Hard Problems

A symposium held a couple of weeks ago by the Division of Social Science at Harvard asked: what are the hard problems in Social Science? Referring to mathematician David Hilbert, who in 1900 set out what he saw as the twenty-three most fundamental and vexing mathematical problems facing the field; the symposium asks for an analogous set of the ‘hardest unsolved problems in social science’, in order ‘to inspire new research’ and ‘serve to focus funding and inform policy.’ The symposium has prompted others to ask what the hard problems in their own respective fields might be.

Is such a list of questions possible in the field of architectural research? Would a problem-focused approach too constrained for a design field? Is there a sufficiently-widely-accepted epistemology of architecture that can support a question like this? My own answers would be ‘no’ and ‘with reservations, yes’ for the second and third of these questions. Although I’m undecided on the first question, it does seem to me that the concept of hard problems could have some value in focusing architectural research.

So what are the hard problems in architecture? What is a problem in architecture? How do we decide what makes a problem difficult? How is difficulty related to importance? How do we know whether a proposed solution is actually a solution?

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