Thursday, December 16, 2010

Research Opportunities Are Everywhere

I recently read an article by Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, that was part of the material attached to the Boston Society of Architects publication regarding their Research Grant program. The article, Research in the design studio, from page 6 of the 2009 Research Grants program review and report, reminds us that research opportunities are everywhere in our daily work. Sometimes we just don’t recognize them and then don’t use disciplined methods to record that information. Too often we don’t look for and use available information, better known as someone else’s research. Thomas Fisher’s message is clear and applicable to all of us and in all that we do. We shouldn’t be intimidated by the term “research” and think that it is done by someone else in a “lab” somewhere else. Remember our life and our work is our lab. I believe his message is all about how we approach our questions, our inquiry, our curiosity and our search. That search will allow us to take on the big challenges that face our profession and our planet.

In case the link above does not display, page 6 is pasted below.

Research in the design studio
Thomas Fisher, AIA

Research occurs in design studios and offices all the time: historical research, precedent studies, and programming analyses, form explanations, functional evaluations and so on. But we often don’t think of this as “research” and so we rarely frame our work using research protocols, such as hypothesis statements, testing methods, evaluation criteria or generalizable conclusions. Nor do we document and share the results of this research with colleagues very often. If we are to transform architecture into a more evidence-based, value-added discipline and profession, we desperately need to see design as a form of research and to capture and peer-review the knowledge we produce as a result.

At the same time, peer-reviewed research rarely gets folded into the work of design studios or architectural offices, which often means that we end up repeating or rediscovering what we already know, without much attention to the discovery or development of new knowledge. This happens, in part, because we don’t have a good sense of what constitutes “new” knowledge in our field. The need for greater access to and inclusion of research in our work has never been greater, even though our field has given it relatively little attention or funding.

In universities, design studios have many of the same features as “labs,” requiring the same levels of computing equipment and shop support. However, conceptually, most architecture schools treat them more like fine art studios, in which originality and individuality gets rewarded rather than the common knowledge generated there.

We can no longer afford this fine arts model, not because it is too expensive, but because the world needs architects and designers to grapple with the big problems we face on this planet – such as climate change, habitat fragmentation, dysfunctional cities, inadequate shelter for billions of people, etc. We need to find ways to identify the most pressing problems, identify the best solutions and peer-review them for broad dissemination. The world needs design studios, be they in universities or offices, to act more like research labs, and we will have no choice but to respond to that need.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Snap Judgements

The current issue of Harvard Magazine has a very interesting article by social psychologist Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School called The Psyche on Automatic. In the article, Cuddy probes the topic of snap judgments, the spontaneous decisions we make and that others make about us. Based on her research she has found that there are two critical variables, warmth and competence, and that they account for about 80% of our overall evaluation of people.

As I reflect on the article and my personal experience, I think this research is also profoundly useful and relevant to professional life. Its impact is wide ranging, from capturing work and client partnering, to team collaboration and daily interactions. While I understand the warmth and competence aspect, I think we all should think more about what we value, what we know and how we actually interact. It may not be conscious but there are warmth/competence tradeoffs. In short, Cuddy says that warmth is perceived first, and accounts for more in someone's overall evaluation than competence. On the other hand she notes a conflicting view where an individual's self perception values competence over warmth. In our design and technical architecture and engineering focused world, the bias to competence is understandable. Do you rate competence more than warmth?

Beyond this basic theme she covers many other useful concepts, including the neurological and physical impact of body position in our interactions, awareness of cultural and gender bias, stereotyping and other nonverbal signals. All of these factors contribute to our automatic responses. The last two paragraphs in the article provide good advice; focus on connecting. This quote makes her point clear.

