PhD by Design

Mapping Conceptual Groundings – Reflecting Methodological Approaches – Modulating PhD-Curricula

The ERASMUS+ project contributes to an understanding of design-based PhD programs in the disciplines of architecture and urban design. The four partners - KU Leuven, Bergen School of Architecture, Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Liechtenstein - review the conceptual underpinnings, methodological tools and curricular that have emerged in the context of PhD by Design in the past decades. The findings of the project will be presented and discussed at the project's online closing conference Sept. 17th 2020. The project's findings will be submitted for publication in form of a special collection with the Journal AJAR: Arena Journal of Architectural Research.

As part of the Bologna process and the European Commission's "Higher Education Modernization Agenda" schools of architecture and urban design are facing the challenge of developing educational programs on all three levels of higher education (BA, MA, PhD). While Bachelor- and Master-Degree-Programs have successfully been established in the past decades, the implementation and promotion of PhD-programs has been a thorny issue for most schools of architecture and urban design. Since architecture is traditionally rather a practical than an academic discipline it lacks a (common) understanding of the meaning and practices of academic research. Many European schools have come up with curricula which adopt methodologies, examination formats and evaluation schemes from disciplines with strong research traditions in the natural or social sciences.

Therefore, existing PhD-programs tend to address research questions located rather at the periphery of the design disciplines, addressing problems of e.g. architectural history, urban sociology, building physics or building technologies. However, research problems that are located at the "core" of architecture and design practice remain largely unaddressed. During the past decade various European design and art schools have begun to develop design-based education on PhD-level. The goal of the research project consists in mapping these approaches in order to interrelate, position and develop further the various streams of doing research by design. In so doing the project contributes to a reflexive, creative and collaborative positioning and implementation of new and existing PhD programs.

The project's output aims to provide an insight into the conceptual underpinnings, methodological tools and modules of curricular that can be assembled and adapted to the resources, cultural specificities and institutional histories of design schools across Europe.

Further information on the project is available at: Link


Kick-off in Vaduz / Liechtenstein, 15th and 16th of November 2018

Organized by the Institute for Architecture and Planning at the University of Liechtenstein, a kick-off event on 15th and 16th of November marked the start of cooperation between the four schools of architecture. The meeting served to map out the themes, resources and expectations of the participating partners and to develop a shared mode of collaboration, mile-stones and future activities. The project team agreed to organize the two-year project into three work phases with a focus on "concepts", "methods" and "curricula", each of which is led by one of the universities and condensed into an intellectual output at a workshop of the respective university.

The KU Leuven will coordinate the work-package "Mapping conceptual groundings", with a workshop taking place in Gent in May 2019. The Chalmers University of Technology will take the lead for the work-package "Reflecting methodological approaches", organizing a workshop in Gothenburg in November 2019.  The Bergen School of Architecture is in charge of the work-package "Modulating PhD-Curricula", hosting a workshop in Bergen in May 2020. The University of Liechtenstein is in charge of coordinating the three work-packages and will organize the closing conference in September 2020.

Image: Participants left to right/back to front: Yves Schoonjans (KU Leuven), Peter Staub (University of Liechtenstein), Kris Scheerlinck (KU Leuven), Christoph Michels (University of Liechtenstein), Fredrik Nilsson (Chalmers University of Technology), Cecilie Andersson (Bergen School of Architecture), Anne Brandl (University of Liechtenstein)

Workshop “Mapping concepts” in Ghent, 22nd-24th May 2019
Organized by the University of Leuven the workshop explored the multiple approaches to understanding design-based research. Collecting and summarizing the ideas from theoretical texts chosen by the participants and presented as part of two round table discussions, the workshop sought to find ways of navigating the conceptual landscape and explored potential positions within it. In addition to the project team, Erik Van Daele (KUL), Caroline Voet (KUL), Filip Mattens (KUL), Riet Eeckhout (KUL) and Arnaud Hendrickx (KUL) participated in the round table discussions.

Image: Participants left to right: Christoph Michels, Fredrik Nilsson, Matteo Paracchini, Yves Schoonjans, Nel Janssen, Marie Strid, Cecilie Andersson.

Round table 1: The personal, the inter-subjective and the common in Research by Design
The first session suggests the need to outline what kind of knowledge research by design produces, to understand what is valued in a collective/inter-subjective frame, and how a personal unique effort could become a contribution to a larger and growing body of knowledge.
In design driven architectural research the act of designing is assigned a central epistemic position. Hence the discussion evolved around questions such as: What does the act of designing generate knowledge about? What is the field of study, the object of study that we, in our capacity of designers, can make more knowledgeable and what is the specificity of the insights we develop when we investigate an issue in a designerly manner?

