‘Initiating Architecture’ is a doctoral research project, undertaken at the University of Sheffield. The project runs from October 2009 – March 2014.

The ‘Initiating Architecture’ doctoral research study focuses on exploration of architectural projects with ‘social’ or ‘public interest’ motivations: projects in which the designer aims to influence or serve a wider community and through the development on an architectural project, critically engages with agendas of socio-economic change.

The production of the built environment is a complex undertaking, involving the desires and motivations of many other actors besides architects, and in many cases not involving architects at all. This study looks at architecture as one practice within the wider politics and practices of the production of the built environment, to better understand the spatial configurations and uses of the built environment as an element of wider social and economic production processes and maintenance of social relations.

The project builds on recent research on ‘alternative’ approaches to architectural praxis (Schneider & Till 2009; AAA/PEPRAV 2007), focusing on the changing role of the architect as an initiator, enabler or catalyst for social change. It also draws on socially motivated projects within the history of traditional architectural practice (Blundell Jones et al. 2005), and emerging fields of organizational/ business research into ethical and socially entrepreneurial practices. The focus on power and agency of practitioners to affect change in the built environment brings up ethical questions of motivation, how power and knowledge is used and on who’s behalf (Cairns 2009).

Research questions:

  • How and by whom are socially motivated and transformative architecture projects initiated (with what agency / through what structures)?
  • How are practices of initiation informed by motivations and values?
  • What forms of knowledge are used in the initiating processes of architecture projects?


Cristina Cerulli
Lecturer in the School of Architecture and Founder of Studio Polpo

Prue Chiles
Senior Lecturer  in the School of Architecture and Director of Prue Chiles Architects and Bureau – Design + Research


This research is funded by a Doctoral Studentship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.



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  1. Pingback: Initiating Architecture… | Sam's Sketchbook

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