The Architecture of Life: Disrupting Architecture at Texas A & M

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Monday, November 24, 2008

Disrupting Architecture at Texas A & M

The latest issue of the newsletter of Texas A & M Architecture school includes an article about my lecture on October 30th.

I was pleased my lecture made the "news" at A & M, but seeing my picture on their website motivated me to make two decisions.

I doubt I will wear a Hawaiian shirt next time I lecture, and this morning, I stuck the American Heart Association food charts back on my fridge and went on a diet. In situations like this, I am often disturbed to find I am not a good looking in real life as I am in my head.

The article in full is here. It was a great experience and I offer my thanks once again to Lou Tassinary and Xuemei Zhu for giving me the chance to try to "disrupt the thinking" of their students.

Here is part of my lecture that was reported in the article.

“The conversation with human factors and behavioral factors in design is actually the central requirement of having a successful design practice,” he told the students.

“How you relate to people, how you understand people, how much you’re able to get inside their heads and predict what portion of the things people tell you about themselves is accurate relative to the space you’re designing is crucial.”

Travis wonders why architects don’t have a similar role in designing residences that designers have on, for example, the iPhone. “The iPhone is about design not based on something cool, but about how people use something in a way that is effective. That’s what ergonomics is too. When you get into your Toyota and everything’s in the right place and makes sense that’s because somebody did a whole lot of user experience work.

“Where is that in architecture?” he asked. “Right now, less than five percent of houses built in this nation involve an architect.”

There’s never been more of a need for home design, he said. “People are smart, well educated, they have become used to well-designed offices and things in their lives,” he said. "It’s very intuitive to expect that from your home. The reason that we don’t is because we don’t see the possibility of something different.”

Travis sees architecture teetering on the precipice of irrelevance. “Architecture has become something that is a luxury item for the wealthy,” he said. “I say there’s a new wave coming, and it has to do with how you tailor a living space to human beings. This is an entirely different point of view, a development that should occur over the next 20 years,” he continued, “because if it doesn’t, our future is going to become irrelevant.

Frankly, more irrelevant than it is now, because it already is for most of us who can’t afford it.”

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Lou Tassinary and Roger Ulrich also collaborated on a new study just published in the latest edition of the journal Environment and Behavior.

In the study, 210 psychology students were purposely given frustrating tasks to do on the computer, to get them angry. The testing was alternately done with, and without, photographic and abstract scenes of nature on the walls of the room in which the irritating tests were given.

For men, there was a marked reduction in anger when the nature scenes were on the walls as compared to when they were not.

For women, the posters seemed to have no impact. If you want to learn more about this study you can find an article about it here on

New evidence like this that positive environments have a big impact on health and well-being are coming from all directions these days. Mind/body research in many universities have been publishing proof that how we feel in the buildings we build impacts not only our mood, but our health, for many years now.

It is time for mainstream architecture and architecture schools to take these findings seriously and do like we are doing at Truehome, developing methods of programming that allow practitioners t0 understand the "emotional architecture" of the inhabitants of the buildings they are designing.