Humans of [Name Your City]

“We’re all victims of the architect. Architecture is the only art that you can’t help but feel. You can avoid paintings, you can avoid music, and you can even avoid history. But good luck getting away from architecture.”

Phillipe Devario and companion

Phillipe Devario and companion, as featured on Humans of New York

Last night my brother pointed me to the Facebook page for Humans of New York, a popular photo-blog by Brandon Stanton who has set about to document the people he encounters on the streets of NYC.  In particular, my brother indicated the above photo and quote, which turn out (thanks to the recognition of Facebook users) to be of/by Philippe Devario, an expert on Italian art and history.

Devario’s comment is a reminder of the significance of the built environment and its impact on our daily lives.  Architecture, big “A” or not, is ubiquitous and essential.  To many, it may seem to be a force of its own, out of the hands of the average person.  Considering that architecture often seems to be out of the hands of architects in today’s economic and legislative environment, the average person is in dire straits indeed.

Even so, the idea that architecture is an art you can’t help but feel is a compelling one–it calls us to consider our work at a visceral level that can certainly be lost in the midst of design development and detailing.  It is an unusual case, especially one involving an architect, in which a building will not be occupied to some degree by someone.  How do we make sure we do not lose sight of the human experience element of our designs?

As the editors of the current issue of Architectural Design (AD) note, this issue is of special concern in the context of computational design.  Algorithmic design approaches have typically focused on form generation or on the optimization of various performance factors; however, there is now renewed interest in addressing the need for human-centric architecture.

Christian Derix, architectural computation researcher/practitioner and guest editor, describes how in contrast to the urban and building planning professions, design computation in architecture has been less focused on spatial design as much as it has been on parametric optimization and on efficiencies that support construction.  While I would disagree with his assessment of parametric design resulting only in “decorative additions wrapping conventional spatial organisation” (Derix 2014), he does make a valid point about the lack of spatial complexity in the work being produced by academia as demonstration of computational design approaches.

Given that my thesis is taking shape around abstract concepts such as morphogenesis and emergence, it is interesting to consider how to stay connected to the human experience.  It is appropriate in academia to eliminate important factors in design in order to explore a specific subset in great depth.  Even so, if I cannot frame my explorations in such a way as to relate to our experience and to the humans of my city, I have perhaps impoverished my findings.


Derix, C. (2014). The space of people in computation. Architectural Design, 84(5), 14-23.