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. 

Mariana Amatullo_ Interview at Impact Design Hub

Mariana Amatullo_ Interview at Impact Design Hub

with a sense of new mastery comes the realization that a boundless set of possibilities open up…and you do wish to do your best to honor that promise.

mariana-amatullo20100518_00391

I recently saw this brilliantly insightful interview of Mariana Amatullo on Impact Design Hub. Mariana Amatullo speaks of designing for social change and impact and imparting on young designers the skills needed to do this.

Marian Amatullo is a writer, educator, speaker and student of design and social impact. She is Vice President and co-founder of the Design Matters department at At Center College of Art and Design. Her practice focuses on the intersection of design and social innovation.

Some excerpts from the interview

Mariana on the effect of social impact design projects failing

In the design for international development arena for example, we can point to a number of “shiny objects” and programs designed with all the best intentions that have failed; they do leave an open wound for all of us. For me they stand out as a reminder of why it is a good idea to not be timid or apologetic, but informed and thoughtful in this space.

On the Safe Agua Initiative a project where students travel to low-income communities in Latin america and co-create to design innovative technical solutions that aim to over come some of the social issues that come from water poverty.

The initiative has resulted in award-winning products and incubated student-led social enterprises, which has been remarkable. But it has also pushed us to experiment with different frameworks for collaboration, field research and participatory design methods that have been quite influential across the board in our undergraduate curriculum.  

Her thoughts on 5 things we know about working in the world of social innovation

1. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the name of the game.

2. The ability to learn from mistakes matters.

3. This is not work for the faint of heart.

4. Social innovation work can surprise you—for how addictive it is.

5. (And my all-time favorite): The sky’s the limit!

Mariana’s 5 things we have yet to know about the working world in social innovation

1. Design for scale.

2. Deal with the importance of measurement and evaluation.

3. Keep designers involved in the implementation of the social innovation.

4. Open up more entry points and design pipelines for the next generation of designers to contribute.

5. Overcome resource constraints and pay designers (handsomely) for this work.

Check out the rest of the interview on Impact Design Hub’s blog

Alternative Architecture

Alternative Architecture


life

Image: by Grace M
By Grace M
Day 3: Tell us about something that you think should be improved
I believe that our built environment should be improved and in order for that to happen the makers of our built environment, the architects, urban planners, educators need to consider how design can empower communities and enable a self sufficient future. I was going to write a really long post on how emails should be improved (I feel like I currently spend half my time writing or answering emails). But hearing the news of Architecture for Humanity closing inspired me to write this post. It is a sad occasion. They like the social visionaries of the 50’s and 60’s practiced and promoted an architecture for the people.
Currently one-third of the population live in slums, yet the architecture profession serves only 1% of the worlds population. The wealthiest 1%. Architects are currently under the thumbs of property developers, pushing for profit. Public spaces are being privatised with the building of shopping malls, offices. Housing is getting smaller and smaller. As architect and educator, Jeremy Till says we live in an age of the capitalist production of space. Where long-term social impacts are sacrificed for short-term economic imperatives.
My Current frustration that almost none of my architect or urban designer friends, talk of the end-user and how they use the space. The main focus is on the aesthetics. The form, the light, the materials. The icon and the image, instead of people. Yet architecture is the only form of art or design that we cannot get away from.
 
 
humans of new york
Some say it’s too much to ask. Architect Zaha Hadid famously commented when asked about the worker deaths on the construction sites in Qatar, “it’s not my duty as an architect to look at it. I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it.” But that is not enough. Architecture and city-making at its heart a political and a social practice. Therefore we need to understand our political, social and economic responsibility.
At a OMA exhibition a couple of years ago I saw a quote that has stuck with me since
Creatification
The role of the creative class should be less receiving, rather broader and more faithful and responsive
– economic call
– social necessity
– moral obligation
So how do we change the profession? Firstly we need to get back to the why instead of starting with the what, as Simon Sinek says in his brilliant TED talk. We need to be a profession with vision and extend our concern from just the ‘icon’ and ‘the image’ to wider social, economic and political issues, which affect design yet are often ignored. We need to prioritise process not the product. Architecture students should be encouraged to be proactive instead of reactive. Getting out there and engaging, without waiting for permission. As designers of the built environment we should think like Muhammad Yunus, when we see spatial problem we should design a solution for it, and the best solution might not be a building. Of course it’s not just architects that need to change but those who commission it to. They also need to act as responsible clients and engaged users.
Although I talk about architects, the ideas also extend to landscape architects, urban planners and all the makers of the built environment.
There is hope. Since graduating I have become a trustee of a humanitarian design organisation and the work I’m seeing and learning about is encouraging. The growth in recent years of ideas and movements such as Public Interest Design, Design Thinking, Pop-up urbanism, humanitarian and social impact design show a wider change to long-term social concern instead of short-term economic ones. I truly believe that if we push hard enough we can make our built environment beautiful and empowering for all people in society regardless of their economic circumstances.