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  • November 22, 2019
    Attendees and panelists exchanged ideas for improving the design of polling places.

    Ben Kallos, NYC Council Member, 5th District
    Doug Kellner, Co-Chair, New York State Board of Elections
    Maggie Ollove, Service Designer and Civic Researcher, Center for Civic Design
    Eric Spencer, Development Director, Ennead Architects; Democratic District Leader, 73rd District Part C

    Fauzia Khanani, AIA Associate; Principal, Studio Fо̄r

    Summary by Carin Barbanel

    How welcoming are the spaces in which we vote? Can we find our way through them efficiently? Welcoming physical sites encourage citizens to participate in our democracy, yet designers and architects aren’t usually asked to consider that usage when envisioning a common area. Fauzia Khanani, AIA Associate and Principal of Studio Fо̄r, moderated a panel of prestigious experts who summarized the history of voting in New York and innovations that are improving voter participation. Attendees were then invited attendees to imagine improvements to voting methodologies that New York’s Board of Elections (BOE) may be able to implement.

    Doug Kellner has been working in the election space for decades and currently sits as Co-Chair of the New York State Board of Elections. He discussed how voting has evolved in New York. Ben Kallos, New York City Council Member, connected this legacy to current unfair incumbent advantages. Maggie Ollove, civic researcher and designer at the Center for Civic Design, illustrated how improved ballot designs impact electoral outcomes. Eric Spencer, Director at Ennead Architects and a Democratic District Leader in Manhattan, connected these themes and posited ideas for our future.

    Kellner began with an overview of the history of voting in New York, which began in colonial times. Absentee ballots were created to enable soldiers serving in the Civil War to vote, ensuring Lincoln’s reelection. By the turn of the century, the US government was printing ballots, implicitly limiting the field of candidates. Voting machines and confidential ballots improved access and the rolls were expanded. Nonwhite voters and, finally, women gained the franchise a century ago. The voting machines with the handles that many of us remember from childhood were introduced in the 1950s. Only recently did New York move to scanned paper ballots and electronic poll books, and early voting was just introduced for the first time this year.

    Kellner went on to give some background on how elections are administered now. Election Districts (EDs) are geographic divisions designed to include a similar number of voters. These are further split into Assembly Districts (ADs). One question that was posed: Do voters really need to vote in their ED/AD now that we have electronic poll books? So far, the answer is yes. Even if voter rolls are portable, crowd control is still a real concern; imagine the mayhem of NYC residents wanting to vote in midtown on election day! The ED/AD system is also necessary to maintain the secrecy of votes and provide a proper audit trail. Further, online voting is not a viable option as there is no way to ensure an election will not be compromised.

    NYC Council Member Ben Kallos discussed downsides of the Election District system. An incumbent legislator can select a polling place amid bevies of supporters or put several ADs in one site to create long waits that can dissuade others. More often, difficulties in distributing poll sites are usually logistical, not nefarious. There are not sufficient public spaces for every New Yorker to vote without friction. During presidential elections that friction is substantial. Electronic poll books and early voting help but we can do more. Kallos asked participants to encourage co-op and condo boards to invite the BOE into large ground floor lobbies of their buildings.

    Maggie Ollove spoke about the design of ballots themselves. She reminded us of the problematic ballot that resulted in 2000’s Bush vs. Gore nightmare scenario. She then showed us examples of better ballots, but explained that BOE officials who create ballots are not designers. They are, however, eager for instruction. Suggestions such as using 12 point sans serif fonts and page designs are generally welcomed. Ollove closed by sharing successful ideas from other districts such as drop-off ballot acceptance. 

    Eric Spencer spoke to the current political climate, reassuring the audience that our era is not the most contentious in our country’s history. Even as social media’s fractious nature exacerbates our awareness of divisions, community spaces can combat disharmony. Voting by mail is convenient, but creating a festive atmosphere a lá the City Streets program could return an element of community spirit to the voting process. Additive, adaptive solutions might include putting tents in parks and including other civic outreach in these spaces.

