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Becoming Choice Architects March 1, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
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We are stymied by regulations, limited choice and the threat of litigation. Neither consultants nor industry itself provide research which takes architecture forward. Arthur Erickson

I believe that the way people live can be directed a little by architecture. Tadao Ando

A “nudge” is anything that influences our choices, a little coercion, a little push toward one outcome or another. The person who instigates the nudge is called a choice architect. A choice architect is anyone who influences decisions or choices.

Nudge, written by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, is based on the simple idea that behavior can be greatly influenced by small changes we make in context. The example that the book opens with shows how, by simply rearranging the location of food items in a cafeteria, the consumption of many items increases or decreases.

The paperback edition was just released at Amazon and can be had for about $10. Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University, Nobel Laureate in Economics says that reading Nudge “will improve your decisions and it will make the world a better place.” Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics, writes “I love this book. It is one of the few books I’ve read recently that fundamentally changes the way I think about the world.” My telling you this is a nudge.

What does this have to do with architecture? Actually a great deal. Besides having the potential to make the world a better place, architecture manipulates and coerces people to use or not use, react to or avoid buildings and places. There’s nothing new about that or how buildings nudge. The interesting idea here is how architects nudge clients, community and various other stakeholders to decide one way or another.

In this time of global economic turmoil when the race toward a new commission is exceedingly competitive and the opportunity to design buildings hard to come by, perhaps – until things free up a bit – we should consider not becoming better design architects or Revit architects but work on becoming better decision architects? Choice architects.

I say this because one of the movements anticipated to take center stage when credit and the market returns is Integrated Practice or IPD (Integrated Project Delivery.) One of the hallmarks of this new way of practicing is having everybody – client, contractor, architect, consultants, attorneys, everyone – at the table day one, working collaboratively toward a common outcome. In ideal circumstances suggestions are offered, ideas vetted and decisions made right from the start. But currently there are many clients that architects can think of who would be hard-pressed to make the quick decisions necessary to make IPD function optimally, working to the benefit of all.

Architects are starting to make great strides in performance-based and evidence-based architecture, where metrics and other measurable means help determine the client’s course of action. But these methods – inspired by health design and applied to other building types – still only represent a small slice of the decisions that need to be made at project’s commencement. This is where architects – and nudge – come in. What better time than now – when things are slow or looking to slow down – for architects to focus on the skills, attitudes and aptitudes required to help clients make informed, responsible decisions? Especially now, when construction costs are rising, owners fed-up with construction waste, demanding faster schedules, lower costs, and higher quality, while architects are pushing their green agendas?

The question we ought to be asking ourselves now, coming out of all of this, is this: How can we improve the upfront decisions our clients need to make so that we don’t sacrifice inspiration in preference for efficiency and expediency? How we answer this will determine how we rate and relate as choice architects.

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