       "That said, you don't have to prove that you're the most
        dominant, most competent person there. In fact it's rarely
        a good idea to strive to show everyone that you're the
        smartest guy in the room: that person tends to be less
        creative, and less cognitively open to other ideas and

Further she notes that competence oriented presentations and meetings, with their focus on words, content and precise delivery, can feel or sound scripted. Her advice instead? "Come into a room, be trusting, connect with your audience wherever they are, and then move them with you."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Start With Why

A few weeks ago at an Educational Practice Leader workshop in Baltimore, we were focusing our discussion and speculation on the future of education and learning. One of the workshop events was a review and discussion of topics facilitated through videos from a number of well known futurists and inspired leaders. The most powerful and transformational video was a talk by author, teacher and leadership consultant, Simon Sinek. The TEDx Talk covered the essence of his book, 'Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action,' and while not specifically focused on our topic of the future trends in teaching and learning or the design of educational facilities, the talk reminds you to ask why you think about the impact of digital technology, globalization and the preparation of the next generation for the many global challenges. It forces you to think, overall, about why you do what you do. As Sinek says in the talk, people in business or, in our case, architectural and engineering design practice, generally know what their firm does, sometimes know how their firm goes about doing it, but very few can answer the most profound question of why they are doing it.

The why question is not about profit, sales or prestige, it's about the essential purpose and passion. Through examples from the Wright Brothers to Apple Computers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he shows that inspired leaders always start with why. The talk makes key points about leaders: you can learn to lead, leaders inspire and passion must be linked to purpose. His message "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" is repeatedly stated, and he highlights King's passion. King didn't say "I have a plan," he said "I have a dream." Closing the video, Sinek sums it all up:

"There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead, inspire us. Whether they're individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it's those who start with why that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Own Your Time

Similar to my recent post, Life in Small Bites, a recent Fast Company blog by Graham Button, 7 Trends to Watch in an Age of Info Overload, looks at why the more information we have the less informed we feel. While he offers seven truths to keep things in perspective, two involved terms new to me - 'information sickness' or over exposure, and 'continuous partial attention' for multi-tasking. But what I find more important, particularly as it relates to our architectural and engineering professions, is the link between the daily information pressure and decisions we make about how to spend our time. Graham states that the real wealth is in owning our own time and being able to use it for creative social change. A quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt reinforces this time pressure vs. creativity link:

"Innovation is something that comes when you're not under the gun. So it's important that, even if you don't have balance in your life, you have some time for reflection… The creative parts of one's mind are not on a schedule."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Life in Small Bites

In a recent story in the Boston Globe titled Break it Down for Me, Beth Teitell discusses how our society wants to consume everything - food, news, information, relationship advice - in short, condensed forms. It is a very interesting read about the state of today's society and how we respond to the overload of information by what she calls bite-sizing.

As researchers have noted, this chunking down of things is an attempt to impose some order upon chaos. However one can see beyond the predigested chunks of single service food options to something even more concerning, single service mind options. If you save time with bite-sizing, the question then is what will result from the time saved - more mindfulness or just more automatic actions?

I believe this phenomenon has profound impacts and puts at risk the thoughtful and mindful processes of an architectural and engineering practice. There will be many implications well beyond snack packs. What do you think it means to professionals, firms and our industry? How does it impact marketing, presentation and client communications? How will you use the freed up time?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Environmental Research and Evidence Based Design

I recently came across some material from the research team at the University of Montreal Faculty of Environmental Design headed by Professor Jacqueline Vischer PhD. The research group, the New Work Environments Research Group (GRET), has been active for more than ten years, focusing on a better built environment for people at work. Their research topics cover building performance measurement studies, occupant surveys related to functional comfort, and design considerations of the workplace of the future. In addition the research group maintains a website with links to publications as well as access to their Documentation Center of more than 800 articles.

One article on the website, Bridging the Gap Between Research and Design by Jacqueline Vischer and John Zeisel, explores the evolution of Evidence Based Design. They focus a good deal of attention on the way traditional pre-design programming and post occupancy evaluation affect the creation and use of research in the design process. These traditional opportunities, while not well or consistently implemented in current practice, are contrasted with Evidence Based Design processes to "bridge the gap" between research and practice.

There are many useful concepts in the article to aid in the understanding and development of a research based culture and design process. This quote regarding the value of research puts it well and I urge you to read the full article.

