Developing urban design proposals at any scale and implementing interventions in the city require the development of nuanced knowledge(s) about the area of intervention. Some knowledge can be acquired through first hand experience, but we also need to gather a wide range of information from any document or artifact that could help us to enrich our understanding of the area and its issues. We can, for instance, look at official documents such reports, planning documents, local press, websites of local organisations and archives, but also at artifacts that are physically placed in our area such as posters, graffiti or traces of particular activities. It is important to appraise the information gathered critically, trying to understand who produced it and with what agenda. It is likely that there will be discrepancies and different points of view which we need to navigate while constructing our own knowledge.
Deciding what information to gather, what artifacts to look for and what documents to analyse is a research activity that needs to be planned and designed; this part of an urban design project is as important as more propositional ones as it shapes the project and frames it theoretically, intellectually and practically.
At the outset of a project it is helpful to try to articulate a research question for it; this will help design the research process - including research by design - and guide our inquiry. The research question is different from the research topic in that it will be specific and clearly identify the scope of the project. Developing a research question is often done iteratively and, as we gain more nuanced understandings, the question and associated aims and objectives become more re ned and specific. When reviewing our initial research questions it is worth considering: are they suitable for shaping our design project? How could we develop them experientially, reflectively and propositionally? What sort of information might we need to gather to re ne / develop the question further?
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