Round table 2: How to teach Research by Design in architecture in a PhD program?
Various academics state that design research and research by design is achieving an intellectual confidence and assurance. This should mean that it created an epistemological and methodological foundation and consequently, it should be possible to discern and define the main steps to be taken (and to be taught) in a research by design process. At the same time, this very process seems (or claims) to remain elusive - it is often stated that openness, individuality, indeterminacy, taking risks and experimental methodologies are key to research by design.

Thus, the second session served as a test of the teachability of research by design, and how it can be incorporated in a doctoral program. And if we do consider that we need a transferrable (part of inter-subjective approaches) set of theories and methods that transcends the particularity of each (personal) project, what are then the key characteristics of the methods that we can discern in the body of research by design that has already been produced?

Workshop “Reflecting Methodologies” in Gothenburg, 27th-29th November 2019
Organized by Chalmers University of Technology, the workshop reflected on the methodological approaches that have been put to work in the context of PhD by Design. Inspired by presentations by Daniel Norell, Malgorzata Zboinska and Jonas Runberger the participants discussed methods such as “prototyping”, “design expeditions” and “design fiction”, and reflected on how they relate to the conceptual perspectives discussed at the previous workshop in Ghent.

Workshop “Developing Curricula” in Bergen, 13th- 15th May 2020
Due to Covid-19 this workshop was organized as an online event by the Bergen School of Architecture. We used Zoom as the meeting platform and Miro as a shared whiteboard for a visual mapping of the curricula into schools spaces. The core day was spent with three guests reflecting on their schools’ PhD-by-Design curricula; Professor Matthias Kaarsholm from Lund talked about ResArk and so did PhD candidate Ana Giodea from Lund and former PhD candidate, now senior researcher Eli Hatleskog talked on her experiences from PhD by Design in NTNU, Adopt-R and its relevance for the University of Bristol. This was followed by a status session where all the project partners presented and discussed the work in progress on the several papers. Last day was spent on the transnational meeting and discussions concerning the formats of the closing conference.

Online closing Conference “Mapping, Reflecting and Developing PhD by Design”, 17th September 2020

This conference seeks to examine the various approaches of research by design at PhD level. Based on the ERASMUS+ research project "PhD by Design" conducted by the University of Liechtenstein, Bergen School of Architecture, Chalmers University of Technology and KU Leuven we invite you to become a part of the debate and exploration into the mapping of conceptual principles, methodological approaches, and the development of curricula. The conference serves as a preparation to a special collection issue of AJAR.

Keynotes by Prof. Jonathan Hill (director MPhil / PhD Architectural Design at The Bartlett School of Architecture) and Ass. Prof. Gro Rødne (program leader of Making is Thinking at NTNU)

The conference is organized as a mix of (keynote) presentations, breakout workshops and opportunities for informal online exchange in order to appropriate our zoom online space

9.00 – 10.00
Welcome address and introduction to Erasmus+ research project

10.00 – 11.00
Keynote with Q&A
Gro Rødne
Making is Thinking

11.00 – 11.45
Breakout Session: Mapping

11.45 – 13.00

13.00 – 14.00
Keynote with Q&A
Jonathan Hill
Research by Design & Interdisciplinarity

14.00 – 14.45
Breakout Session: Speed Dating

14.45 – 15.30
Closing words & Au revoir

For participation, please send your interest to in order to receive the zoom link by September, 10th 2020.
Please download the PDF for further information on the conference.


Cecilie Andersson PhD

is associate professor and Rector at Bergen School of Architecture. She has worked as an architect at HLM Arkitektur in Bergen and Helen & Hard in Stavanger, on various projects related to building, transformation and planning. She received her doctorate from Norwegian University of Science and Technology in urban planning on the topic of migrant positioning in the cities with emphasize on urban villages in China. She currently coordinates the diploma process at BAS and has taught master courses and workshops at BAS, NTNU and several schools in China (SCUT, GAFA, XAUAT, Tongji).

Prof. Dr. Anne Brandl

is professor for Urban Design at the Institute of Architecture and Planning at the University of Liechtenstein. She teaches on all levels of education and co-directs the curricula on all levels of education. She has studied city and regional planning at the Brandenburgischen Technischen Universität in Cottbus, Germany. Having held a position in research and teaching at the ETH Zürich she earned a doctoral degree from the ETH with a thesis on the aesthetic perception of urban space.

