Illustrating Complex Networks

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2022.04 | Issue 8 | May 2022

Sarah Day (Manchester Metropolitan University)



Abstract

This audio-visual discourse presents how the practice of network mapping can illuminate the project brief through the lens of all stakeholders. One challenge of research-through-design is that the knowledge produced is often embodied within artefacts, unable to be shared or interrogated by others. There is therefore a need to produce artifacts which are accessible to an interdisciplinary audience. To demonstrate the complex nature of project networks there is a need to visually articulate the networks involved to show where stakeholders sit and who is connected to who. By visually representing this data, the networks are able to be interrogated by others beyond the individual researcher.


This discourse will reflect upon issues in creative practice research and respond to the issue of how we can navigate interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary quagmires in practice-based research. This short methodological reflection will interrogate the value of a predetermined brief and suggest that through network mapping, a more nuanced brief can be created through the lens of all stakeholders. This discourse suggests that this method can be used by those in inter or transdisciplinary fields, beyond that of architecture, to illuminate transdisciplinary quagmires that may arise through the production of a project brief.


Research Statement

Intended as a short methodological reflection on the nature of practice-as-research, this audio-visual discourse presents how the practice of network mapping can illuminate the project brief through the lens of all stakeholders. This discourse will reflect upon issues in creative practice research and respond to the issue of how we can navigate interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary quagmires in practice-based research. This short methodological reflection will interrogate the value of a predetermined brief and suggest that through network mapping, a more nuanced brief can be created through the lens of all stakeholders.


Practice-as-research has widely been accepted within academia, however, researchers often find that the effectiveness of the methods used need to be justified to an outside audience. Practice-as-research often comprises of more than one field, with the practice often being inter- or trans-disciplinary. Architecture, for instance, may be seen to others outside of the field as being an individual, specialist subject. However, Architects often cross disciplinary boundaries when addressing a brief. The inter- or trans-disciplinary approach within Architecture raises new issues surrounding the resistance to new methodical approaches, between those in the arts and humanities field and those within the maths and sciences. There is also a long standing divide between methodologies which support theoretical enquiries and those which support enquiry which is practically orientated.


One challenge of research-through-design is that the knowledge which is produced from the process in often embodied within artefacts, unable to be shared or interrogated (Murray 2013). Due to the inter and transdisciplinary nature of architecture there is an inherent need that the artifacts produced are accessible to many different fields. To demonstrate the complex nature of networks there is a need to visually articulate the networks to show connections. By visually representing this data the networks are able to be interrogated by others beyond the individual researcher.


Within the architectural field, a brief is often provided to the architectural practice to outline the clients desires for a given project. This act reinforces the power narrative between the architect and client; the client which holds the power, and with that the money, and the architect who will be providing a service (Awan, Schneider, and Till 2011). While this act of providing a brief provides direction for the design team it also restricts thinking outside the ‘red line’ boundary. The red line boundary not only provides a physical boundary, but also a societal and intellectual boundary which prevents connections being made to the wider context.


One methodological position that could be taken is the use of understanding and illustrating the networks that exist in a particular project and each stakeholders understanding of the project brief. This short methodological reflection will interrogate the value of a predetermined brief and suggest that through network mapping a more nuanced brief can be created through the lens of all stakeholders.


Network mapping a large redevelopment project requires conversations with all stakeholders, including the developers, the council, local residents, neighbourhood workers and many others. Often, large development projects have many stakeholders which may be interconnected and autonomous. These projects may have one stakeholder or a series of stakeholders which sit within the circle of power or influence, with the architects positioned on the boundary of this circle and the community sitting outside this circle. Practice-based research has challenges as the stakeholders hold different amounts of power and influence, this can understandably create conflict and prevent understanding of each other’s social goals. Through illustrating the actors within the network, and the connections between them, the conflicts can be visually illustrated and open to others beyond one discipline. Mapping complex networks is a novel form of creative practice research which can aid navigation of transdisciplinary quagmires and develop new forms of understanding, including that of power relationships.


Understanding the complex networks of a project could be seen as a feminist methodology where the lived experiences, social goals and ideologies of all stakeholders are understood, reorganising the circle of influence often present within a large redevelopment project. This feminist practice aims to create knowledge which may not emerge through traditional methods, adding to the ‘brief’ through a new lens.


Through understanding, interrogating and visualising the networks in a project the more nuanced for a given project can be created, developed through the lens of all stakeholders, not only the stakeholders within the circle of power or influence. This act of re-defining a predetermined brief goes beyond the ‘red line boundary’ and provides opportunities to open up new possibilities. This discourse suggests that this method can be used by those in inter or transdisciplinary fields, beyond that of architecture, to illuminate transdisciplinary quagmires that may arise through the production of a project brief.


References

  • Awan, Nishat, Tatjana Schneider, and Jeremy Till. 2011. Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture. Oxon: Routledge.

  • Murray, Shane. 2013. “Design Research: Translating Theory into Practice.” In Design Research in Architecture, edited by Murray Fraser, 95–116. Surrey: Ashgate.