The Architect’s Measure: Constructing a character and influence for data in practice

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In our technologically saturated world, architects increasingly rely on data to inform their practice. Despite a wealth of research in other disciplines about data's character and influence, architecture has only a limited understanding. This research examines data from the perspective of the architect, exploring how they conceptualise, produce, and use data as part of their practice. The thesis is motivated by a need to challenge and address the culture in architecture that promotes 'data-driven', 'data-centric', and 'data- aware' approaches with limited critical attention to the assumptions placed on data. Additionally, the topic emerged from a recognition that few research texts understand data as anything other than a technological by-product. Scratching beneath the surface of the techno-innovation language reveals an opacity about what data is and why it exists in the architect's consciousness. The research finds that by locating data at the centre of practice, significant shifts in practical actions and thinking correlate to distinct changes in its character, defined by its architectural use. Through discourse and case study analysis, this research identifies distinct historical moments when architects have assigned contrasting conceptual understandings and uses, complicating the notion that data is exclusive to digital practice. It traces and critically examines data's architectural shifts, testing the hypothesis that data is not a recent phenomenon. The thesis argues that data has always been part of the architect's practice, but has taken on different forms in each period, giving the architect different abilities. Beyond the technological and innovation discourse that emphasises data's computational value, this research offers an alternative understanding, considering the architect's evolution through how they comprehend, create, and apply abstract measurement. The research offers a novel perspective on data's role for the architect, and encourages a much-needed critical examination and awareness. Its implications are that, with a heightened understanding of data's role and influence, architects are better-equipped to work in future data-rich environments and negotiate project demands. This research provides a solid foundation to spur future discussions and reflections on the architect's relationship with data.
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