By: Aaron Neal
Architectures are called upon by society to make certain judgement calls in terms of design. They are given the responsibility to make decisions that we think will provide the best outcome for the situation. This might be in terms of how a space is used or how a passive system works. In both of these cases the decision is made without substantial proof that they work. In regards to a passive system, we understand the basic principles of how to passively cool or heat a building, but we have no education on how to prove by how much or how exactly that works. That kind of analysis requires some sort of specialized education with an emphasis in computer modeling and physics. Most architectural firms don’t have the money to hire a full time or even contract out an expert to prove every design that goes out the doors. This may not be a big deal when it comes to a house, or a small clinic, but large projects like schools or hospitals should have that proof behind the design. With such a large budget the client should demand some sort of proof for every decision that goes into the design and we as architects should just include justification with our initial designs.
Now in regards to how a space functions, there should be significant studies done as well. These should include behavioral studies, taking population polls, full scale mock ups and simulations. This is where a lot of architects fail I believe. We send someone out to do a site visit and they take some photographs, write down some measurements, and head back to the office. To fully understand the site though, it would require someone to experience the site at all times and seasons. Now granted, this would be near impossible to do in a timely manner, but more than a couple of site visits should be the norm in most offices. Simulations are another thing that could drastically alter how a project turns out. In some hospital designs, patient rooms and mock E.R.’s would be created so that the actual nurses would work there could test out the space. Then these tests can be documented and the design can be changed so that the space functions better which could result in more lives saved. These kinds of tests should be fundamental when doing large projects such as schools or medical buildings. Other fields completely test their products before release. Automobiles and airplanes go through rigorous testing to see exactly when they fail and how much they can withstand. How much do we do in architecture? There are some testing that goes on such as wall assemblies and structural systems, but what about the more complex issues such as social behaviors or even the thermodynamics of passive systems. Sometimes it’s easy to say that a design will work without any proof, but what are the consequences behind those actions? Are we being completely fair to our clients or even society when we make those opinionate decisions?