Tuesday, 9 September 2014

It isn't a pretty picture

It had to happen sooner or later.  My ignorance was shown up recently in a manner almost poetic in its justice.  

Most readers of this blog would realise that I have something of an obsession with the problem of how architects build and use knowledge, with the lack of rigour in dealing with rhetoric and evidence, and generally with how self-referential architectural culture has become.  So fancy how I felt when I came across an article titled The knowledge problem by  Darragh O'Brien in the Discourse tab of my local architecture magazine site ArchitectureAU.  

The author reports on a global survey by a new publication called Evidence Based Design Journal.  It isn't good news.
Let me quote the article:

"As designers, how do we inform ourselves about the transactions that occur between people and the spaces that they occupy? Do we rely on personal knowledge, gained through subjective observation, or do we gather data from other sources? Do we use the new digital tools that are now available to gather the intelligence we need for design practice?

In this post-digital age, demand is growing for an evidence-based approach to the design of cultural, corporate and institutional spaces that will not only contain but also support the specific activities of their occupants. These kind of ‘performative environments’ are publicly accessible, socially and culturally complex places that have a direct impact on human experiences and events. To design such environments, we require detailed knowledge of anthropospatial behaviour and experience, beyond the scope of any one designer’s personal experience.

In this article, we present the results of a global pilot study undertaken in 2013 that sought some early answers to those opening questions.  The results of this study provide an interesting glimpse into the knowledge practices of design professionals around the world.
Although we as designers recognise the need to inform ourselves about the people we design for, it appears that we generally do not access explicit information, beyond our own experience or that of our clients. Most of us do not refer to research literature, nor do we engage in post-occupancy analysis of completed projects. The primary reasons given were a lack of time and/or the financial resources to do so, but there is also something deep in the culture of design that gets in our way – our training."

And they go on to support their conclusions with some damning numbers, some of which are summed up in the headline graphic of this post. Most embarrassing, coming from this part of the world, was how badly Australian architects compared to an already bad lot:
Although 80% of respondents perceived a need for explicit data gathering, 68% of respondents never, or only occasionally, review anthropospatial research literature. In Australia and New Zealand, this percentage climbs to 88% and in South America it is reduced to 59%. On average, just 16% of designers will review research literature as a matter of course, but in Australia that percentage drops to 5%.

No wonder I get a bad impression here in Sydney.  Wherever you are in the world, read this article.  It's not a pretty picture.

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