Social Dimension of Design and Design Education
In conversation with Galen Cranz

Amita Sinha

Volume 5, Issue 1, March 2018
pp. 88 – 95

Galen Cranz received her Ph.D. in Sociology from University of Chicago and taught in Princeton University School of Architecture from 1971-75. Since 1975, she has been teaching in the Department of Architecture, College of Environmental Design, University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of The Politics of Park Design: A History of Urban Parks in America (MIT Press, 1982), The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design (W.W. Norton, 1998), and Ethnography for Designers (Routledge, 2016), in addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters. She won the EDRA (Environmental Design Research Association) Achievement Award in 2004 and Career Award in 2011. She is a certified teacher of the body work discipline, Alexander Technique, and holds two US patents for body-conscious bathtub and chair designs. Cranz teaches courses on Body Conscious Design, The Sociology of Taste, Social Theory and Research Methods, and Social and Cultural Factors in Architecture and Urban Design.

Galen Cranz has devoted her academic career to teaching research in the service of design. In her Foreword to Revisiting “Social Factors”: Advancing Research into People and Place (edited by Georgia Lindsay and Lusi Morhayim, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xv), she asks, “How do we measure the relationship between humans and their environment? How do we measure the hyphen in person environment relations?” These questions are answered in her teaching and publications, where her primary focus is understanding human behavior in and experience of places. As a social historian she combines a sociologist’s interest in interpreting contemporary social practices and a historian’s perspective in longitudinal studies of places. As one of the founding members of the field variously known as ‘Social and Cultural Factors’, ‘Person-environment relations’, ‘Environmental Psychology’, ‘Human Factors’ among others, she has taught generations of designers that place-based research enhances creativity and can lead to transformations in social attitudes and values. She believes that social research is directly tied to both professional service and cultural criticism. Theoretical frameworks linking space with culture and human behavior should guide the design process, calling into question the designer’s untested assumptions about the ‘ideal’ and ‘universal’ person s/he is designing for. In this interview, I draw her out on some of these issues.

With an academic background in sociology and having taught in Architecture for over four decades, your thoughts on the importance of social factors in the design process?

If architecture is the integration of social purpose, materiality, and aesthetics, then social factors are fundamental to design. Social purpose, behavior, and feelings are not a constraint on artistic freedom, but rather a basis for inspiring new forms or refining traditional ones. Any design that fails to integrate social, technical, and sensory is immature.

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