Design Prose

Evidence-based Design (EBD) in a Built Environment

Posted in Architecture, Built Environment, Research and Analysis by designprose on June 23, 2010

Evidence-based Design (EBD) is a fully evolved process but an emerging application in the field of architectural field which is applied to handful of projects so far. It’s an approach in designing built environment based on rigorous research, collection of data and making credible decisions from it to achieve best possible outcomes. Through intensive research, education and advocacy it aims to redefine the design process for better and refine the outcome which is translated into tangible and beneficial outcomes for a healthier built environment. In above definition, word design is to be applied in a broader and a holistic sense which is, “plan or scheme conceived in the mind and intended for subsequent execution” (Oxford English Dictionary 2000) as against producing set of drawings or technical blueprints.

Zimring et al. (2008) stated: “EBD is a refinement of several strong continuing research and building delivery practices that have been active since the 1960s. For example, architectural researchers in the US and Britain have studied the impact of hospital layout on work force effectiveness since the 1970s (Clipson & Johnson, 1987; Clipson & Wehrer, 1973; Medical Architectural Research Unit, 1971, 1973a, 1973b, 1976, 1977). Environmental social scientists have studied issues such as wayfinding and patient visitor experience (Carpman & Grant, 1993). Architectural researchers have explored post-occupancy evalulation of buildings can inform design and building delivery (Baird, Gray, Issaacs, Kernohan & McIndoe, 1996; Zimring, 2002) (p.12).” This indicates that such research practices to apply EBD have been somewhat restricted to healthcare facilities so far but it also indicates the gravity of the approach and significance of its application in other built environment and facilities, say, schools, offices, residences, hotels and so on where people spend a significant amount of hours.

Significant studies have been done to find a relationship between colors and behavior, layout and ease and efficiency, finish materials with health parameters, size and mechanism of the windows and sense of connectedness to nature and outside environment, indoor air quality to health of the inhabitants. Such research studies can challenge architects and designers to their suggested solutions or rather aid them in coming up with better and well-rounded solutions or a stepping stone towards better understanding of spaces and behavioral patterns. It can either call for next round of suggested research or can be used directly if the parameters and variables are same for the design of a facility under consideration. Such measures will not only ensure a more thought processed design solution but will also enable architects and designers to be more accountable by having imparted value-addition to a built environment. As yardsticks like health hazards, productivity, efficiency, safety take center of initial design phases EBD will play critical role in determining designs that are user-centered which enhances the quality of life in the built environment.

Simply put the strategies that an architectural design professional can embrace broadly are classified as (via Wiki):

  1. reviewing existing research literature to select significant findings and recommendations;
  2. matching referenced findings with data gathered from site visits, surveys results, subject matter experts;
  3. predicting the outcomes of design decisions;
  4. tracking the positive as well as negative outcomes for design implementation.

To show evidence-based different types of practice, the model presented in “Four Levels of Evidence-Based Practice”, The AIA Journal of Architecture, 2006, presented below, illustrates four ways of dealing with research. this includes identifying four increasingly levels and the related methods.

  • Level 1
    • understanding and analyzing the literature in the field in order to follow the related environmental researches.
    • reading the meaning of the evidence in the relationships to the project under design consideration.
  • Level 2
    • foreshadowing the expected outcomes of design decisions upon the general readings.
    • measuring the results through the analysis of the implications, the construction of a chain of logic connection from decision and future outcome which will impact cost incurred for present and future implementations.
  • Level 3
    • reporting the results publicly, writing or speaking about results, and engaging more academicians, researchers and professionals and moving information beyond design team.
    • subjecting methods and results to others who may or may not agree with the findings and have healthy discussions, debates to bring a common understanding of non-negotiable of design parameters.
  • Level 4
    • publishing the findings in reviewed journals.
    • collaborating with academic or social and behavioral scientists to further the study.

As building industry becomes more conscious of human-centered approach and impacts of building codes and statutes, clients through education and awareness will increasingly become more demanding of accountability and data-based justification towards design solutions. This will demand professionals to use more and more EBD in their design phases to offer more lasting and accountable design decisions based on research to help them leverage their expertise to higher degree.