"Basing design decisions on research evidence lends a scientific case to professional design, eventually having a positive effect on clients' opinions of their designers (and on clients' willingness to pay for professional design services) in much the same way as other professions such as medicine and law are respected in our culture. As this proof - or evidence - accumulates, it must be stored and maintained for easy access and retrieval in the context of project applications, much as legal decisions and opinions are stored for legal practice and as medical practitioners in clinical practice now have EBM data electronically available."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Four Clicks

This past Friday morning I had an interesting web journey. In my inbox was an email from Sagus International indicating that they were following me on Twitter. Curious to find out more about a company I didn't recognize, I clicked on the Sagus link to discover it was a Chicago furniture company focused on transforming environments and improving results in the 21st century school. Their site contained links to presentations, papers and videos, including, with a second click, an interview with Darryl Rosser, Sagus CEO. Responding to the interviewer's questions, he described his personal commitment to the 21st century school, and in particular, to the JV Martin Junior High School in Dillon, SC, the same school President Obama mentioned in a speech after being contacted by Ty Sheoma Bethea, an 8th grade student who described the poor condition and plight of the school. Rosser had come to South Carolina as co-sponsor of an educational campus symposium focused on establishing a blueprint that would incorporate a wide range of educational, health and community needs for tomorrow's school, but along the way, he visited JV Martin, saw their need, and enlisted employees and sponsors to donate and transform the interior of the dilapidated school with new furniture.

A third click and I was watching the video, produced by ETV South Carolina, of the symposium that Rosser attended. The one-hour video brought together key players in the discussion of private and public partnership on what and how to move our public schools into the 21st century in Dillon, SC and in the United States, covering a wide range of community, health, economic, sustainable and education issues. In the discussion, two people caught my attention, Dr. Oscar Lovelace, a rural family practitioner, and futurist David Houle. I'll leave you to watch the video and see what you think.

Intrigued by David Houle's comments and perspectives on the future of education, my fourth and final click took me to his article, America's Future in Global Education in SEEN Magazine. In the article, David spins through the history of major societal changes bringing us through the Information Age to the Shift Age, which he defines as the radical changes in technology, connectivity and globalization occurring today. Relating connectivity to education, he highlights its positive and negative impacts, and identifies the first true wave of digital natives who know only the Shift Age, in contrast to those of us from the Information Age who are merely digital immigrants.

My journey of four clicks, provided just the rapid and relevant learning experience Houle attributes to connectivity.

When you think about it, “Search” is a fundamental aspect of education and the acquisition of knowledge and the attainment of understanding.

I may only be a digital immigrant but I keep searching.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

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Friday, March 12, 2010

1% for Architectural Research

Some of my time these days is spent reading, thinking and writing, seeking perspective and insight into the current challenges related to our profession - in particular the critical role of research in addressing ways to create more responsible architecture despite the impacts of economic pressure and globalization of practice. I find myself looking both backward to historical precedents and forward to the actions we must take to advance our profession.

In my last post, I cited a paper on Caudill, Rowlett, Scott by Avigail Sachs, and now I'm adding references from her most recent award-winning research paper, The Postwar Legacy of Architectural Research. From these research papers and Bill Caudill's TIBS, we can see the historical context for architectural research, the professional need for this research, and the difficulties both past and present that architectural firms face in funding their research work.

In a 1966 TIB, Bill Caudill stated his view that architecture needed theories, research and greater creativity to respond to an increasingly complex profession. He further observed that many professionals in his firm, CRS, were resisting the need to delve into design research. One could make that same observation today about architectural practice.


Worlds -- THEORY

23 June 66 WWC

"Our complex profession is getting more complex. We must have theories, simpler methods, greater creativity, and much more design precision to solve our problems and those of our clients.

We are faced not only with the complexities of the team, technology, and larger projects, but we have problems relating to tremendous changes in architectural design created by new building types, large scale projects, advanced technology, and the necessity for team action.

I mentioned the need for new theories to solve the new and more complex problems relating to architecture. I find many CRS people resenting our activities in delving into design research. Too egghead is not CRS, they believe. They think theory is too foreign to CRS -- that it kills creativity, and only complicates things.

Theory should not frighten us. We architects are problem solvers -- practically or artistically."