Prof. Nel Janssens

is an architect-urban planner, associate professor at the Faculty of Architecture, KU Leuven, Campus Sint-Lucas, Brussels and Ghent, Belgium. She worked as an architect at Deleu, Antwerp and FLC extended, Brussels. She is a member of the non-profit design collective magnificent She obtained a doctoral degree at the Department of Architecture, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg, Sweden with her dissertation ‘Utopia-driven Projective Research, a design approach to explore the theory and practice of Meta-Urbanism’. From January 2013 till February 2015 she held a post-doctoral position at the Strong Research Environment ‘Architecture in the Making’ at Chalmers University where she currently is a visiting scholar. She co-edited the book Transdisciplinary Knowledge Production in architecture and Urbanism: towards hybrid modes of inquiry (2011, Springer publishers) together with Isabelle Doucet and the book Perspectives on Research Assessment in Architecture, Music and the Arts: Discussing Doctorateness together with Fredrik Nilsson and Halina Dunin-Woyseth (2017, Routledge).

Dr. Vera Kaps
is an architect and researcher with focus on the mediation of architecture and building culture. Educated at the University of Stuttgart, Germany and at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago (PUC), she graduated with a degree in architecture and urban planning (with distinction). She practiced architecture on scales from exhibition design to urban planning in Germany, Vienna and Zurich. She also writes for architectural magazines. Currently, she is working as a researcher at the Institute of Architecture and Planning at the University of Liechtenstein. In 2014 and 2016, she curated Liechtenstein’s participation at the International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia. In 2017, she was honoured the Research Prize of the Principality of Liechtenstein for Young Researchers. In 2018, she completed the research project "New Schools of Thought" reflecting current trends and developments at European schools of architecture and urban design.

Dr. Christoph Michels
is assistant professor at the Institute of Architecture and Planning at the University of Liechtenstein and a lecturer in "Architecture and Organization" at the University of St. Gallen. He teaches in the current PhD-program at the University of Liechtenstein and contributes to its further development. In his research and teaching he is interested in the role of architecture in processes of organizing, aesthetics in organizational and urban life, and the production of atmospheres in everyday spaces of the city. A particular research interest consists in the development of practices in higher education and their socio-spatial configurations. He has done extensive research at the interface between architecture and social sciences and has published his research in international journals and books. He holds a doctorate from the University of St. Gallen and a diploma from the ETH Zurich in Switzerland. He has studied at the EPFL in Lausanne and at the Harvard Design School in Boston.

Prof. Fredrik Nilsson

is an architect SAR/MSA, PhD, and Professor of Architectural Theory at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, where he is Director of Chalmers Architectural Research Initiative. He was previously Director of the Strong Research Environment 'Architecture in the Making', funded by the Research Council Formas 2011-2017, and in a national collaboration between the Swedish schools of architecture at Chalmers, KTH, LTH and Umea university. Nilsson is also Head of Research in Practice
at Alvstranden Utveckling AB, an urban development company owned by the City of Gothenburg. He has a background as Partner at the architectural office White Arkitekter AB, where he worked 2000-2017 and was Head of Research and Development 2007-2014. Nilsson was Head of the Department of Architecture at Chalmers 2013-2017. 
His research is directed to developments in contemporary architecture, architectural theory, architectural methodology and practice, especially the epistemology of architecture and interaction between theory, conceptual thinking and design work, aiming to reinforced exchange between research and architectural practice.

Matteo Paracchini

is an architect and researcher based in Brussels. After having studied at Politecnico di Milano and Faculté d’Architecture La Cambre-Horta, he graduated at the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture. In 2016 he was the editor of “Doing it the Belgian way. Educating Tomorrow’s architects”, an insert for the Dutch magazine Volume. He is currently a teaching assistant and pre-doctoral researcher at KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture, with his research focusing on urban transition and emergent collective spaces in the city of Addis Ababa.

Prof. Dr. Kris Scheerlinck

from KU Leuven has a MSc. In Architecture, Sint-Lucas, Ghent, Spatial Planning (University of Ghent) and Urban Culture and Urban Design (UPC Barcelona) & Ph.D. at UPC/URL, Barcelona). For more than 15 years, he combined academia with his own research and design practices in Ghent, Barcelona and New York. In 2013 together with Yves Schoonjans, he initiated the “Urban Projects, Collective Spaces and Local Identities” research group. He directs an international research project on depth configurations in urban projects, called Streetscape Territories that focuses on the transformation of the urban fabric and considers its streetscapes the protagonists. The research deals with the way architectural artefacts, open space, the property structure and its inherent accessibility and permeability configure streetscapes and how their inhabitants can give meaning to them. He was program-director of the International Master in Architecture and vice-dean for Internationalisation and is member of the Faculty Doctoral Commission at the Faculty of Architecture.

