Do Architects Really Understand the End-User?

  • 22 Feb 2013
  • by
  • Architecture News
Project RE:FOCUS / University of Florida

Since the time of Vitruvius, we architects have pondered the effect that our work might have on those who use the spaces we design; unfortunately, however, we set ourselves up as universal models, judging what ‘works’ or not for the occupants, without any explicit evidence to substantiate those ideas.  Of course, the profession has changed over the last three decades; the experience of the occupant is paramount, and evidence-based design – particularly when it comes to performative environments for work, health and learning – has risen substantially in importance.

But as much as we claim – as architects, interior and urban designers – to understand the people who will occupy the spaces we design, how much do we really? Where does our knowledge come from and how do we use it? Do we help contribute to the evidence? Do our clients (and, if they do, do they pay for it)?

Architectural Research Consultancy (ARC), a company that researches how the built environment affects the way people think, feel and act, is attempting to find out the answers to just these questions. And they’re conducting a brief, anonymous online survey (it takes only 2 minutes) to learn more. They’ll be publishing their data later in the year, and we’ll be sure to share those results with you.

So take the survey here, and when you’re done, let us know in the comments – how much do you feel architects know about the social and psychological needs of occupants? And how much do they actually take them into account in their designs?

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Do Architects Really Understand the End-User?" 22 Feb 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • socio-archi

    Having graduated with a degree in Sociology first, and then made the career change to architecture, I can say that architects have great intuition. But intuition is not evidence. Architecture, unlike any profession I know of, gets away with making statements and projections that aren’t based on hard evidence, but on ideation. One only need to look at all of the lawsuits against firms who claimed energy cost savings from sustainable design features, which have not be realized as one example of the consequences of evidence-less design. It’s an example of us architects trusting our intuition without actual real world data. Our solutions to problems are indeed very creative but if we as an industry do not start comprehensive data collection and testing of results (and SHARING results), whether in sustainability or end user satisfaction, then our novel/creative ideas will always exist as just ideas without validity.

  • Darragh O’Brien

    Hi Socio-Archi
    Twenty years ago, the architectural profession was equally anxious about sustainability, perceiving it as a possible limitation on our creativity. We now know that it has transformed creative thinking by adding another field of inquiry for us to speculate about. So it will be with sociological and anthropological data. Once we realize that evidence-based, explicit knowledge does not restrict us, but liberates us, then the only problem is how do we restrain ourselves?

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  • Lance Jones

    I disagree totally with the statement made in the article above that ‘the experience of the occupant is paramount, and evidence based design-particularly when it comes to performative based environment for work, health and learning – has risen substantially in importance’.

    There has always been among sincere and dedicated architects a striving and utmost importance on these factors and two advancements in our civilization has actually reduced these ambitions. One is the advent of computers. While computers have certainly helped in many aspects they have also created a culture where the dramatic visual has become paramount and has allowed a vast majority of untalanted individuals to easily sway clients who in the majority have no interest in the experience of the user, only cost, and that comes to the second point. Toady’s society worships the dollar and and thus many aspects of good architecture have all but disappeared except in the case of a few individuals. Even governments have contributed to this decline allowing cheap materials to be manufactured at the expense of the environment they claim to be protecting. Architecture has become paramount in the eyes of the beholder, not the user.