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The Dynamics of Design July 29, 2014

Posted by jennibarrett in Research.
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Do our social interactions have any influence on our collaborative design decisions?

Can we influence the social dynamics in teams to design better buildings?

This are the questions asked by my PhD study.  I’ve recently canvassed practitioners for some answers.  Click below for a Study Update…..


Study Update June2014_Page_1

Study Update June2014_Page_2

 Images courtesy of Andrei Giurgea

Welcome to Midge Hole Mill! May 12, 2014

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Welcome to the showcase for the Midge Hole Mill project.

Working for a live client and on complex and isolated terrain, Masters in Architecture students at UCLan have pioneered the values of the Living Building Challenge. With support & guidance from Living Futures ambassadors led by Martin Brown, students have  interrogated the future of domestic living in an architecture that seeks to go beyond current sustainable thinking, creating innovative design solutions whilst embracing the rigorous LBC standards.

Below are samples of each student’s work.  We’d love to hear your feedback.  Leave a comment here or chat to us live online at the Construction21 EXPO (14/15 May 2014).  You’ll find us in the Living Building Challenge booth.


WINNER:  Josh Allington


Josh Allington1


RUNNER UP:  Emma McQuillan


Emma McQuillan1Emma McQuillan2

Laura Birkett


Laura Birkett1

Rebecca Lovell


Becky Lovell1

Chris Thomas


Chris Thomas expo1_Page_1Chris Thomas expo1_Page_2

Leo Tindell


Leo Tindell1


Please click here to read about the project’s conception and here to read a previous post recording work in progress.

If you would like to find out more about the projects or the Masters in Architecture at UCLan, email me at jebarrett@uclan.ac.uk

Or leave a comment below:

What did social psychologists ever do for us? May 29, 2013

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If you’re an avid reader of the Journal of Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, (which I’m sure you are), you’ll have spotted my recent article publication:

The Social Life of the Novel Idea:
What did social psychologists ever do for us?

This paper is a first step in rescuing the study of the design process as a solitary activity towards an understanding of its social aspects.  Understanding how social behaviour influences the design process is crucial if we are to improve our collaborative skills and embed effective interdisciplinary design techniques into design and construction project processes.

many small light bulbs equal big one
Source:  picstopin

So, the paper looks at the key theories in the field of social psychology and interrogates literature from the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector to see if there is any evidence of a link between social behaviour and design team creativity.  It turns out that there is a HUGE body of work identifying a link between social behaviour and group creativity but this has yet to be meaningfully supplanted in our own field.  There’s a lot of work still to do….

Following this extensive trawl through stacks of peer reviewed documentation in the psychology and AEC fields, I managed to identify three broad areas which have particular relevance to collaborative design in the built environment.  These are:

1.  The Social Climate:  Group cohesiveness can either enhance our ability to navigate a shared idea or it can also present barriers via ‘groupthink.’

2.  Motivation & Reward:  Are teams being procured and motivated in the direction of individual quick wins (proself) or towards decisions that will benefit the group or the shared designed outcome (prosocial)?

3.  Risk Attitudes:  The way that risk is perceived, valued and shared amongst the team will have significant impacts on design outcomes.

There’s a lot of work to do to connect the established social psychology theory with our own practice, but hopefully a clearer picture of the collaborative design process will emerge.  The next stage of research aims to test this theoretical analysis against the perceptions and experiences of built environment practitioners and I’ll be circulating an online survey soon.

For those with an Emerald subscription (usually via your institution), you can access the full article here.

If you don’t have a subscription, but would like to see a copy, drop me line….

Social Networking in the Square March 24, 2010

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I recently attended a NLSA lecture at UCLan by Nick Corbett, Director of Urban Design & Enterprise at Urban Living.  He was, of course, publicising his book – The Revival of The Square.    www.urbanliving.org.uk 

His talk was interesting.  Some fabulous examples of how design led regeneration can really work in reviving the economic and social machinations of the city, not only the aesthetic and environmental elements.