Prof. Yves Schoonjans
(engineer architect & PhD, University Ghent) is a professor at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Belgium. From 1985 till 1995 he had a private practice with Gilles Van Bogaert. In 2009 he founded (with Sven Sterken & Rajesh Heynickx) the Research group ARP (Architectural Culture of the Recent Past) that tackles architecture and urban design in its relation to ideas, discourses and practices. In 2013 he founded, with Prof. Kris Scheerlinck, a new research group the “Urban Projects, Collective Spaces and Local Identities”. The research focuses on public and collective spaces. The different research projects investigate how people and buildings relate to each other, how space is appropriated and local identities are formed. He was involved and lead-coordinator of different international programs (Erasmus, Mundus, ALFA) especially in Latin America. He was vice-dean international affairs and is now vice-chair research of the Research Department.

Joakim Skajaa

is an architect educated at the Bergen School of Architecture. In addition to architecture he is trained in applied micro- and local meteorology and landscape ecology from the University of Bergen. He is a former leader of the Oslo Architects Association and in 2013 he was responsible for the association’s contribution to the Oslo Architecture Triennale – Behind the Green Door, as editor of the book ‘Hit og dit og inn og ut..’ released in conjunction with the Triennial. He is co-editor of the magazine Pollen. He is associate professor at Bergen School of Architecture and is also currently the vice head at the school. He has also taught at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. He is the founding partner of SKAJAA Arkitektkontor.

Prof. Peter Staub
is Professor of Architectural Design and Theory and Head of the Institute of Architecture and Planning at the University of Liechtenstein, where he is also the Vice-President for External Relations. He studied at the Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio and graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London (AA) and the Cities Programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has been a Unit Master at the AA and has taught at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne prior to joining the University of Liechtenstein. His main focus in teaching and research is on the mediation of architecture and building culture.

Dr. Marie Strid

is an architect, PhD and senior lecturer at Chalmers University of technology, Gothenburg, where she is also vice-director of Chalmers Architectural Research Initiative. She was previously head of the PhD education in Architecture at Chalmers 2009-2011 and 2013-2017 and part of the steering Committee for the Swedish Research School in Architecture, ResArc, funded by the research Council Formas 2011-2017. Strid was also vice-head of the Department of Architecture at Chalmers 2015-2017. Her research focuses on transformation of workplaces including the users perspective in the design process and an interest in organizational learning as well as design theory. Strid has also been head of the division of Building Design, researcher and founder of Chalmers Center for Healthcare Architecture (CVA).

Malgorzata Zboinska PhD

is an architect with a PhD in digital architectural design. She works as a researcher at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, where she is also the creative leader for the Robotic Fabrication Laboratory. Her research resides at the intersection of art, design and technology, with focus on architectural design using new media, such as computational design, digital animation, programming, interactive prototyping and robotic fabrication. Her research specializations include: esthetics and materiality in digital architecture; digital design methodology and tooling strategies aiding creativity in early-stage design; hybrid making approaches combining handicraft with the new media; artistic prototyping and fabrication; architectural user experience design; and interactive architecture design. Throughout her academic career, she has led research projects involving methods of research-by-design, artistic research, practice-based research, and mixed research approaches applied in interdisciplinary contexts. Her work has been regularly published by international journals and conferences, and presented at art venues and design events in Europe, Asia and North America.

Krystyna Pietrzyk PhD Prof.
is an associate professor at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden. Krystyna deals with building climatology to support building design and urban planning. Design with uncertainties is her focus. In her interdisciplinary analysis she considers both epistemic and aleatory uncertainties. Krystyna is experienced in research activities, in leading projects, consulting master students, PhD students and post-docs, and in the organization of research. Krystyna is the director of PhD Studies for the Graduate School of Architecture.
She has been involved in organizing/developing the PhD courses concerning research approaches in architecture within ResArc network of Swedish research schools in architecture and interdisciplinary doctoral school on Urban Systems and Sustainability within Idea League network. She is now working on the common course for architects and engineers on research methodology.


KU Leuven – Faculty of Architecture
Chalmers University of Technology – Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering
Bergen School of Architecture

Supported by

The project is supported by an Erasmus+ grant for strategic partnership for higher education.
KA2 - Cooperation for Innovation and the Exchange of Good Practices
KA203 - Strategic Partnerships for higher education

and by AIBA Agentur für Internationale Bildungsangelegenheiten

Picture Credit: Collage by Christoph Michels: Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0  Image rights: Microscope: public domain; Rotring Isograph by LucasboschCC BY-SA 3.0Drawing by Georg Schreck under the supervision of Georg Wilenius / Yleisten rakennusten ylihallitus, digital archives of the National Archives of Finland (Kansallisarkisto): public domain.