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Architectural Design Usability For Everyone


Maria Lorena Lehman


Founder — Sensing Architecture ® Academy

Image Credit: © batintherain | Flickr

As an architect, is important for you to understand your occupants as more than just an “occupant load”, and really begin to understand the demographics of who will be using your building and why — and most importantly what do they want to achieve when within it. This is important because as new technologies surface, architecture is gaining greater ability to personalize itself to its occupants, in real-time — hence, the promises and challenges of adaptive architecture.

An article I read recently entitled User Interface Design for Beginners, Intermediates or Experts, explains how user interface design often caters to the “intermediate” user because of the simple fact that most users will fall within this category. This is because very few users are actually beginners and even fewer are experts. (As was explained in the article, the reason for this is that beginners very rarely stay beginners as they will soon advance to being intermediate users.) The article further explains that while it is still very important to meet the needs of experts and beginners, user interface designers should very heavily keep the intermediate users in mind as they design the bulk of an interface. (1)

So, what does this mean for adaptive architecture and its architectural design usability?

As a designer of interactive and adaptive space, how do you make decisions about where to personalize elements for occupants, while still making them collectively accessible? Furthermore, who should you target? Why? And when?

An Adaptive Classroom Design for Learners

Let’s discuss the example of the design of an adaptive classroom architecture. Should this design’s occupant experience cater to mostly intermediate, beginner or expert learners? If you are the designer in this example, you might ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How can I design a room that meets the needs of the beginners and gets them to advance? By possibly holding them to certain standards and rules established by the adaptive architectural system?
  2. But then, how can I design the classroom’s architectural adaptive system with certain freedom by which intermediates can become experts? And so that learning can happen at any pace?
  3. Finally, how can I make this classroom’s architectural adaptive system able to guide further learning for experts, so they don’t feel limited? (Certain limitations can arise if a system is too biased toward the beginners — with so many rules that experts can’t break free.)

As you can see, the architecture of an adaptive classroom is much more than a place where learning “just happens”, it is a place that can spark and guide that learning if designed well. For this reason, I encourage you to ask similar questions of your work. Consider what other demographic information you can use about your occupants. (Their ages, native-languages, genders and so on.) Also, such questions can be used for any building type.

The main idea is to really get to the core of your building’s mission. Then, use that mission to optimize that building’s functions by learning and designing for your occupants with greater inherent strategy that promotes both guidance and freedom for your architecture’s occupants.


(1)  User Interface Design for Beginners, Intermediates or Experts?


what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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