However, his analysis of the square is rooted in his experience in the 1990s, when the social environment was still determined by physical presence.  Is the 21st century social environment the same?  Well, yes to a degree, but for many our social environment is dominated by a presence in the virtual square – on facebook, tweeting and of course, blogging.  In fact, the phrase ‘social networking’ now implies a virtual world of tweets and news feeds – not a world of hand shakes and business cards.  How has this impacted the role of the physical square? 

Perhaps the advent of virtual social networking has damaged the city square as urban dwellers become atomised at their workstations, seeking interaction through their computer monitor.  The square becomes a place for the underclass, the have-nots who are socially excluded from the virtual world by their lack of internet access. 

Or perhaps there is a new revival in the physical and traditional urban meeting place.  Our urban environment is perceived to be a violent and threatening place by many.  However, the benefit of the virtual world means that users can ‘test out’ and affirm their new contacts virtually before meeting them in person.  By networking in the virtual world, we make the initial contact that we would have felt inhibited to do in the dangerous, physical world.  More virtual contacts lead to an increased likelihood that we will transfer these interactions to the physical world, reviving the square as a place for physical manifestations of the online community.

Enter to select field. Hit space. September 9, 2009

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Hurrah!  A new semester. 

I’m back from my staycation in Pembrokeshire where the boys and I had a glorious week digging in the sand and stroking ‘giddy pigs’ as Seth calls them.  We camped on a basic but adequate camp site and it didn’t rain all the time.

The camp site consisted of two enormous fields, divided by the main access road.  The two fields forged their own distinct communities – them on the hill who didn’t have dogs and them in the boggy bit who did.  By an accident of pre-tent-erection blondeness we selected the boggy one.  We don’t have a dog.

But where to put the tent?  Environmental psychology would determine that campers would pitch around the edges of the field before opting for a less sheltered and ambush prone site in the middle.  However, balancing microclimate against the absence of marauding Celts or bears, we selected a central site as all the available ‘edge’ pitches would be in the shade come tea time.

This meant that we were more than a nod and yell’s distance from the other campers, hence reducing opportunities for sociable Black Sheep quaffing or indeed another little ankle biter to play ‘scoring a goal’ with Seth when our lack of stamina or desire for a brew got the better of us.

Camping is, of course, about getting back to nature and getting to go on holiday for only a few quid.  So why oh why oh why do camp sites not seem to reflect this?  If it’s about getting back to nature, why are the fields mown within an inch of their lives so that any flora or fauna are intimidated away?  If they didn’t mow the sites or at least adopted a selective mowing regime, then it would be a damn site/sight cheaper and create a more pleasant environment for the middle class hippy types who want to go there.  By allowing trees, shrubs and meadow grasses to define the spaces, it would create a more defensible and sociable sub-area to promote said Black Sheep quaffing.

We could even go further and dare I say it…….design the camp site.  I would be interested to know if anyone knows of a simple, low-tech, yet spatially creative camp site.  This has been done with other land uses which seek to create natural space which also enables the apparently conflicting requirements of sociability and privacy.  We’ve done it to sculpture parks (Kroller Muller); allotment gardens (Sorensen’s hedged ellipses in Denmark): we even take care to define and create functional and pleasurable spaces in car parks.

The staycation is here to stay.  There are thousands of camp sites that make their mark on the landscape in the UK and not all are owned by struggling farmers.  Better design could simply be achieved by reducing maintenance and great places could be designed with a little thought sprinkled with some commercial acumen.

Episode 1/many July 22, 2009

Posted by jennibarrett in General.
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Hello. Finally got round to setting up a decent blog. Tried it on google but found their set up extremely user unfriendly at a basic level i.e. struggled to add information to it – visual information that is and it would be a daft blog about design if I stuck to words.

And there’s the crumby link…..when we design something, whether it be our new kitchen or a city quarter, we frequently stick to words, either through tedious reports in Times New Roman or by general verboseness. Words are dangerous though. Words are not ideas. Words are the tools we use to communicate them and can easily be used as a weapon to wield power (therefore putting up barriers to otherwise good ideas) or as a smokescreen (to hide our lack of confidence or knowledge).

But don’t get me wrong – words are hugely important to me. To use them well is an artform. They can give ideas the momentum they need to fly and the detail they need to run.

And so on with the show………Hope you enjoy the blog. All comments more than welcome