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GAP architecture

Part 1 Dissertation 2000
Andrew O'donnell
Queensland University of Technology Brisbane | Australia
Architectural practice presents a subject that has for a long time fallen in the shadow of its product- architecture. This study develops a theory for architectural practice based on an understanding of its fundamental limits of operation. The limits on architecture simultaneously enable and restrict its practice. These concepts have been developed from a synthesis of the existing theories of architectural practice including, sociological critiques, practice manuals, and architectural polemics.
In this study, these limits have been discussed at both a macro and micro level. The macro or more general limits to architecture include, capital, profit, policy, law, discourse, professionalism, ritual, and desire. Some of these limits are created by the social context or matrix in which architecture operates, other limits are determined by architecture's internal sub-culture. The micro or specific limits to architecture include, philosophy, capital, brief, politics, professionalism, and site. There are some obvious overlaps between the macro and micro limits, the macro limits are discussed in structural sense, while the micro limits are examined in the context of a specific architectural project. The mode of architectural practice described by these limits has been termed normative practice.
Counterposed to this mode of normative practice is critical practice. Critical practice describes a mode of architectural practice that is based on a reflexive and proactive theory of practice. Critical practice is based on the possibility that the limits to architectural practice are not immutable, and that there exist 'gaps' in this framework of limitation. These gaps present areas in which the limits to architectural practice can be expanded. Three case studies have been used to describe how critical practice actually operates. These case studies are MUF (London), Asymptote (New York), and Richard Goodwin (Sydney). These critical practices have been able to operate by reconfiguring and challenging the limits to normative architectural practice. Gaps within the limits of, brief, philosophy, site, professionalism, and capital have been exploited by these practices.
Overall, Architectural practice is a complex reality not easily circumscribed by theory. This study presents a particular mode of understanding practice based on a critique of its fundamental limits.

Andrew O'donnell

Andrew began his research project with a somewhat vague definition of the topic area. To begin, the best explanation that he could offer was the notion of a 'gap' within the realm of architectural practice. He used this term to refer to a distinctive type of practice that aimed to create for itself a new type of existence within the profession. From this rather elusive beginning, he has produced a coherent and well argued discussion of both normative practice and critical practice, as he came to describe those practices working within the gaps of the profession.
I believe that the thesis is of interest on two levels. Firstly, it is of broad interest to the profession as a whole. At a time of great uncertainty and change within the profession, it is useful to describe the status quo, and to speculate as to how this status quo might be challenged. Secondly, the thesis is of personal worth to Andrew as a commencing professional. In considering his own future, he is looking positively to the options that lay before him, and conjecturing about new paths and possibilities. I am confident he will find a very satisfying 'gap' into which he can pour his considerable talents.

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