The Bartlett School of Architecture


Naomi Gibson

Naomi Gibson (2020) Scene of a meeting



Speaking to Design: Verbal Interpretations and Architectural Invention

First and second supervisors

  • Professor Sophia Psarra
  • Professor Jane Rendell


This practice-led research is an exploration of speech as a tool for representation and design in the early stages of an architectural project, and how such speech relates to drawing. Taking its cue from conversations between architects and between architects and clients, this project creates a dialogue between the exploratory development of a creative practice that foregrounds the spoken word in the conception of buildings, and observations about communication within contemporary architectural practice in the UK. The project ponders what is particular about architectural design ideas conjured through speech, and how these conceptions complement, yet are different to, those communicated through drawing. Following the philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco’s work on translation, interpretation and natural language, attention is given to audience accessibility of speech and its inherent ambiguity – to a ‘fuzziness’ and interpretive openness that provides possibility for generating design ideas. There has been limited research into the content and performance of speech as a design tool in architecture. Studies of design workshop conversations (Luck, R 2012; Cuff, D 1991) have focused upon the culture and social rules of these events. Here the study and practice of speech is placed at the interdisciplinary junction of ethnography, sound arts practice and architecture. Structuralist and Post-Structuralist theories of language are considered, as well as work by cognitive linguists and philosophers who have examined vocal expression (Dolar, M 2006; Cavarero, A 2005). 

Ethnographic fieldwork in the form of interviews and observations of design workshops are being conducted with London-based architects and their clients to understand the use of speech within practice, with interactions recorded and taking place in person or online. The creative practice makes use of and reinterprets material collected from fieldwork and other sources to create audio, video and drawn works which – through translations between speech and drawing, audio-visual juxtapositions and the performance of verbal variations – stretch and reveal the architectural design potential of speech. This project aims to generate new knowledge about the role of speech for seeing, conceiving and sharing thoughts for future buildings. 


Naomi Gibson is a registered architect who obtained both her Degree and Masters in Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, where she is pursuing her doctoral research. Prior to this she worked in practice, working on a range of projects for schools. Naomi currently teaches within the architecture schools at the University of Greenwich and Central Saint Martins. She previously taught at Oxford Brookes University and has been a visiting critic for several UK schools of architecture. Her research interests revolve around the role of the architect and design communication, specifically through the spoken word.

Image: Naomi Gibson (2020), Scene of a meeting