    Fauzia Khanani segued to the closing activity, in which attendees broke into small groups for conversations about voting as a spatial act. The panelists each joined a group of attendees to suggest solutions. Some ideas included thoughtful signage coupled and better placement of voting equipment to increase throughput, allowing voters to hand off completed vote by mail ballots in subway stations and other public spaces, placing mobile polling trucks in public plazas.

    One idea of note for those who design buildings: include polling usage in the original design specs for buildings that are likely to be used as such. Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause, suggested architects and designers read the report produced by The Presidential Commission on Election Administration. It contains industry-tested solutions that can be incorporated into polling site plans.

    This was an energizing and inspiring evening. Voting gives the people who inspire us the power to act on our behalf, so it was fitting to focus on how design can support and inspire people to participate in the process of self-government.

    Please join us for future events.

  • September 19, 2019
    A packed house listens to presenters discussing the design of learning environments

    by Kate Ganim

    The education landscape is changing quickly. New technologies and pedagogies, converging disciplines, high costs, preparation for not-yet-existent careers: it’s undeniable that education at all levels is evolving. Students now have a broader range of non-traditional paths available to them, and their needs and experiences vary more than ever. A range of professionals across disciplines are taking steps to make education more inclusive and accessible to historically under-represented populations, working to improve anything from racial or cultural diversity to neuro-diversity. Architecture has a responsibility to evolve its practice in order to support and anticipate these changes in education.

    Historically, only a small segment of architects have collaborated with research-based disciplines or made substantial use of post-occupancy evaluations (POEs) to improve learning spaces. There are many precedents showcasing successful use of data and a multi-disciplinary approach to educational design, along with the positive impact that it can have on student experience and learning outcomes. Unfortunately, this approach is far from the norm despite the evidence that it makes the student experience more equitable and engaging.

    There are several obstacles facing architects who are interested in a research-based approach. There is rarely a budget available for this type of data collection and analysis, and it can be easily deprioritized or skipped despite its demonstrated success. Thus, the architect can expect to need to educate their client on its indispensability. Also, there is little perceived incentive to invest in the “student experience” since public funding for schools is driven primarily by student test scores (especially for public schools). No broadly accepted evaluation standards exist for POEs or educational space research; as a result, 90% of the architects who use this type of research develop their own surveys and methods in-house. There is no commonly accepted platform on which to share these methods or findings publicly, so many undertaking this work are duplicating or re-creating similar tools and approaches.

    On August 7, 2019, AIANY Social Science and Architecture, AIANY Architecture for Education, and AIA National CAE Research Task Force held an event titled: “Learning About Schools: Where Do Design and Research Fit In?” Design and consulting professionals shared their perspectives and approaches around integrating user and client-driven research into the design of educational spaces. It was facilitated by Evie Klein, Co-founder, User Design Information Group, Graduate Center, CUNY, and Michael A. Nieminen, FAIA, Partner, Kliment Halsband Architects. The featured guest speakers were Elliot Felix, Founder of brightspot; Dina Sorensen, Assoc. AIA, Senior Associate, former K-12 Education Leader at DLR Group; and Daniel Baumann, Lead Designer at Henning Larsen. While each of the speakers had their own unique approach, there were common themes throughout:

    • Talk to stakeholders. There are many stakeholders in an educational space. Work with a diverse group of stakeholders that is representative of the community. Take time to understand who they are, what they care about, and what they need. Don’t rely on administrators to tell you what students need: talk to students directly. Treat them like the cultural and community experts that they are. Students can also help to interpret and offer insights on other data that is collected.
    • Take a multi-modal approach. There are a number of ways to collect useful data to gain insights. Qualitative research can include stakeholder interviews or workshops. Quantitative research can include different sensors and heat-mapping techniques, or coding stakeholder interviews. Use multiple types of data to paint a clearer and more robust picture.
    • Integrate feedback throughout the process. Pre- and post-occupancy evaluations are great, but don’t go deep enough. Bring your stakeholders through the process with you. Get their input early and often to ensure that your design direction is aligned with and supportive of their needs and culture.

