People Centred Architecture

People Centred Architecture

Ideo recently published their Field Guide to Human Centred Design which reminded me of the importance of people centred design and architecture in todays rapidly changing world. 

I recently worked in a recently renovated theatre and it was a great lesson on how essential it was to design spaces for how people would actually use them instead of just the aesthetics. I had many gripes about the architecture. The architects had obvviously designed what the client wanted, a grand building that stood out in the streetscape and city. But for those of us working there the new design was tricky to navigate; pillars that prevented patrons from seeing where the bar was, high bar tops difficult for shorter staff to work or be seen, locking doors that made it hard to get around the building. 

The way architecture is taught in architecture schools means that people are not at the centre of the design process. There is a discussion of aesthetics, the image, context, light, the form. this continues to the office where the concern is about cost savings and making the client happy with little dicussion of people or how they actually use or engage with the space.

All to often as architects we feel as though we must be the master builder, designing to the last detail. Which is fair enough especially as the icons in our profession work in this way. However participation does not prevent this method rather it looks at a holistic approach which encompases not just the design and construction but also puts the end users at the centre of the design process. 

John Habrekens explanation of participation has stuck with me since seeing the brilliant documentary De Drager. He spoke of participation being a paternalistic that implies that professionals make the world and they are willing to let the people in. Whereas it is the other way round. There is the built environment that has its own laws and has been around for thousands of years, so instead we should ask to what extent can the architect particpate to make it better. Not participation of the people in the work of the architect. Creating a new dialogue with the building and the professional role. If we get feedback from the way people use the building and we can understand this. We begin to ask ourselves what is the intervention the architect can make?

His interest in feedback is similar to that of the lean start up, which advocates testing and iteration, creating short feedback loops that inform the next iteration. In impact design or people centred design we are constantly looking at and evaluating the impact of a project on the community. This hardly ever happens in traditional architectural practice. The project ends with the construction of the building with little follow up to see what lessons could be learned or feedback gained.  This should be practice that is wide spread in the profession. Not just the impact to the individuals using the space but also the wider social and economic community. It begins with actually speaking to the people who use or will use the spaces. 

A brilliant example is ‘Koolhaas Houselife.’ Exploring the everyday life of the housekeeper of one of architect Rem Koolhaas’ buildings. It’s reality versus the polished images often depicted. 

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