This is the final post in a series considering the role of psychological research within the context of an architectural practice. The goal of this series is to provide answers to six key questions, namely, the why, what, who, when, how and where, of design focused psycho-social research.
In my previous post, the “how” of design focused psycho-social research was discussed by referring to emerging research tools, namely sensing, tracking and simulation. This post will focus on the ‘where’ of design focused psycho-social research.
One of the big uncertainties facing those undertaking this type of research is about in which environments to perform this research. This post will shed light on this concern by considering three environments. In general, the environment will depend on the type of research and the research goals, but for the purposes of this post three environments will be considered: Practice Environments, Public Environments, Project Environments
Each environment offers unique benefits and drawbacks as it relates to psycho-social research. The legal and ethical considerations associated with each environment are beyond the scope of this post, but it is beneficial, to all involved, if researchers were to err on the side of caution in this regard.
Practice environments are those in which architects and designers work on a daily basis, e.g. the office and studio environment.
Since it is assumed that architects have full control over their own studio environments, the environment of practice offers unique opportunities for testing and developing tools and methodologies. For this reason this environment is an ideal study environment during early stages of research projects, or when new research projects are considered. The office environment typically lends itself well as a test environment for both traditional and emerging tools. An additional benefit of using the office environment as a research environment is that it provides opportunities for designers not typically involved with research, to become familiar with research methodologies and projects, as well as provide user (‘subject’) feedback.
These are environments which are publically accessible and can range from large urban environments, such as parks and plazas, to smaller spaces such as restaurants, waiting areas, transit or civic spaces.
In contrast to the practice environment, public environments fall outside the control of researchers. The degree to which designers can actively apply and test research instruments is, therefore, limited. Public environments are, however, extremely useful environments in which to observe ‘real world’ behavior and can inform design focused psycho-social research in at least two ways:
Firstly, public environments offer ideal opportunities to identify environmental variables which might be relevant to a particular study. When identifying variables for a study, it is possible to overlook variables when doing so in isolation. During the early stages of a study, it is beneficial to consider environmental variables by visiting a number of environments similar to those the study intends to examine.
Secondly, public environments offer an opportunity to identify behavioral variables. This is particularly true when considering social behavior. It is useful to remember that behavioral scripts for social environments, might share key characteristics, even if the environments differ. For example, if a researcher is interested in learning more about behavioral variables of academic lounge environments, it could be useful to observe behavior in public libraries and/or bookstores even though these differ from the anticipated research setting.
Although the potential for testing research instruments are limited in public environments, these environments can still be useful for testing tools that solely rely on observation and/or notation.
Project environments are environments associated with design projects. These can either be existing spaces which have been occupied for an extended period of time, or newly occupied spaces.
The final goal of design focused research is to assess project environments in order to either determine the performance of existing designs, or to inform future designs. Research in project environments require the commitment of building owners and users but can lead to very successful and mutually beneficial collaborations. Project environments can be assessed as part of either pre-occupancy studies or post-occupancy studies. Pre- and post-occupancy studies can vary in scope and focus, but as part of a discussion on research environments the concept of occupancy are assumed to refer to the occupation of a new architectural project.
Pre-occupancy studies involve the assessment of an existing space in order to obtain baseline information against which future designs and performance can be measured. Pre-occupancy studies can also be performed as part of an extended programming phase, where findings from the pre-occupancy study inform future programs and designs.
Post-occupancy studies involve the assessment of a recently occupied space or building. In this type of research it is recommended that a space be occupied by the users for at least one year before a post-occupancy study is performed.
In certain cases both a pre-occupancy and post-occupancy study is performed as part of a project. While this is rare in traditional architectural practice, the benefit of such an undertaking is that behavioral and utilization trends can be identified and may provide a more complete view of the impact the project and design decisions on the building occupants. With the appropriate commitment of building owners and occupants, project environments are ideal environments in which to perform early stage, pilot studies or more established, long term, research projects.
This post wraps up the series on design focused psycho-social research. The goal of this series was to provide an overview of design focused psycho-social research. Other posts from the series can be accessed below. The underlying assumption of this series was that this type of research will grow in importance over the next few years, and while not all designers will equally engage in it, a basic understanding of its potential and limitations is essential for all designers. It is my hope that this series has provided a basic and accessible overview of this topic. Thank you for reading.
An Introduction to Psychological Research in Architectural Practice
Why does psychological research in architectural practice matter?
Considering psychosocial research as a part of architectural practice
5 Points on the Nature of Psychosocial Research in Architecture
WHO: What to ask when assembling a psychosocial research team
WHO: Psychological research in architecture, Part 2
WHO: Psychological research in architecture, Part 3
The WHEN of psychological research in architecture
‘HOW’ to do psychological research in architectural practice
‘HOW’ of design focused psychosocial research: tools and methodologies
‘HOW’ of design focused psychosocial research