    The mindset should be exploratory, open-minded, and “bottom-up,” leading with curiosity in order to uncover insights or innovative approaches. Alternatively, a “top-down” approach is at risk of seeking evidence to confirm existing assumptions and beliefs.

    While architects are not solely responsible for the student experience and engagement, they are in a powerful position to impact students and the future of education. An incredible opportunity lies in cross-disciplinary collaboration with experts in fields like neuroscience, environmental and developmental psychology, and data science, to integrate their insights into physical space.

    The uniqueness of each school community plays a significant role. Each has its own “cultural needs.” The goal is not to create the “best learning space,” but rather to create the learning space that is the best fit for that community. Alignment between the physical space and the people who use it is paramount.

    Please consider joining these additional conversations about the intersections of social science and design:

    Kate Ganim is a designer and entrepreneur with a background in architecture. She built KIDmob and LMNOP Design in San Francisco before moving to Brooklyn in early 2019.

  • March 28, 2019
    Meeting Attendees
    AIANY's Social Science and Architecture hosted a panel on tools and technology (March 5, 2019)

    by Diana Mosher

    On March 5, the AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee hosted Proof: The Power of Social Research in Design. This multidisciplinary panel facilitated by PLASTARC Founder and Executive Director Melissa Marsh explored new quantitative and qualitative tools available to designers, as well as ways that social science research can be embedded into the design process.

    Arlene Ducao is a Principal at the DuKode Studio, a scientific and environmental design firm in Brooklyn, and the CEO and cofounder of Dukode’s affiliate company Multimer. Multimer provides tools that enable organizations to conduct research and fill in gaps in data. Using a simple kit and common wearables like smartwatches and heart rate straps, designers can collect, visualize, and analyze geolocated biosensor data. As that data is collected, designers can monitor it in real time on Multimer’s platform. This can be useful for delving into outdoor experiences, examining workplace strategies, or studying design in virtual space.

    Stephanie Park, Senior Lead Strategist at WeWork, draws from her multidisciplinary background and expertise in design, psychology, and data science as she leads immersive research to create an ideal user experience. Her work sits at the intersection of architecture and cognitive psychology, to studying how building performance affects people and vice versa. She warned that technology doesn’t always reveal the whole story. Attendees learned how to avoid costly mistakes that can occur when making assumptions about client culture based solely on data.

    Danil Nagy is Product Innovation Manager at Silverstein Properties, where he leads the development of technology to enhance and transform Silverstein’s business. Nagy described an automated tool created for a developer in Japan that helps the sales team find vacant lots and pitch development projects to the owners. Automation allows the developer to grow their business by increasing both the quantity and quality of the proposals that they can offer. Nagy also shared some thoughts about how to avoid over-engineered systems and how to maximize human comfort by minimizing resource usage.

    The panel concluded with a look at some exciting advances in tools and automation. Emerging technologies such as computer vision, data mining, learning cloud computing, and generative design have enabled us to get closer to Negroponte’s vision of a future where human designers and intelligent machines assist each other in creating a better built environment.

  • December 18, 2018
    Poets, architects, and other makers discussed how identity influences their work.

    by Kuan-Ju Chen and Jessica Morris

    The effects of identity on projects and places are powerful. Should identity be recognized as a material in the discipline of architecture as it is in disciplines like poetry? “Remix Resample Remaster” prompted consideration of whether deeper reflection on the role of identity in the process of making could result in places that are more reflective, adaptive, and flexible.

    This participatory program was hosted on 12.11.18 by the AIANY Diversity and Inclusion, Emerging New York Architects, and Social Science and Architecture Committees at the Center for Architecture. Through small-group workshops, participants considered how the work of poets, educators, artists, and fellow architects is affected by their identities both consciously and unconsciously.

