Social Science and Architecture Committee Founders to Speak at EDRA50

BROOKLYN, N.Y., May 20, 2019 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- The Social Science and Architecture Committee of the American Institute Architecture New York Chapter (AIANY) will be featured at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference on sustainable urban design in Brooklyn this week. Committee co-founders Evie Klein, an architect and instructor at Pratt Institute, and Melissa Marsh, Founder and Executive Director of PLASTARC, will discuss the impetus behind starting the committee and highlight its role in educating fellow professionals. Marsh and Klein will each present additional sessions focused on putting these ideas into practice.

The Social Science and Architecture Committee began to assemble in 2015 and was formally launched the following year with the mission of nurturing the relationship between architecture and a broad range of social science fields such as sociology, physiology, ergonomics, geography, anthropology, cognitive science, and psychology. Then chapter president Tomas Rossant, AIA, Partner at Ennead Architects, was instrumental in establishing the committee. He spoke about the need for a stronger partnership between the disciplines back in 2015:

"For thousands of years, architects have been aligned with the arts and have delivered beautiful and inspirational buildings. In the last hundred years, we have leveraged the physical sciences to deliver buildings that perform predictably in terms of criteria like thermal resistance, air-infiltration, and energy usage. Today we should strive to deliver buildings that are artful, high-performing, and that optimize the performance of human capital to positively transform communities. To do so architecture must once again partner with the social sciences."

Now in its 50th year, EDRA is a fitting venue in which to discuss the intersection of social science and design. Many ideas explored in the work of the committee can be traced back to EDRA's founding in the late 60's and the birth of the field of environmental psychology. The committee and EDRA have a strong relationship; members of the Social Science and Architecture Committee include conference Co-chairs Richard Wener, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Psychology at NYU; Amy Beth, Ph.D., Chief Librarian and Director of Academic Technologies at Guttman Community College, CUNY; and Jessica Morris, Assoc. AIA. Environmental Psychologist and Adjunct Professor at NYU, Ruth A. Rae, Ph.D., is also a member of the EDRA organizing team.

In order to help architects achieve designs that better reflect human needs, the committee organizes opportunities to build shared language and methods to bridge the gap between fields. These include panel discussions, tours of buildings, and other educational formats.

Some of the committee's programs have aimed to incorporate culture and inspire creative thinking; "Remix, Resample, Remaster: Identity and Making Architecture" drew on the work of poets and artists to highlight how individual histories affect the experience of a space and the references we draw on during the creative process. Other events, like "Bridging Qualitative and Quantitative Data," have focused on integrating social science research methods into the design process. The committee has also looked closely at coworking practices in spaces like those provided by WeWork as a focal point of both pioneering workplace design and social research.

Marsh will present a second session sharing PLASTARC's research on workplace amenities. Because coworking spaces are largely occupied by people who are choosing and paying to use them--as opposed to working in an employer-provided space--Marsh says they provide unique opportunities for researchers to study under-articulated needs of workers. PLASTARC's research focused on work-life integration, looking at restrooms, nursing rooms, and other space types. An early version of this work was shared at the conference of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA), a bi-annual event that examines the connection between the spaces people occupy and their neurobiology.

The intersection between social science and architecture is at the center of PLASTARC's design consultancy, which aims to improve the workplace experience. Harnessing qualitative and quantitative methods from anthropology and psychology, they are able to surface design needs that a purely architectural perspective might miss. Workplace research can also be conducted after a space is occupied, helping businesses to understand how their existing spaces and policies could be altered to maximize the performance of their people.

The work of the committee has inspired and supported a range of research projects, two of which will be featured at EDRA sessions. Co-founder Klein will present "Learning in informal spaces in Higher Education: A pilot project of an interdisciplinary research model at an urban campus" as part of a symposium on research methods, as well as "Designing for academic success: A collaborative research model between architects and environmental psychologists in a STEM learning environment." She will be joined for the latter by Sara Grant, Partner at Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects, and environmental psychologists Troy Simpson and Eleanor Luken of the User Design Information Group at the City University of New York.

Both sessions showcase collaboration between architects and social scientists, featuring ongoing pilot programs in applied research of informal spaces. Klein explains that the research is taking place at Medgar Evers College, a Predominantly Black Institution in Brooklyn where 75 percent of the students are women. Originally convened by members of the Social Science and Architecture Committee and the Committee on Architecture for Education, the programs develop interdisciplinary, evidence-based research and design methods to make education spaces more equitable, promoting student mentorship, engagement, and retention.

As the founding of the Social Science and Architecture Committee foreshadowed, workplace performance data is quickly being recognized not just as a tool for improving spaces, but as a valuable asset for improving business overall. Daniel Davis, former director of research at WeWork, wrote in Architect Magazine about growing interest from venture capital and tech companies looking to disrupt the design and construction industry. A better understanding of the relationship between people and the spaces they occupy is set to become a key source of competitive advantage in the years ahead.

PLASTARC has been contributing to EDRA since 2014, when they presented "Working without Borders: Flexible Workplace in an International Peacekeeping Organization". This earned PLASTARC the EDRA CORE award, which recognizes exceptional, rigorous, and impactful practice-based environmental design research studies. In 2016 in Raleigh, PLASTARC presented "Coworking's Secret Sauce: Aesthetics, Experience, and Community in Work Environments". At the 2017 conference in Madison, WI, they discussed the technological and cultural forces of environmental design research.