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Looking Beyond Building Type for Occupant Behavioral Clues

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

Image Credit: © Jace | Flickr

There are times where you, as an architect, can learn a lot about what your occupants will need. But during those times, it is important to question the validity of your information — does what you are learning about occupant behavior follow suit with what you have always believed? Or is there something new that you are noticing that contradicts what you’ve always thought about the way occupants behave? Either way, it’s time for you to start challenging what know about your occupants, or at least build upon the knowledge you already have.

Personalized Design By Observing Occupants In Multiple Places

I recently watched Jason Fried in his lecture called Why Work Does Not Happen at Work, and within this lecture are some parallels. In his talk (which I will post at the end of this article for your reference), Jason Fried explains how work always seems to happen everywhere but at work. Of course, I am sure you have seen examples of what he is talking about when you go to the nearest café, travel on a plane, or with your own experience of working from home.

Thus, it is important to realize that your occupants engage in certain behaviors in multiple places. And because of this, if you solely try to design an innovative office building by only looking at the way the office building type has been designed in the past — you will most likely miss out on a wide variety of new opportunities.

In today’s global and more mobile society, you need to look beyond the boundaries of our existing buildings for the secrets to what makes your occupants tick. Observe how they work when they are at work — but also when they are not at work. Observe how occupants learn when they are not in school. And observe how they exercise when they are not at the gym. The latter are just a few examples, but know for certain that there is an infinite list of the most unassuming of places where you can find gems regarding occupant behaviors.

Getting Design Inspiration from the Places You Least Expect

By keeping your eyes open, you’ll realize great ways for you, as an architect, to get not only ideas but generate breakthrough innovations that will not only help your occupants do what they already do better, but may also help them to discover new ways of doing things that they have never tried before. And with that, your architecture, and the institutional buildings that may need to be advanced, can do so by reaching out to their roots — the fundamental principles underlying what it means to serve their occupants.

So, look beyond the boundaries of the buildings that you are designing. Look beyond the boundaries of the building that have come before. Look toward those activities and behaviors that people engage in today that are occurring in the least likely of places, or times of day. Use that information, and those secrets, to energize your architecture — bringing into it new life that your occupants will love, for it will be as if you, as the architectural designer, are almost reading their mind — designing more personally for them. All of this, because you took the time to find those design clues — occupant moments, looking into their world on their terms, and incorporated that into your work in a meaningful way.






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 multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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