    Speakers shared short stories that inspired breakout discussions about identity, place, and creative works. Daniel Aronberg, Assoc. AIA and Co-Chair of AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee, introduced the theme of equality with a reading of the poem “No Difference” by Shel Silverstein. Fauzia Khanani, Assoc. AIA, Principal and Founder of Studio Fōr, then shared excerpts from the New York Times Race/Related Newsletter that illustrated how a porch could represent very different things in people’s lives.

    Also among the invited guests was Danei Cesario, AIA, NCARB, NOMA, Associate of Array Architects, and Co-Chair of AIANY Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She highlighted her roles as a mom, a wife, and the 333rd black female licensed architect in American history. With these multiple roles, she has many opportunities to encourage empowerment through practice. Cesario was followed by Paco Márquez, a poet and former editor of OccuPoetry, a poetry journal focused on economic justice. Márquez read two original poems that use language, intentionally-incorrect grammar, and cadence to directly address his identity as a bilingual and Latino immigrant. He also shared a submission tracking spreadsheet showing acceptance or rejection by various journals, allowing the relationship between identity and acceptance to be evaluated. Initially, Márquez’s works were more often accepted by journals aimed at a Latino audience, which caused him to question his professional identity—he did not want to be seen only as a Latino poet. He asked the audience to consider if and when a cultural producer might aspire to break out of identity pigeonholes.

    Katie Yamasaki, a Japanese-American artist and muralist who grew up in Detroit, shared a story from grade school that was tied to race, memory, and the writing of history. That story became the inspiration for her children’s books and public artwork, highlighting how formative identity politics can be. Yamasaki’s use of large-scale murals as identity markers serves to reinforce existing relationships, give presence to loved ones who are elsewhere, and create community-building mechanisms. Kamau Ware, artist, historian and founder of Kamau Studios, self-identifies as an information-loving nerd. Ware’s work—walking, talking, sketching, and creating with others he meets—is about the underlying and hidden histories of place. The interest in deep heritage and thirst for information exchange through culture building is the creative force of his identity-driven work, though it is not always obvious at the outset. Finally, Abby Conklin, Program Manager at Creative Connections NYC, shared a poem she authored and asked “How can we see each other wholly?” Conklin echoed Márquez in her lament of stereotyping, which she said is typically based on limited knowledge. Conklin advocated that we suspend judgement and engage in consideration of all sides, especially because every individual is multifaceted.

    The subsequent breakout sessions further explored identity as it relates to vocational roles. Each group was led by one of the invited guests, who facilitated discussion after a short self-introduction. Some groups explored the identity of “architect” in general. A few participants were hesitant to call themselves “architects” simply because they were not yet licensed, prompting a discussion of whether young professionals should not feel permitted to identify as such. A few stereotypes of the profession were discussed, such as long working hours and income levels. Though there was agreement that these were a mix of some truth and some speculation, questions arose about how these stereotypes came to be and what might shift them.

    Identities can be nested, and their expression may serve as a means to represent and uphold shared visions and values. Identity and expression exist at every moment of practice, from interpreting codes, writing specifications, and outlining material selections, to visioning RFP responses or annotating and placing arrowheads on drawings. Architecture and engineering, technical and creative writing, organizing, and even walking all communicate values.

    The group discussions concluded with a series of questions. Everyone was asked to think of a public park that they regularly engaged with and to consider how identity influences one’s experience of that place. Different ideas of how those places might be improved illustrated that identity is an essential starting point in defining architectural problems and working through design solutions. The responses were recorded and later shared back with the full group.

    Identity, when harnessed, can be a cultural currency. It is a currency with immeasurable value when shared—not for the purpose of feeding egos, but in service to an economy of common good.


    This post was sponsored by PLASTARC.

