Journal of Design History

5 January 2018

Practice, Discourse, Experience: The Relationships Between Design History and Architectural History

Architecture's difference, its separateness from other design disciplines, is assumed to be obvious. Matters of scale, complexity and dependency set architecture apart from other design disciplines. This apparent difference is reflected in various disciplinary and professional manifestations, not least the relationship between architectural history and design history. The study of architecture – defined as buildings, architects and the built environment – has been set apart from the study of other forms of design practice or designed objects. While focusing on difference can be a constructive for delineating disciplinary and professional autonomy, what if we look instead at commonality? What if rather than seeking to reinforce the differences between disciplines, we focus instead on the nature of these disciplinary boundaries and look for the places where overlaps, integrations and collaborations occur?

The histories of both design and architecture contain various examples of the inter-relation, even inextricability, of the two disciplines. Similarly, the methods and subjects of historians of design and architecture often intersect and overlap. What are the shared interests, methods, concerns or preoccupations of the disciplines? This Special Issue of the Journal of Design History will focus on what design history and architectural history have in common. It proposes three areas of commonality, which can act as the basis for discussions about the interactions and inter-relations between the disciplines. These areas are:


Both design history and architectural history negotiate their relationship to practice and practitioners in design and architecture. Both debate their status as an academic, humanities discipline in their own right and their role as a means of contextualising practice. Design and architectural history have the dual purposes of both relating to practice and striving for historical understanding for its own sake. As such they also negotiate their relationship to changing technology both in design practice and in historiography. Both subjects are broadening their horizons of subject matter, geographies and their definitions of practice and practitioners. This involves considering process as well as outcome, and interrogating the categories of amateur, expert, professional and public. There are efforts to expand both historiographies beyond the North American and European focus that has traditionally dominated.


The languages, texts and media surrounding design and architecture are a shared area of interest for design and architectural history. Design discourses, defined as ways of thinking, speaking and writing about design and architecture, produce sources for historians but they are also the subjects of historical research and analysis. Theoretical discourses also bridge disciplinary categories. Architectural and design history often explore similar areas of theory concerning the production and reproduction of meaning, of the cycles of production, mediation, consumption and interpretation; as well as theories of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, national identity and social class.


As well as studying form, aesthetics, production and consumption in design and architecture, historians are increasingly exploring the tactile, haptic and experiential. Design and architecture are both concerned with creating, manipulating or mediating the experiences of users and consumers – embodied experience is central to both disciplines. The relationship between objects, people and spaces, interiors and exteriors, are subjects where the lines between design and architectural history are particularly blurred. Beyond bodily experience, historians of both design and architecture are concerned with networks, relationships (personal and private), biographies, life writing and oral histories. The methodologies of both disciplines can overlap in terms of sources, forms of analysis and narratives.

These themes should be treated as a starting point for discussions, rather than a strict framework for contributions. We welcome contributions of existing research that through subject matter, sources or methodology, blurs the disciplinary boundaries of architectural and design history. For instance, research that explores the boundaries of building/object, designer/architect, producer/consumer; and work that examines the role of networks, interactions, and collaborations across a range of time periods and geographies. This Special Issue will highlight scholarship that explores the porous boundaries of architectural and design history, and that which traces the relationships between history and practice. All disciplines and practices, including history, are contingent and dependent. This Special Issue seeks to celebrate complexity, ambiguity and messiness in the study of architectural and design history.

Guest editors:

  • Dr Jessica Kelly, Senior Lecturer, Contextual and Theoretical Studies, School of Communication, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham,
  • Dr Claire Jamieson, Lecturer, Critical and Contextual Studies, School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire,

Deadline for initial paper submissions: 31 May 2018.

Please submit manuscripts directly to the guest editors before this date. Queries about content and scope of articles can also be directed to the guest editors. Shortlisting by the guest editors does not replace the Journal of Design History's double-blind peer review process through which manuscripts are accepted for publication.

Download the call for papers in PDF format here.


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