05 Global Design Forum – Researching and Designing Opportunities for Interaction

By Samantha Clark, Senior Media Consultant

How do you design spaces for optimum use? It’s a question that’s been right at the core of space design ever since the first human took an interested look at a cave. At today’s Global Design Forum at London’s V&A we were privileged to hear Mille Sylvest and Ryan Newman, Founding Directors at Copenhagen’s Human Studio share some of their cutting-edge answers to that fundamental question – it was fascinating stuff.

First, you experience it yourself. Don’t rely on third party data – go and spend time in the space. This is what they did at Harvard University. The team lived on site so they could understand how communal areas were used at all times of day.

They discovered an atrium space that was too echoey for anyone to spend time in because everyone on the floor above could hear conversations taking place on the floor below. They redesigned the atrium into an open, bright and welcoming area with exhibition space built into the walls where they displayed guides from the 1930s about how women should dress whilst at Harvard’s Radcliffe College – a women’s only college until 1999.

Second you co-create. Residents in Toronto’s LGBTQ community were concerned that a proposed tower block would diminish the traditional village feel of the area. Working with residents Human Studio was able to adapt the design so it incorporates public spaces built into the block and platforms for artists and performers accessible to all.

Third, you understand human behaviour. At Copenhagen’s Orestad College the original designers had intended a feature stairway to be a meeting place but it wasn’t working. Everyone was congregating on a congested landing. This may be possibly due to humans’ understanding of hierarchy and their unwillingness to communicate with someone from a lower height.

This insight led to a redesign and now wider landings to cater for this, not only in this college but across other colleges within the group.

Fourth, you understand how people in different countries use space, where it is acceptable to talk loudly or where you should be quiet, which can even vary depending on the time of day.

And finally, you remember the different states people go through when a space is changed, ranging from anger to disinterested and how to help them reach a state of acceptance.

It was an eye-opening talk, showing just what is possible with the right approach to building design. The V&A is full of examples of design at its best – it was of course created with that purpose in mind – but as I left, I reflected that perhaps the finest example of design there is to be found in the beautiful building, a work of art in itself.

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