  • October 30, 2018
    Panelists discuss the evolution of coworking practice.

    by Carolyn Cirillo

    While coworking may be associated with large open desk areas and scrappy, early-stage startups, shared space has grown up, requiring more sophisticated design, measurement, and marketing, a panel of experts told AIA members and guests at a panel in on October 23.

    A confluence of trends, including people seeking choice in how, when and where they work; corporate need for short and long-term flexibility; the miniaturization and portability of technology; and Millennials desiring to work in environments reminiscent of their recent college experience, has changed the landscape, according to Joyce Bromberg, chief strategy officer at Convene, a New York City-based network of meeting, event and flexible workspaces.

    Coworking has evolved into a new way to provide workplace for enterprise-level clients, explained Bromberg, whose firm provides solutions for groups of 10 to 100 people.

    Everything that we know about landlords and how workplaces are designed, built, managed, and staffed is being disrupted, necessitating a new name for what Bromberg predicts will become the way people work and how real estate will be consumed.

    As a fundamental part of the shared economy, coworking embodies the notions of access and pay-for-what-you-use, while incorporating shorter lease terms and an added layer of service and hospitality that ultimately empowers the provider, according to Eivind Karlsen, head of design at Industrious.

    “We’re challenged to make sure that every day employees come into work we create a service that satisfies them, or they can move to another operator,” Karlsen said. “That’s a fairly new dynamic. You’re giving the occupier that key that they didn’t previously have.”

    For the corporate occupant, it has led to more purposeful decision-making about where to locate particular groups and departments, according to Lucia Diana, global real estate for Verizon.

    Moderator Melissa Marsh, founder of PLASTARC, summarized: “The definition of coworking is about how people work and how the real estate, design and construction industry deliver that product in a more systematic or productized way.” It’s also:

    • A way of working with people in more diverse environments
    • Co-locating people in different companies
    • A way of delivering hospitality-driven office environment as a service
    • Flexibility
    • Speed of change from real estate and demand side
    • Redefining corporate intellectual property boundaries from defense to offensive

    Panelists also discussed the vicissitudes of generic and unique approaches to flexible space products and considered ways coworking is evolving toward a hospitality-style model with varied market segments, brands and levels of service.

    Challenges with measurement were something all panelists experienced in the flexible office model where “people vote with their feet.”

    While many providers are investing in various sensor-style products, challenges lie in mandating adoption.

    “Any tool is only as good as the number of people that use it,” said Bromberg.

    At Verizon, where the focus is on measuring utilization and measurement with retail-style people-counters, real data helps analyze and resolve situations such as a 25-person room occupied by three people, Diana described.

    While data drives much of the decision-making and programmatic allocation of space that follows, great value can be derived from non-quantitative measurements, according to Karlsen, whose firm has found the community manager relationship to be a particularly valuable gauge.

    “Getting those qualitative touch points on a daily basis inform how that member is experiencing that space, what challenges they have, where we can help provide a better day at work,” he added.

    And in some cases, it’s the space itself that signals a successful project, as the Rockwell Group’s Matthew Winter explained.

    Describing a corporate office project that consolidated six groups under one roof, he noted that only a small percentage of individuals were allowed to keep private offices. Some departments opted for a purely democratic experience, with executives moving into open spaces with their teams, while others fought hard to keep a disproportionate number of offices.

    For open offices, shared spaces and ancillary lounges, Rockwell’s design features a hospitality-focused center-hearth approach.

    “The true measurement of the success of this project will be if at the end of it, some of the EVPs and SVPs are not spending time in the office they fought so hard for, and instead holding court in one of those lounges,” noted Winter.

    Coworking was the second in a two-part workplace series presented by the Interiors, Marketing & Communications and Social Science and Architecture committees of the New York City chapter of the AIA. On May 2, the committee presented Workplace Design Part 1 exploring how marketing the physical work environment can attract and retain talent.


    This post was sponsored by PLASTARC.



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