Edge Collaborations: Creative Partnerships with Social Science


Architecture's biggest allies, and likely some of our most powerful future partners, are our colleagues in the social sciences. Collaborations with these experts yield a broad range of opportunities, possibly the most significant of which is making the invisible visible through both pure and applied research.

Over generations of design education and practice, architects have learned to use different types of information to produce buildings. Now we are entering a new era of information availability and application. How do you prove that good design is a matter of life and death? Why do architects need the social sciences, and why do social scientists need architecture? What data and research methods can make buildings that lift the human spirit? This program seeks to map out new ground for novel collaborations, particularly those with practitioners and researchers in the social sciences.

It is increasingly clear that the social sciences, which include a wide range of fields, from psychology and anthropology to sociology and data sciences, have much to contribute to our field. Join us for this discussion to learn about what these different fields are, how they contribute to architectural practice, and why it’s important that they do so.

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This is the sixth in a series of events related to the presidential theme of Tomas Rossant, AIA, "Dialogues from the Edge of Practice (http://cfa.aiany.org/index.php?section=presidentscircle)." The theme intends to explore how architects are boldly enlarging the purview of the practitioner to bring their particular critical problem solving skills and design acumen to endeavors previously considered outside the traditional scope of practice. There has never been a time when the role of the architect has been more relevant as an instrument to shape culture, society, and positive environmental outcomes. “Dialogues” will engage the practitioners amongst us who are breaking rules, trying new things, and taking new risks—expanding the impact of the architect—and disseminate their experiences to our professional community.

Scott Francisco, Founder and Director, Pilot Projects, is a hands-on designer, strategist, and cultural theorist in New York City who focuses on infrastructure and culture in organizations and cities. As founder and director of Pilot Projects, a design and consulting firm, Scott's architecture, construction, and consulting backgrounds inform the high value he places on engaging people, culture, and craftsmanship in the design process—particularly in the midst of today's overemphasis on efficiency and quantification. Scott teaches design at Parsons The New School for Design, Kean University, and Stanford in New York, and speaks regularly on workplace, organizational culture, and sustainability. He holds architecture degrees from the University of Toronto and MIT.

Ann Devlin, Ph.D. is the May Buckley Sadowski ’19 Professor of Psychology, Connecticut College and the author of Transforming the Doctor’s Office: Principles from Evidence-based Design (Routledge, 2015), her 4th book. Most of her published work focuses on the built environment, and her recent interest is health care, including the role of the facility’s appearance in people’s judgments of expected care. She is a senior associate editor of the journal Environment and Behavior.

Evie Klein is an architect and planner specializing in cultural institutions and higher education. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Environmental Psychology at CUNY focusing on how the social sciences can contribute to the design process, and particularly how spaces can promote inclusion of diverse populations. Until 2013, she was NYU’s Assistant Vice President of Planning and Design, overseeing facilities planning and space management at the University. Prior to NYU, she had a career as an architect, where she worked at Polshek Partnership Architects [now Ennead], ran her own architectural design practice, and served as an advisor for the National Design Awards at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. She received her B.A. from Vassar College and her M.Arch. from UCLA. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Center for Architecture, the Advisory Board of NYU’s Of Many Institute, and the Board of Directors of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.

Melissa Marsh, Assoc. AIA, CEO, PLASTARC, is part researcher and part innovator. Leveraging a background in social science with a Master of Architecture at MIT, Melissa defined an early career building cross-disciplinary consulting practices within a number of leading architectural firms. Interested in further exploring the intersection of design and human factors research, Melissa started her own interdisciplinary consultancy firm. PLASTARC, a portmanteau of plastic and architecture, employs social research, design metrics and real estate strategy to create a more flexible and engaging built world. Melissa leads a diverse team - from sociologists to data visualizers -dedicated to shifting the metrics associated with space from square feet and inches to occupant satisfaction and performance. An active contributor to many professional communities, Melissa curates the AIANY Transforming Architectural Practice series which promotes the advancement of the business of architecture through greater dialogue with other disciplines, including technology, business strategy, marketing, and law.

Tomas Rossant, AIA, 2015 AIANY President; Founding Design Partner, Ennead Architects

This event was preceded by a think tank roundtable discussion with thought leaders deeply involved with collaborative initiatives.