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The Practice Management Knowledge Community (PMKC) identifies and develops information on the business of architecture for use by the profession to maintain and improve the quality of the professional and business environment.  The PMKC initiates programs, provides content and serves as a resource to other knowledge communities, and acts as experts on AIA Institute programs and policies that pertain to a wide variety of business practices and trends.

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AIA Practice Management Digest - May 2024

By Rebecca W. Edmunds AIA posted 22 days ago


Research in practice 

As we head to AIA24, where a few of our contributors are speaking this year, let’s consider what research actually means in architecture and the why and how of adding research to your practice or partnering with a firm that does. 


Letter from the editor

Rebecca W.E. Edmunds, AIA headshot

By Rebecca W.E. Edmunds, AIA, NOMA

Our profession has a loose association with vocabulary. Just Google “misused words in architecture” for a taste of what drives those of us who take the definition of words seriously to distraction. I obsess over these misused words, and I’m not alone in wishing the profession would be more conscientious with the terms it adopts. 

Here’s the definition of “research”: 


1.     diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.: recent research in medicine.
2.     a particular instance or piece of research. 

verb (used without object) 

3.     to make researches; investigate carefully. 

verb (used with object) 

4.     to make an extensive investigation into; to research a matter thoroughly. 

Keywords of the above are “systematic,” “investigation,” “facts,” “theories,” “application” and so on. 

Observing and drawing conclusions about your work can seem like research. For instance, you notice people congregate where there is natural light or comfy furniture. But until rigor and a systematic approach to assessing and analyzing your observations are applied, with benchmarks and data, these conclusions are not research. They are suppositions. 

This issue of PM Digest is devoted to clarifying the subject of “research” in our profession and, thanks to the voices of the issue’s contributors, setting the record straight on what defines research in architectural practice. They also provide clues into how to add genuine research to your own practice. 

Kabo’s contribution questions why architects are never at the table when the great powerhouses of technology today convene; Echenagucia and Cheng’s piece gives us a taste of why we aren’t. Their contribution wraps up an investigation into the software infrastructure of our profession and how the lack of open-source software platforms is keeping the profession behind in tech. With AI and automation nipping at our heels, their research should light a fire for those who are tech-minded and those who aren’t.  



An Ambition-based Approach to Research in Practice
Dr. Felix Kabo, Ph.D.

Felix Kabo has earned  a Ph.D., a post-doc, and an M.Arch. He brings this impressive background to establishing disciplined programs and training protocols to building a research culture. Want an inside view of a research practice in the making? Kabo offers it here. 

Research to Innovation & Impact: What it takes and why it is worth the investment
Upali Nanda, PhD, Assoc. AIA, EDAC, ACHE 

Upali Nanda, a 2018 Women in Architecture Innovator Award recipient, shares a synopsis of the history of research in architectural practice as part of showing us why research is worth the investment for firms seeking to do more for their clients, users, and communities. 

The Return on Investment in Environmental Design Research
Sean O’Donnell, FAIA

Sean O’Donnell was on the team that won the 2019 AIA College of Fellows Latrobe Prize. Their research findings on school modernization were recently published​ . O’Donnell’s piece delves into the ROI of research and the effort that goes into making the investment in research worthwhile for public education practice..  

The Case for Experiential Research
Melissa Marsh, Assoc. AIA

Melissa Marsh of Plastarc gives us all an education in rethinking and revitalizing the evaluation of existing, occupied buildings and offers much needed insight into the value of the social sciences of the buildings we create. 

A call for organized open-source software infrastructure for the AEC industry
By Tomás Méndez Echenagucia and Renee Cheng, FAIA 

I could have held Tomás Méndez Echenagucia and Renee Cheng’s excellent research on software infrastructure in the AEC industry for the fall’s “emerging technologies” edition of PM Digest. Instead, I include it here as an example of all that research—rigorous, intensive, detailed, measured analysis—can bring to a call to action.  


​Further reading and resources 

  • AIA Upjohn Research Initiative - Apply for the AIA Upjohn Research Initiative which funds annual research grants of $15,000–$30,000 for applied research projects that enhance the value of design and professional practice knowledge.
  • AIA College of Fellows Latrobe Prize - The Latrobe Prize is a biennial $100,000 award from the AIA College of Fellows to support a two-year program of research leading to significant advances in the architecture profession.


Contribute to the Digest 

The next issue of the Practice Management Digest is currently planned to cover a new look at where we are with technology in firm operations. If you have other topics related to practice management that you’d like explored or any articles you would like us to consider for inclusion, please contact