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March 10, 2016
by Jonah Bleckner
Speakers of "Program Cubed: Shaping our Intentions, Our Experiences, and Our Buildings."Credit: Center for Architecture
Speakers and organizers of "Program Cubed: Shaping our Intentions, Our Experiences, and Our Buildings."Credit: Center for Architecture

People and space are inexorably linked, and therefore cannot be studied in isolation. This intersection is the main focus of the newly-formed AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee, which aims to bring social science tools to the forefront of the architectural practice. On 02.23.16, the Committee hosted its inaugural event, Program Cubed: Shaping Our Intentions, Our Experiences, and Our Buildings, to discuss the multiple meanings of the term “program” in relation to people, place, and space.

The evening kicked off with an introduction by Melissa Marsh, Assoc. AIA, AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee co-chair, and founder and CEO of PLASTARC. In her introduction, Marsh invited audience members to consider various definitions of “program”: program as architecture; program as a plan to achieve a specific goal; program as an event or activity; and program as scripting or coding. Based on these definitions, she posed the overarching question: How do architectural, social, and digital programs, and programs of activities shape how space is produced, experienced, and modified?

To start the discussion, Meg Barnette, chief-of-staff for Planned Parenthood New York City (PPNYC), talked about the development of PPNYC‘s Health and Education Center in Queens. The Health Center was designed from the patient’s perspective to align with the organization’s mission of providing nonjudgmental and culturally competent care to all. As principal architect, Stephen Yablon, AIA, LEED AP, also had to determine how to provide patients with a sense of safety and security. Yablon mapped out how patients, counselors, and surgeons would typically move through the center to arrange the spaces in a way that stayed true to PPNYC’s mission statement. A visit to the center starts at the entrance, designed to immediately convey a message of welcome. Among other design interventions, Yablon spoke about how wall color was used as a tool to help orient patients who come from diverse linguistic backgrounds.

Anastasia Brown discussed the importance of program as community manager at a leading coworking company,. Community management is a workplace responsibility that is rapidly emerging to support the operation of flexible, social, and fun work environments. Brown and her staff of five provide programs and services to more than 1,400 people at her location. One of the keys to their success is learning, down to the finest detail, how people actually use the space to improve how it is programmed. An indispensable part of learning about how occupants use a space, Brown said, is to personally engage with them; an e-mail is not the same thing as a face-to-face conversation.

Mike Lydon, principal at Street Plans, brought the conversation about the multiple meanings of “program” from the workplace to the urban scale. He discussed how an urban programming strategy that he refers to as tactical urbanism can be strategically implemented to incite change that is frequently halted by the diverse range of stakeholders. Tactical urbanism involves low-cost interventions that help engage and get buy-in from a community to push for longer-term urban planning initiatives. This sort of low-cost but high-touch approach helps users imagine how a space could feel when it is transformed, connecting people, through programming, to future possibilities.

The eveniong’s discussion revolved around the use of research and metrics. Barnette explained that PPNYC measures organizational metrics and productivity targets. As a result, they have the capacity to measure the productivity of PPNYC centers across the city to uncover which designs are really working best. In terms of the architectural industry, Yablon confessed that there is an underuse of data and a reliance on experiential insight. Although post-occupancy studies are an invaluable opportunity to understand the sociospatial consequences of architectural designs, clients often don’t ask for them because they are expensive. For Lydon, comprehensive research informs the tactical urbanist about where an intervention could be most successful. The general consensus among the panelists was that social research and data can be a powerful tool to track the effectiveness of programs, in all of the word’s iterations, to improve the way that spaces serve its users.

Jonah Bleckner is a Research Specialist at PLASTARC. He holds a degree in Political Science and Philosophy from Vassar College, and is passionate about the potential to use space and policy as tools to address social, economic, racial, and environmental injustices.

Event: Program Cubed: Shaping our Intentions, Our Experiences, and Our Buildings
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.23.16
Speakers: Anastasia Brown, Community Manager, NYC Coworking Facility; Meg Barnette, Chief of Staff, Planned Parenthood of New York City; Mike Lydon, Principal, Street Plans; Stephen Yablon, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, Stephen Yablon Architect; Melissa Marsh, Assoc. AIA, Founder and CEO, PLASTARC; Co-chair, AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee (moderator)
Organized by: AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee

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