Anna Holder

Short Biography

My research and practice focuses on practices of design and intervention for spatial and social change. This has been developed through my role as Director of social enterprise architecture practice Studio Polpo, through my AHRC-funded doctoral research project ‘Initiating Architecture’ (2009-2014) and my teaching at Sheffield School of Architecture.

I am currently embarking on a one year Marie Curie Fellowship at Aarhus School of Architecture, as part of the EU-funded ADAPT-r ITN – Architecture, Design and Art Practice Training-research. The nature of the project and role, give a relatively short time to ‘get to grips’ with the wider context of creative practice research, and the immediate context of the research project, which has been running for two years.

My own research training was undertaken across the Social Sciences and the Humanities and within the disciplines of Planning and Architecture. My PhD research drew on Practice Theory and Actor-Network-Theory, as well as the methods and approaches to site and spatial intervention developed through vocational training as an architect.

At present I am working to familiarise myself with the literature and practices of artistic research and creative practice research, and I welcome the opportunity to learn from and contribute to this event.



This is what we do; this is how we do it [1]

(Building transferable practice-based knowledge with a new generation of creative practice researchers and research-led practitioners)

How can we build architectural knowledge in and through the practice of architecture; not only to comment on it or to inform it from the outside? How might experiential knowledge from practitioners better inform architectural research?

Over the last twenty years, an argument has been developed by a vanguard of researchers and practitioners for research undertaken through the medium of practice itself. For the discipline of architecture, this approach offers a way to involve experienced practicing architects in on-going debates of architectural knowledge, and processes of new knowledge creation, and to engage with the realities of practice, offering an immediacy of impact to research outcomes.

The development of the practice-based doctorate[2] has formalised a structure of reflective action and design or creative production as enquiry, providing a means for the academy to recognise and ratify knowledge developed through architectural practice. Importantly, the doctorate has also attracted pioneering practitioners to explicate and share their experience, in a manner seemingly at odds with the cutthroat competition of many architectural practices.

Scepticism about the value of creative practice research has dogged its development across the decades. The emphasis on investigation into the particularity of practitioner’s design processes can be seen as limiting their ability to contribute to knowledge through such central tenets of research as articulating clear research problems, methods or outcomes.

Working with a diverse and international cohort of 20+ practitioners undertaking the PhD by Practice across seven schools of architecture within Europe, we[3] address this challenge through developing understanding of the methodologies and methods of practice-based research, with a focus on:

  • Transformative moments in understanding the practice as research: how these are triggered and recorded, and how they can be operationalized in the practitioner’s onward research process.
  • Public behaviours critical to the development and positioning of creative practice, and creative practice research: the different groups and audiences that practitioner-researchers engage with, including their client and user groups, the wider profession, diverse research audiences and their practitioner-researcher cohort.

The extracts from a pilot interview with two practitioner-researchers (shown below) show their explication of transformative triggers and public behaviours in their research, accompagnied by visual representations of their creative practice.

Pilot Pamphlet_DRAFT2&3

Pilot Pamphlet_DRAFT4&5

Pilot Pamphlet_DRAFT6&7

Pilot Pamphlet_DRAFT8&9




[1] This working title is inspired by UK art/architecture practice muf’s ’manual’ for practice. Muf’s Mel Dodd was an early PhD by Practice graduate from RMIT, and a figurehead for bringing together practice and research. The second clause of the title emphasises the need for clear and transparent explication of transferable knowledge from creative practice research.

[2] The development of research through the medium of practice was initially a response to institutional and funding reforms for arts education institutions in the UK (post-1992), Australia and Scandinavia, with the practice-based or creative practice doctorate then developing further within Europe in the 2000s in response to the Bologna Process of ensuring correspondence across the qualifications awarded by higher education insitututions.

[3] This research project described is a collaboration between Anna Holder of the Aarhus School of Architecture and Eli Hatleskog of the University of Ljubljana, undertaken for the EU-funded Architecture, Design and Art Practice Training research (ADAPT-r) Initial Training Network.


One thought on “Anna Holder

  1. thanks Anna,
    I enjoyed your presentation and an excerpt from one of the interviews. It brought to mind how we had individual meetings with participants at the graduate programme I taught at (Dutch Art Institute), until Jakob Jacobsen came and insisted of having at least two participants with him. Sometimes three, a triangle. In any case the point being is that it was collaborative! the conversation dialogical. Something else came out of it. Was curious if you are familiar with ‘A Pattern Language’ that came to mind when listening to your talk, by Christopher Alexander. Complex activities outside of communication have patterns, he uses the parts of architecture as a vocabulary, syntax, grammar even. It was also applied to coding, computer programmers drawing upon it. It’s probably the way you articulated design and the models of the cluster you are working with.


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