As Avigail Sachs points out in her CRS study, Caudill's philosophies of practice were formed in the late 40's and early 50's by practicing in College Station, Texas; teaching at Texas A&M; and conducting research at the Architectural Devision of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station. This trinity forged the idealized institutional setting for establishing a firm theoretical basis for modern architecture and design. The following quote from Avigail's CRS paper gives Caudill's even earlier 1952 perspective on the profession. In the ideal institution, Caudill explained:

"The staff should practice architecture (to understand the problem), then do research (to find out how to solve some of the problems), and then teach it (to pass on to the students their broad experience and knowledge)."

While the quote shows the issues framed primarily in a university setting, Caudill carried these three perspectives into the structure of his research based, learning practice. These three ideal practice perspectives are still critical to contemporary architectural practice, and more so now than in 1966 when Caudill was considering the complexities of technology and larger projects. But as the history of CRS's and the AIA's commitment to research show, the reality of changing economical conditions, corporate or practice goals, and philosophy make the application very difficult to accomplish. The wide economic swings in the building industry put immense pressure on the AE process, challenging in many instances, some firm's survival. So how do today's firms resolve the contradicting and competing pressure to support research in their practices, beyond their philosophy, beliefs and determination?

These contradictions were established early on as shown in the Caudill comments noted in The Post War Legacy of Architectural Research.

"We believe that if architects can in some way carry out a continuous research program within their own office, if only on a very small scale, good advancement can be made. We also believe that if architects will exchange ideas, and will unselfishly work towards improving our architecture, the profession will be much better off."

The key concepts I take from the quote are the need for a continuous research program and the unselfish exchange of ideas. But as noted by Avigail Sachs, these concepts proved a challenge to realize even by Caudill and his partners. The following captures the contradictions:

"But as Caudill complained, this project was supported, and therefore also controlled, by the design work done in the firm: when we are busy we cannot spare the personnel; when we are not busy we cannot afford research. Caudill's comment also points to the snag in the AIA program. Although cooperation and collaboration were seminal ideals in the profession projected to emerge from the re-professionalization project, the existing profession was based on competition between private practioners."

So here we are forty to fifty years later, with the professional competition model far more developed than the cooperative model. As a result, the majority of architectural research has been advanced by the university community, specific interest groups like the Center for Health Design, industries like Steelcase, and the AIA.

What next? There will need to be a belief that there is an economic basis for our research in addition to the increases in intellectual capital, cultural capital and professional capital. Certainly research or evidence based design approaches now could be the basis for a 're-professionalization project', similar to prior attempts in the 50's to create the needed professional and intellectual capital. Collaboration with established university research programs, which has been the strategy of a few large firms, would leverage both intellectual and professional capital, and is an avenue that I believe can be expanded as CRS did. Improved design quality would be evident, but where is the economic engine to support funding beyond the scattered and incremental self-funded research programs which are often driven by a competition/differentiation model?

So perhaps the model of corporate social responsibility established by Y. Chouinard and Patagonia, called 1% for the Planet, could provide an alternative funding model. I previously wrote about 1% as it relates to sustainability, but I believe that this model could be reframed for the A/E profession and redefined as 1% for Architectural Research. Participating firms would contribute 1% of their gross income to a not-for-profit organization which in turn would provide funding to create an opportunity for a professionally supported, continuous research program. Parallel with this initiative, individual firms who believe in the economic and societal value, could simply allocate 1% of their gross income internally to achieve a similar goal within their own organization.

What do you think about investing 1% for Architectural Research?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


In an earlier post regarding CRS, Bill Caudill and his TIB's, I mentioned CRS's commitment to research, and that I'd be returning to his "Things I Believe" and their relationship to current architectural issues. Flipping through the book, I came across the following TIB on research from Bill in April 1966.

"There are a lot of definitions for research.

I like this one:

'Regarding the search for truth'

It even looks good:


A few weeks ago I came across some new information on CRS. In her excellent paper, Marketing through research: William

Caudill and Caudill, Rowlett, Scott (CRS), Avigail Sachs provides historical analysis of the "research attitude" of the firm in its formative stage. She notes their power to integrate professional practice and research, in both marketing and design, while leading the AIA and profession in applying research and new techniques to the design world. In her conclusions, she advises contemporary architectural practices to learn from CRS's early stage commitments to research, scholarship, marketing and design leadership. Though many contemporary A/E firms have benefitted by engaging research in their practice methods, the profession still has a long way to go to bridge the research/practice gap.

