Design Prose

The Urban Roots of Financial Crises: Reclaiming the City for Anti-Capitalist Struggle

Posted in Research and Analysis, Sustainability, Urbanism by designprose on December 20, 2011

The assault on the environment and the well-being of the people is palpable and it is taking place for political and class, not economic reasons. It is inducing, as David Stockman has very recently noted, a state of plain class war. As Warren Buffett also put it, ‘sure there is class war, and it is my class, the rich, who are making it and we are winning’. The only question is: when will the people start to wage class war back? And one of the places to start would be to focus on the rapidly degrading qualities of urban life, through foreclosures, the persistence of predatory practices in urban housing  markets, reductions in services and above all the lack of viable employment opportunities in urban labour markets almost everywhere, with some cities (Detroit being the sad poster child) utterly bereft of employment prospects. The crisis now is as much an urban crisis as it ever was.

Full paper, here, by David Harvey, professor of Anthropology at CUNY.


Work and the City by Frank Duffy

Posted in Architecture, Built Environment, Research and Analysis, Uncategorized, Urbanism by designprose on March 13, 2011

“Nevertheless the physical fabric of our buildings and cities, not least workplaces, will change: to paraphrase a famous remark on Architecture by Winston Churchill, we use technology and then technology uses us.[…]

The ways in which the physical fabric of buildings and cities are being changed by information technology. However, equally important, if not more so, are the ways in which information technology is making it possible for us to reinvent the dimension of time by dissolving temporal conventions that have been taken for granted for centuries.”

Above words are quoted from Duffy’s introductory passages in Work and the City where he takes a contemplative look at future of workspace, nature of work itself and how it impacts the office development and eventually affects the fabric of life and cities, both culturally and ecologically. Technological connectivity has  enabled us with an alternate model of work and advancement is here to modulate our workspace such that we maximize its offerings. In reality, how are we responding to these changes and how much cultural shift will be viable and sustainable is yet to be seen. Although brief in his writings, Duffy touches the surface of the issues that will be forthcoming as the city turn more urban and technologically advanced. He says,

Even more imagination will be required to envision what the new world of universal connectivity will be like. However, one thing is certain: new temporal and social conventions must be invented that will be strong enough to take advantage of the enormous potential freedoms offered by the new technology as well as equally capable to avoiding the destructive effects of the hugely invasive power of information technology.

This will make study of human ecology even more critical with respect to culture, local or global and it manifests itself in the fabric of city striving towards modernity yet remaining sustainable to environment and societies. Such that hidden costs are incorporated in the business solutions. This will impact the way the construction industries campaign their development model which is rarely inclusive and present only an artificial side of demands to real estate and hence the supply side is highly lop-sided while maximizing their benefits.

That said, forms for the buildings and cities of the future will demand more secured environments which will have to be fluid as well as organic while responding to interactive knowledge economy where buildings are not merely in response to symptoms of industrial model of working. There is a need to figure out how efficiently cities can be designed keeping in mind adjacencies, scales of spaces and their complimentary functions. Such a model is planned but it also allows adaptability to the forces of organic human behaviors and their individual needs to adjust perform and leverage potential.

In Duffy’s words,

My vision of the future city is almost exactly opposite. It is essentially urban. The vision depends upon social logic of the knowledge economy which will thrive on open ended discourse much of which will be aided by technology but that will also continue to be social, plural and face to face.

In essence, we will modify our mode of working from time to time and may call it advancement but it will not essentially eradicate human interaction and proximity of face to face meeting value. It will continue to be highly social and technology will be its background only and not the foreground.

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They are Built

Posted in Architecture, Built Environment, Research and Analysis by designprose on February 22, 2011

Buildings or built environments do learn, adapt, change over a period of time after they are inhabited. This organic modification or adaptation albeit organic takes place immediately as people move in. How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand throws light on the same aspect. Post occupancy what happens to space and how its intended use is successful or not and if it is, to what degree. Post occupancy evaluation is an important tool to measure success of architectural collaboration and for future learning, too. Stewart Brand’s book was later converted into six part TV series. All of them are available on the web. It is worth architectural professional’s time and energy as Brand brings out some nuanced observations, opinions of users who have lived in those spaces or the folks who have tried to maintain the building. Insightful, incisive and inductive by nature. Brings up the point that post occupancy evaluation is as much important as pre-design or design phases. POE loops back to design phases as the lessons from evaluation can be applied in future projects.

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.

Determining Functionality of Buildings Through Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

Posted in Built Environment, Research and Analysis by designprose on March 9, 2010

Built environment and buildings are human habitat solutions in response to our sociological, political and physiological needs. Pattern in buildings are often representative of undercurrents of our social, political and climatological trends. How well architects and designers have responded to all the aspects to ascertain a successful solution is a subjective topic. Factors to come down to a solution are dynamic and hence a project completion cannot be labeled success or a failure in a simplistic stroke. To evaluate a building, hence we engage a process, Post occupancy evaluation (POE). By its very definition, it is a method to evaluate a building (or built environment) after it has been occupied or been in use for a certain amount of time. The time frame usually ranges from 6 months to a year. Qualitative and methodical analysis applied to a building to understand what has worked and what has failed and thus come to prescriptive solutions to improve or fix those is POE. Such a process engages active users in the process and can often provide valuable insights to problems and adaptive use of spaces, beyond the anticipated, intuitive and organized solution offered by architects and designers.

Why Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

Active users form a valuable insight into how buildings or space affect their daily activities, needs, aspirations, various feelings, freedom, security,  emotional well-being, temperature and materials, smell and odors, quality of indoor air and so on. The method of POE enables the researchers to gather bias-free data and evaluate to make certain changes to better suit the purpose to maximize strengths and reduce weaknesses. These studies can also work as hallmark for future similar projects during their inception. It will also provide a framework to understand if the building designs needs any social, political, market or codes reforms or adjustments.

How to do Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

Depending on reasons and its severity, the process needs to be tailored to come up with a comprehensive research plan to tackle the active and passive issues. Enlist all the problems that the managers and owners of the buildings have voices. Next is to come up with a methodology either by questionnaire or interview as means to research the issue amongst the “user group”. User group should be medium sized and of people who actively use the buildings, it could be students in case of educational building or shoppers in a retail space. In my opinion, it is essential to have few open-ended questions included. Such questions often lead to non-biased and frank opinion on something that the researcher might have missed. Once, rigorous data collection is done it can then be organized and tabulated in charts and graphs. This data will reflect rich ground to formulate it into manageable trends and expectations, strengths, weaknesses and more. Basing on this comprehension, designers can come up rectifications towards cost saving, fine tuning, improvements, short term suggestions, long term goals. Such solutions should be thrown open to set of users again and gather the feelers towards these to streamline them and make it truly participatory.

Reportage and future usage of POE study

Well documented study should be easy to understand, bias-free, and clearly presented to empower and enable all its users including researchers, building owners, code reviewers, similar genre building builders and designers. Such should be the formulation of the report that its transparent, logic and non-political such that any user is able to discern and apply its findings with little or no hassle. Evaluations should be used to provide a competitive edge towards a solution and to gain from it non-crudely.

More readings can be obtained through books by Wolfgang Preiser. His books on building performance evaluation and post occupancy evaluation are listed here on Amazon.