Evidence-based architecture

How often have you heard the phrase ‘research shows’ as a way of defending an architect or a designer’s scheme proposal? “Research shows”, they often say, “that so-and-so design is good for the environment/community/personal well-being”. By quoting some obscure research paper, a dubious design suddenly becomes unimpeachable”. This session explores whether “research” is being used as a way that designers can avoid having to defend their work in its own terms? For instance, in order to leverage money for green spaces, CABE research is commonly cited to show that ‘a walk in the park… has been proven to reduce the risk of a heart attack by 50 per cent’.

But what does this assertion really mean: that a park is good because it saves money for the NHS, or are parks simply good in and of themselves? Similarly BDP argue that large windows have ‘been proven to improve the speed of learning’ – but is that regardless of the quality of the teaching? Why do we credit cod research with such credibility? For example, nowadays, engineers suggest that fresh air ‘increases performance’; and designers insist that views of nature improves your health. Apparently, good architecture even “makes you feel happy”. Is this useful research… or New Age mysticism?

This debate explores what research means; whether correlation is the same as cause; and will examine whether architects rely too much on research – and junk science – to justify their work?

Dominic Meyrick, director, Hoare Lea
John McRae, director, Orms
Lee Mallett, director, Urbik; director, Greater London Publishing
Chair: Martyn Perks, technology consultant, co-author of ‘Big Potatoes: The London Manifesto for Innovation’.