Research Beyond Test Tubes and Focus Groups

Research is so much more than test tubes and microscopes, white coats in sterile labs and surveys and focus groups. Research is about curiosity and investigation, adding to the world’s knowledge and gaining knowledge…things we know a lot about.

Our research is often an active pursuit involving face-to-face time with people who are impacted by what we design. It involves people listening to people, students building what they design, faculty diving deep into topics, even traveling around the world to find answers, and bringing what they learn to the studio for the benefit of students.

We expect our students and faculty to pursue creative inquiry, engagement and research, and we give them tools and support to do so. We are, after all, part of the University of Tennessee, which is moving toward a ranking as a Top 25 public research institution.

Through our research, we pursue scholarly knowledge and answers to a range of societal issues using design and design thinking:

  • To learn about the challenges facing our Tennessee River, our students go to the people in the four states impacted by the river then design possible solutions.
  • When our students build what they design through our successful Design/Build Program, they see how their work addresses need in the world.
  • Faculty conduct scholarly research, publish chapters and books and are invited to speak around the world on their areas of expertise.
  • Our professors are named as Fulbright Scholars, one of the top international research programs, and travel worldwide to teach and deepen their inquiry.

Student Research

Through research, students engage their critical-thinking skills as they make original intellectual or creative contributions to the disciplines. Student research might include

  • Independent study projects
  • Thesis work
  • Investigations outside of the studio under the guidance of a professor
  • Design/build projects
  • Competitions
  • Community charrettes and engagement
  • And many others


Research through Competitions

Our students have many opportunities to compete in (and often win) national and international research-based design competitions and experiences:

Faculty Research

Our faculty conduct diverse research to contribute to the disciplines and enhance our innovative education in the studio. They are often recognized for their creative inquiry, engagement and research.

International Research:

  • In all, we have nine Fulbright Scholars on our faculty, who have researched and taught in Italy, India, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Poland, Romania and Slovenia.

Regional Research:

  • Landscape Architecture’s Brad Collett is leading students to conduct numerous research projects to investigate the challenges to the Tennessee River.

Books + Publications:

  • Book: Students in Brad Collett’s studio published HydroLIT, Southeast Tennessee Water Quality Playbook.
  • Book: In 2017, Avigail Sachs, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, published the book, Environmental Design: Architecture, Politics and Science, 1937-1973, a unique examination of modernist ideas viewed through sociopolitical concerns.
  • Book: Mark DeKay, Architecture, specializes in sustainable design theory, research and design. His book, Sun, Wind, and Light: architectural design strategies (third edition), co-authored by G.Z. Brown, has recently been translated into Chinese and French.

Applied Research



  • Construction: The Green Oak Research Initiative, a five-year effort led by Ted Shelton, Architecture, researched how the undried heart-centers of hardwood logs can be used for architectural and engineering purposes to convert an underutilized resource into a low-energy, low-carbon material.

Collaborative Research

  • Through our Governor’s Chair for Energy + Urbanism program, students led by James Rose, Architecture, collaborated with professionals from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to research, design and additively manufacture AMIE, the world’s first 3D-printed, energy-sharing and -harvesting structure.

Our students and faculty have the benefit of collaborating with

  • Our Governor’s Chair for Energy + Urbanism including Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • Colleges at UT Knoxville and other campuses across the UT system
  • Students from across all disciplines in our college
  • Our industry partners, including Crossville Inc., a premier tile manufacturer, and General Shale, an international brick manufacturer
  • Partners including Local Motors and Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Design professionals and community leaders
  • Students and experts using advanced technology in our Fab Lab
  • And many more.