Do absent users blindside architects?

February 8, 2017, Inderscience

A visionary edifice, a revolutionary feat of engineering, a blot on the landscape, a brutalist carbuncle. Rarely does architecture lead to subtle superlatives. But, sometimes architects design with only a vague notion of the users of their constructions. In the absence of personal profiles of the people that will swing through those grand front doors and ride the escalator to the giddy heights of the top floor, what guides an architect in planning their stucco stairwells, their fantastical fenestrations, and their vaulted visions?

Writing in the Journal of Design Research, Ann Heylighen of KU Leuven, Belgium and her co-worker Lore Verhulst and colleague Catherine Elsen at the University of Liège, explain that as design processes become more complex, the distance between architect and user increases. "In large-scale projects, future users often remain absent or hypothetical during design, and in some design competitions, architects are not even allowed to interact with the client," they point out. The team has carried out an in-depth study from the penthouse suite down to the basement to look at real-world design and attempt to fathom who it is that architects have in mind when they design given that actual users of their proposed buildings are usually absent.

Fundamentally, the team has found a significant gap between how users are considered in the research literature in this field and the observations of architects. Indeed, architects themselves apparently do not employ the term "user" at all. Moreover, one has to then question how, in the absence of putative , keep in mind such requirements as sustainability, accessibility, heritage value, and the people, the stakeholders, client bodies, consultants, contractors, who will be involved. Architects have to for "the other" but without necessarily knowing who the other is.

Perhaps it is this disconnect that gives rise to those emotionally charged responses to new buildings whether unsightly carbuncle or dizzying edifice.

Explore further: Want to build better computer games? Call an architect

More information: Whom do architects have in mind during design when users are absent? Observations from a design competition. J. Design Research. DOI: 10.1504/JDR.2016.082032

Related Stories

Want to build better computer games? Call an architect

May 6, 2016

If I said I was a licensed architect helping to fight dementia, you'd probably assume I was designing a care home or some similar building. Actually, I've been working alongside neuroscientists, psychologists, doctors and ...

Classroom acoustics for architects

April 23, 2015

The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) has published a free online booklet for architects to aid in the application of ANSI/ASA S12.60-2010/Part 1-American National Standard Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, ...

Bringing energy-hungry buildings up to date

January 23, 2017

As buildings evolve from energy consumers to energy producers, architecture is seeing a major paradigm shift, with building renovations becoming a real challenge. EPFL researchers explore this fundamental issue in a new book ...

Virtual reality supports planning by architects

February 15, 2012

Even the most exact construction plan lacks many details and design options. The building owner needs imagination to obtain an idea of the constructed building. Now, the 3D video glasses made by the KIT spin-off "inreal Technologies" ...

On-site visualization of planned buildings

January 13, 2015

Using a system developed by Fraunhofer FIT, architects, developers or their clients can view a 3D model of a building in its intended shape, precisely where the building is to be constructed. This will give them a much clearer, ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.