I believe that placing people at the heart of built environment design is vital and I’m convinced that any additional costs this involves would be more than offset by productivity gains.
People are an intrinsic part of the building environments we inhabit (natural or otherwise) – they influence us strongly and we influence them in return.
So buildings should make people better, and the people in buildings should improve the way the buildings work. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s new report, Built for Living, describes this as a socio-technical system. I think we need to remember this more!
Optimising this socio-technical system means balancing the needs of people and the needs of the environment. I would like the industry to remember that most buildings only exist for their occupants. People are part of the building system, so let’s design from their point of view.
Too often, buildings are designed from the external render inwards – a constraint that makes it difficult to produce the best buildings. One of these days I’ll publish a rogues’ gallery of impractical full-height glazing where furniture, boxes or broken blinds have inevitably replaced the initial architectural vision.
Why not design the building from the inside out – for its occupants? This would consider the opportunities afforded by its environment for views, light, air and energy, alongside the impact of the building on the environment. Occupants will always form a part of the control strategy – so we must optimise this relationship.
I have always tried to consider how the user and the built environment interact when I’m designing. This includes totally passive buildings such as the Sabre Kindergartens in Ghana; masterplans designed to improve walkability such as Msherieb in Doha; and occupant-controlled buildings such as the new Maltese Parliament.
I’m inspired by biophilic design, where designs seek to foster strong connections between nature and the built environment. While trees in the office may be too much for more conservative projects, making occupants’ engagement with buildings intuitive and natural can help to improve productivity. And in the socio-techncial system, where people’s performance is perhaps more important than the buildings, this is critical.
I’ve argued previously on Thoughts that buildings should make people feel better. And my colleague Michael Stych has called for the default ‘sealed’ building approach to be re-examined. So if static environments with no variability or user control are unhealthy and wasteful, let’s challenge them.
By being brave enough to make buildings interactive we can also save energy, as people will often choose lower energy modes of operation such as lower lighting or natural ventilation. And if everyone is 20% more productive we will have more time to innovate, more leisure time, better health and a better quality of life.
Surely any additional costs this involves would be more than offset by productivity gains. Our challenge is to demonstrate this to our clients.