What is the relationship between the individual and his or her designed environment or social setting? What is the relationship between an organization and the building wherein it resides? Architectural sociology approaches these questions in examining how architectural forms both influence and react to sociocultural phenomena. A large proportion of our human experience and social interaction occurs in the buildings in which we live and work. Therefore, architectural sociologists use sociological perspective to enhance building design.

Valerie Bugni, an organizational and social researcher for Lucchesi, Galati Architects, Inc., in Las Vegas, was drawn to sociology out of frustration over architectural practices. In project after project, I have seen major gaps and disconnects in the process of creating humanized spaces for people and in creating meaningful places for organizations, she explains. She and Ronald Smith, chair of the sociology department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, have worked to spread the knowledge of this emerging field and educate sociologists and architects to the benefits of working together to better connect people to their designed environments. The person in the building is just as important as the building itself, according to their perspective.

Humans� Uses of Designed Space

Smith and Bugni define architectural sociology as the application of social theory and methods to the architectural design process. It provides quantitative and qualitative research tools to anticipate how designs impact people on a variety of levels. Smith remarks, I am constantly amazed when I look at the latest architectural design magazines with all the wonderful pictures of the latest buildings. The people who use these buildings, however, are seldom if ever shown! Our experiences reveal that architects are interested only in designs as art or in the construction aspects of their projects, but have virtually no training and limited interest about the human responses to their designs. Architectural sociology addresses the purpose of architecture as it relates to our society.

Even if architectural sociology is an emerging subfield, it draws on the existing fields of environmental psychology, ecological sociology, organizational ecology, organizational sociology, and community sociology. In practice, architectural sociology builds upon social design theory and uses research methods such as survey research, Internet research, interviewing, field observation, secondary data sources, and unobtrusive measures. Bugni explains how observing people in their natural setting can provide clues for the architect on how social interaction occurs in various settings such as classrooms, meeting rooms, office spaces, and pedestrian walkways. In particular, the areas where research methods assist the architect include human use of space, environmental and user preferences, and post-occupancy evaluation. Sociology informs architecture in all phases of the design process, including the predesign and programming, design, construction, and post-construction phases.

In her job, Bugni seeks to advance and disseminate social design research, thereby improving our understanding of the interrelationships between people, organizations, and their built and natural surroundings. Bugni shares her knowledge in sociological methods and theories with members of her firm. For example, currently her firm is designing a senior center in a rural Nevadan community. Bugni uses her sociology background to review data on the social characteristics of the community and to gauge future population growth patterns of the community. She also helps architects see the potential impacts of their design decisions on the seniors who will occupy the center before it is even constructed, including how the space can support social interaction. In this way, sociology, in considering the individuals within the social setting, enhances the architectural process.

Architecture and sociology will continue to inform each other, Bugni says. Architectural sociology will remain viable because it addresses questions such as what the buildings we construct say about us as a society. Bugni believes the future of the field is linked to educating design professionals to (a) see the relationship between social setting and the individual and organization, (b) encourage sociologists to contribute outside the field, and (c) network with those interested in architectural sociology. Smith says,I am convinced that sociology has a huge contribution to make to a new way of thinking in architecture and that sociology will also further expand upon some of its theories as a result of this work. As with all new paradigms, architecture will not change easily. Nevertheless, architectural sociology has a promising future.

by Jean Beaman, Academic and Professional Affairs

 

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