine practices are debated just as data are mapped at an unexpected scale. Techniques of inquiry are subject and method. Yet, if the tools of research are conditioned by the context of their formation, is there anything inherently compromised about drone mapping or genetic modification? Or about soliciting sponsorship from the US Department of Defense or DuPont? To accept or deny such models wholesale would be to reinforce an impossible division between a critical and a positivist model, between condemning the tools of power and unleashing them into the world unchecked. The real question, instead, is how researchers design the reach of their inquiry through aggressive action of their own.

As an applied practice, research promises to engage contemporary actors, sites and techniques, combining experimentation with inquiry into researchers' ethical responsibility. Such reflection demands scrutiny of the practice's presumed tenets. Post-war federal funding for research and development has defined experimental criteria around the rigors of rule-based judgments. Markets demand ever faster, smaller and more efficient technologies, incanting the mantra of innovation in the name of growth. How do architects exercise judgment amidst a system structured around verifiability? When does the compulsion to look ahead fail to address current resources, future side effects, or obsolescence in retrospect? Researchers lay claim to certainty and invention narratives in order to wield influence and relay architectural discussions to parallel fields. Through research practice, architects may gain a seat at the table, but which table? For whom and from whom do architects seek legitimacy?


The ARPA Journal is an online publication that mixes slow and fast distribution in three formats: critique, projects, and debates. Published quarterly, each issue will focus on a technique or protocol of research, and will consist of three 'releases,' that will be published monthly. Releases will comprise the following:

Critique: Texts and images of any length that examine applied research projects, writings, and/or theories not produced by the author. 
Projects: Research investigations created by the author, to include text, images, video, and/or other online medium. 
Debates: A moderated, live debate among all critique and project contributors, as well as other invited commentators who work on related material.

About us

The ARPA Journal is a public forum for debate based at the Applied Research Practices in Architecture (ARPA) program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). Janette Kim, Editor in Chief, ARPA Journal; Director, ARPA program. MTWTF, Designer, forthcoming website.