For example, a few months ago I prepared a short paper in our firm, advancing the argument that architectural programming is actually primary research. The word research often has multiple meanings and requires a variety of skills that many architects and engineers are not trained to perform. Most design professionals understand that primary research is the collection and evaluation of data leading to knowledge that does not already exist, but what isn't clear to practicing professionals, is the linkages between architectural practice and design research. Looking at our profession and our firm's design practices, one might raise the question, what parts of our current methods are or could be defined as research and how as a firm and profession can we better understand and refine these methods.

In his book, Inquiry by Design, John Zeisel sets out some basic concepts regarding the relationship and cooperation between research and design, from the perspective of an environmental behavioral researcher and a designer. He argues that designers and researchers can work together to solve more broadly defined design problems than they could each solve alone. A major issue, however, is the usefulness of research material. It must be in a form that designers can not only use, but in turn, improves the chance that research information can be tested in practice. Research investigators learn by making hypothetical predictions, testing ideas, evaluating outcomes and modifying hypotheses. These activities are the basis of their collaboration and cooperation.

Zeisel states that there are at least three day to day design practices that offer opportunity for research/design cooperation.

1. Design Programming: research for the design of a particular project

2. Design Review: design assessment for conformance with exis

ting environmental behavioral research knowledge

3. Post Occupancy Evaluation: assessment of built projects in use in comparison with original design goals/hypotheses

This diagram is from Zeisel's text and describes the relationship between environmental behavior knowledge and the design process.

Of these three project practices, a revised approach to programming offers a major opportunity to recognize its research nature, improve our methodology, and create a basis for innovation and idea generation. In some ways over the past forty years, programming has moved from a very specialized consultant service into a more mainstream process, often blended with services like planning, master planning and concept design. Thus the discipline of programming has become blurred.

Perhaps a step back in recent history would be useful. Two important books were published forty years ago, Problem Seeking, by CRS and Emerging Techniques 2: Architectural Programming, published by the AIA. Both books presented the emerging practice and techniques which systematically defined quantative and qualitative facility needs. It was a predesign process and was viewed as specialty practice. In Problem Seeking, the classic quote and discipline separation was stated as "Programming is problem seeing, design is problem solving." As conceived and practiced, the programming research team was distinct from the design team and the program document was a thorough analysis and documentation of facility needs. It could stand alone as both a statement of requirements and as an evaluation tool for any design response to facility needs. A quote from the AIA Architects Guide to Facility Programming underscores the research perspective.

"It (the program) lays the foundation of information based on empirical evidence rather than assumption that helps the designer respond effectively and creatively to client requirements and facility parameters and constraints."

"Programming is an information-processing process. It involves a disciplined methodology of data collection, analysis, organization, communication and evaluation through which all human, physical and external influences on a facility's design may be explored."

The opportunity then is to reassess the methods, tools and techniques currently used to program within our profession, practices and building typologies. Considerable effort has been invested in developing templates and formats for quantative program/space needs and related programs. However a bigger opportunity still exists in regard to a wide variety of methods available to conduct primary research/facility program requirements. In Robert and Barbara Sommer's book, A Practical Guide to Behavioral Research, Tools and Techniques, they define the full array of methods appropriate for programming as research. Four basic techniques are defined: observation, experiment, questionnaire, and interview. When thought about specifically as programming, these techniques are most realistically practiced as a multi-method approach, combining observations, interviews and questionnaires, as well as case studies. The following outlines the techniques as both definition and reminder:

- Observation: includes casual observation, systematic observation, video recording, photographic recording, and behavioral mapping and trace measures.

- Interview: includes unstructured interviews, structured interviews, semi structured interviews, telephone interviews and focus groups.

- Questionnaire: includes open end and closed questions, ranking versus rating questions, matrix questions, group or individual survey, mail survey and internet survey.

I believe we should take Avigail Sach's advice to heart. We should learn from the early CRS "research attitude", look to the roots of architectural programming as a discipline, and as John Zeisel does, define programming as primary research.