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How a Responsive Building Can Contribute to Its Surrounding City

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

‍Image: szeke | Flickr

Architecture that is responsive is often thought to engage the individual — meeting one person’s needs through adaptive design. But what about the collective? How can a responsive building contribute to the collective need? And how large is the collective? Is it made up of three people, an urban area, or an entire city?

First, it is important to understand that a responsive architecture can engage at the individual level. And this is important, because it is from here that the collective comes. So, how do the needs of the collective differ from the needs of the individual? Well, in actuality, they are closely aligned, but carry a big difference, which is scale.

At the urban scale collective needs are issues like safety, cleanliness, order, engagement, and happiness. And a well-designed responsive architecture can execute its functionality as aimed toward these goals — at an urban scale. For instance, suppose a responsive building is targeting these very goals. What might it do to ensure that they will be met?

Well, such a building could serve to guide its visitors (those inside and outside) toward safety by being aware of visitor behavioral patterns, lighting problems, and landscaping issues. You see, each of these is important when trying to keep an area safe. Even sound can be an issue, and a responsive building can read the signals for when an unsafe situation is eminent. Then, it can engage in correcting the situation toward safety.

As you can see, a building that can pick up on signals (whether behavioral or otherwise) can do a lot to bring value to an urban space if it knows how to respond. The same is true for cleanliness and order. By seeing patterns within the behavioral signals of people and objects, the building can serve to motivate others, morph itself, or change the variables to a given situation. And thus, an urban area can remain cleaner, more ordered, and even safer.

But what about engagement and happiness? How can a responsive architecture help with these two goals? Well, responsive architecture can be good at creating certain types of situations. Suppose three people walk to a certain location within a building’s plaza. What if the building suddenly engaged those three people to interact with an installation it has integrated. And suppose the installation was designed to get people to talk, to work together, and to leave their own personal mark. Such a “just-in-time” design can serve not only to engage and bring happiness to those three people in that moment, but it can also serve to bring happiness to all those that experience what they left behind.

You see, when dealing with a collective, you are designing for past, present, and future people. A responsive architecture is prime for this type of design thinking as it maintains a behavioral fabric that must also perform in time. This means that responive buildings are prime for meeting collective needs — and really, they are only limited by their designer’s imagination.

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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 an award-winning 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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