Dancing through Architecture: The Impact of Collaboration on Practice

Department: Architecture
Active Dates: September 2019 - ongoing
Principal Investigator: Sony Devabhaktuni
Funding: Early Career Scheme grant, University Grants Committee, Hong Kong SAR; Seed Fund grant, University of Hong Kong


From the Bauhaus to Black Mountain College, collaboration between dancers and architects was part of an ethos of experimentation that marked some of the 20th century’s most influential cultural moments. In recent decades, research into intersections between dance and architecture has expanded: performance studies, digital media and neurology are fields that have put forward questions. Within architecture, scholars have examined specific collaborative relationships: for example, between the dancers Anna Halprin and Lucinda Childs and the architects Lawrence Halprin and Bernard Tschumi, respectively. While such research documents the mutual influence that dancers and architects have on each other, the practice of collaboration has been little studied.

The proposed research investigates the impact that collaboration with dance has on architectural practice. When architects work with dancers, how does this creative exchange take place? How does collaboration between dancers and architects influence the making of architecture? The continued enthusiasm for partnerships between the disciplines would suggest that these questions have established answers, when in fact, they do not. This project tests a method for addressing those questions in order to achieve a qualitatively richer understanding of collaboration’s functioning and impact. Through this understanding, it could also be possible to characterize those collaborative  practices that lead to innovations.

The research is based on case studies comprising contemporary instances of collaboration between dancers and architects. These case studies will be subject to interviews and the documentation of materials (drawings, texts, videos, etc.) generated during the collaboration. Interviews and documentation will be analysed to identify knowledge, processes and mediating instruments: knowledge through a lexicon of terms debated and defined by participants; working processes through the abstraction and graphic representation of temporal, spatial and personal relations that form a network of dynamics; and mediating instruments through a catalogue that classifies and describes materials generated during the collaboration. Architectural production that post-dates the partnership will be documented and analysed to identify those instances where knowledge, processes and mediating instruments endure to influence the making of architecture. Project findings will be disseminated in conference talks, journal articles and a book-length publication. These outputs will contribute to the diverse critical discourse on architecture and dance, but also to questions of how interdisciplinary exchange generates knowledge, learning and creative production. The research methods and findings ultimately have the potential to impact the way architecture is investigated and taught as a collaborative process.

Enlarge Photo: Walking Awkwardly Around the Perimeter of a Zoom, with Guillaume Othenin Girard, as part of the 'Hong Kong Sessions' of Deep City / Climate Crisis, organized by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology - Lausanne, May 2021.