This thesis explores the role of archival research in the design process, and especially in relation to the notion of multiple interpretations. The argument further establishes that architectural design can be informed by an innovative working method of archival research that is precise and exploits the potential afforded by multiple interpretations which are apparent and latent in archives. Here, archival research highlights specific issues concerning site studies, the role of authorship, the process of conservation in relation to use, as well as control over the presentation of the subject matter, and consequently demonstrates the significance of these issues to architectural design. The consideration and compilation of these issues form the main body of the thesis which simultaneously works as an archive.
The interest in multiple interpretations is also explored in conjunction with the notion of allegory. This method develops Peter Bürger’s theory on ‘nonorganic’ works of art, which includes a study of Walter Benjamin’s analysis of Baroque allegory. Allegory in a nonorganic work of art emphasises a discursive and critical practice that enables multiple and contrasting ideas in the work to be made apparent. The thesis proposition explores an allegorical and nonorganic reconstruction of a sixteenth-century portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, currently displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in London. While the Tudor portrait originally used didactic allegory to yield different readings radiating from, and referring to, one source, exploring it as a nonorganic work further allows participation to such an extent that the interpretation of the portrait may only be completed by the response of the recipient. This method, thus, changes the tenor of the artwork, giving it contingent meaning specific to the recipient’s contexts. The proposed design project also goes further in that it exploits the dialectical qualities of modern allegory to address specific issues raised by archival research on the portrait.
Significantly, the arguments for multiple interpretations is consistent with the differentiated, nuanced and embedded meanings residing within the portrait, which are raised in the process of archival research, and constitutes a method which may also be used to inform architectural design. Specific issues raised in this process include new ways to explore the architectural site, considerations with regard to questioning and defining the role of the architect, attention to the process and effects of building conservation, and lastly, the integration of design ideas with the presentation of the architectural project. The thesis proposes and demonstrates that engaging with multiple interpretations of context and meaning can create new, richer and more complex experiences in architectural production and discourse.