Collaborating for a People-Centric Architecture
Architecture from its inception has been concerned with parameters such as form, technology and engineering – To turn creative thought into visual realities and therefore manifest relative ideas of culture, religion, government and art into its corresponding physical representations. However, often the profession can become self-indulged, constructing a sort of grand scale visual aesthetic of the built environment without regard to the relationships it forms with and between its inhabitants. Architectural theory seeks to explain and predict this impact our built environment – or lack thereof – has on society. In their book ‘Making Places for People: Twelve Questions Every Designer Should Ask’, Christie Coffin and Jenny Young discuss the role of ‘place’ in human life, stating that,
“critical understanding of the relationships between people and their built environments can inspire designs that better contribute to health, human performance, and social equity” 1
This logic has led to the identification of the built environment as a tool for contributing towards well-being or ‘people-oriented design’. The theory behind this concerns itself with the cause and effect of both the built and natural environment on the human psyche and consequently on the physiological health of the body itself. This is what has come to be known as evidence-based design or EBD. EBD suggests that the successfulness of the experiential aspects of design can be somewhat predicted through the study of the human perception of space. How an individual perceives a ‘negative’ space has a temporary effect on their psychological state. If this becomes a continuous state of mind due to repeated exposure, it can lead to prolonged or more permanent mental disorientation and potentially yield physiological repercussions.
The stimuli which trigger these negative perceptions of our surroundings are referred to as ‘stressors’ and reveal themselves in both subjective and objective forms, stemming from environmental factors such as light, noise, exposure to nature, colour and social engagement. The participation of both the psychological and physiological sciences in architecture have given the practical means of reducing or controlling these stressors.
Reconfiguring the Design Process
The discipline of evidence-based design challenges the architect to reinvent architectural norms through social and physical experimentation somewhat, modifying pre-established design typology and methodology to better benefit its users. Architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros’ describes EBD as a process of evaluation and adaptation which is stunted when the architect uses a ‘one step solution’ approach to design 2. He discusses how certain building typologies have become a standard foundation for repetition without testing the health and well-being of its inhabitants – a trial and error process long since used for development in the medical science. There is no ‘A+B=C’ formula constant in the medical practice, neither should there be one for architectural design. Unfortunately, the aesthetic form of these standard typologies, rather than the successfulness of its functionality, is being critically judged as architecture. This mode of thinking has led to the futile cycle of architects designing strictly for the admiration of other architects.
The evidence-based design designing process includes both social and physical consideration. It can span from the closeness in proximity to your neighbour, and whether this stimulates positive social interaction, or disruptive behaviour or noise pollution, to the placement of artificial lighting and window fixtures in a room and the effect, this has on the sleep cycle. Evidence-based design imposes the creation of so-called ‘healing environments’ detached from simplistic surface level treatments. This can be used in educational facilities to stimulate positive energy, learning and alertness, in healthcare centres to accelerate the recovery rate of patients, or in places of business to enhance productivity.
Despite confirmation that such associations do exist, the individualistic human experience is capable of disorienting some of these connections through the influence of biases based on cultural, geographical, gender, and educational differences. This leaves some of the areas within evidence-based design without a singular universal standard. For example, depending on cultural background, the colour red can hold various values (view diagram below). These variables distort pre-established concepts of what is perceived as comforting or discomforting. Therefore, colour is often omitted from the process of EBD.
Expanding the Role of the Architect
The role of the architect is to have the skills, and more importantly the will, to contextualise each project separately and explore any relevant, project informative sources outside of his/her profession. This article is an introduction to the series of building through evidence-based design that will discuss how through interdisciplinary collaboration, contextualisation and experimentation, architects can begin to embrace these principles and build towards a more people-centric architecture.
1 Johnson Coffin, C. & Young, J. (2017). Making Places for People: 12 Questions Every Designer Should Ask
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