Research by Design, Design by Writing

Author: Marko Jobst


While ‘research by design’ has been an acknowledged and accepted category in architecture for several decades now – accompanied by relevant research outputs and academic programmes, perhaps most notably in PhD-by-design qualifications – the role of writerly practice as design practice has been less often pursued. Building on precedents in performative and art writing, writers and academics in architecture have been pushing the envelope at least since the 1990s, yet this has often been framed as art and architecture criticism (most notably Rendell 2010; also Frichot and Stead 2020). Here, the employment of creative and experimental writerly forms pushes the standard essay form in the direction of fiction, performance, or autoethnographic practice, but is rarely framed as an act of design, or being in any way analogous to design practice. In short, such writerly practices remain framed as expanded criticism, rather than writerly equivalents of design.

Conversely, in research by design, in architecture specifically, this is mirrored by a still overwhelming emphasis on visual modes of (re)presentation, whereby drawings, models, and even complex multimedia forms and formats remain anchored in visual perception – however speculative, dynamic, or non-standard these media may be. Writing, as possible design practice, is often pushed to the background, much as there is a growing body of work that accompanies these visuals approaches, often framed as speculative fictions (see Fry 2021).
This paper raises the question of ‘design by writing’ in architecture and what such an approach would entail. It calls for a closer look at forms of writing that would be adequate to task, and what their resulting relationship to criticism and criticality may be.


Frichot H. and Stead N. (eds) (2020), Writing Architectures: Ficto-critical Approaches. London: Bloomsbury.

Fry, T. (2021), Writing Design Fiction: Relocating a City in Crisis. London: Bloomsbury. Rendell, J. (2010), Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism, London: I.B. Tauris.

Keywords: design by writing, speculative fictions, research by design