SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY AND COLLEGIATE CAMPUSES:
Measuring Environments’ Functionality
Michael David Grimble
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of
the University at Buffalo, State University of New York
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Urban Planning
Department of Urban and Regional Planning
Michael David Grimble
April 29, 2009
This thesis is dedicated to all of the people who helped to make it possible.
Table of Contents
List of Figures v
1) Introduction 1
2) Sustainability 5
Journey or Destination 5
Sustainability Defined 7
Social Sustainability and the Three Considerations Model 9
3) Social Sustainability 12
What Is Social Sustainability? 12
What Does More Socially Sustainable Look Like? 15
The Measure of Social Sustainability 18
4) Social Design and Universal Design 19
The Need for Social Design 19
Social Design Defined 21
The Design Cycle and Social Design 22
Universal Design 23
The Seven Principles of Universal Design 24
5) The Measurement System for Social Sustainability 26
Creating an Activity Inventory 26
Surveying the Environment 28
Representing the Environment 31
Indexing Activity Scores 34
6) Limitations 37
7) Conclusion 38
8) Appendix A: Sample Demographic Survey 39
9) Appendix B: Sample Survey Question 40
10) Sources 41
List of Figures
Figure 1: The Sustainability Venn Diagram 8
Figure 2: The Design Curve 14
Figure 3: The Design Cycle 15
Figure 4: Path of Travel to an Entrance with Steps 17
Figure 5: Path of Travel to an Entrance with a Ramp 17
Figure 6: The Pruitt‐Igoe Housing Project 20
Figure 7: The Spiral Continuum of Design 22
Figure 8: The Seven Principles of Inclusive Design 25
Figure 9: The Activity Chain 27
Figure 10: Sample Problematic Activity Index with Formulas 36
Figure 11: Completed Problematic Activity Index 36
Figure 12: Sample Problematic Activities Index Score Matrix 36
Sustainable development is thought of as the balance between three considerations which are
environmental, economic and social. Balancing these three considerations requires
compromise betwixt and between. For the environmental and economic consideration, this is
possible because quantitative measurement systems for them already exist. Currently, there is
no quantitative measurement system to account for the social consideration of sustainability.
This thesis examines this issue and creates a quantifiable measure for the social consideration
of sustainability that accounts for the relationship between people and place. This relationship
is characterized by an environment’s functionality. What makes an environment functional is
also examined in this thesis. The measurement system created can be used in two different
ways. It can be used to benchmark an environment and track it over time, or it can be used to
compare one environment to another. This system ultimately creates a representation of an
environment’s functionality. Understanding the functionality of an environment is the first step
toward creating environments that work better for their users. The measurement system
described assesses the ability of an environment’s users’ to participate in the broad range of
interconnected activities hosted by the environment. Collegiate campuses were selected as the
setting to employ this assessment tool because of the negative implications associated with
creating a dysfunctional academic environment.
For as long as American universities have existed, they have acted as change agents in society.
Universities and colleges have always existed for the fundamental purpose of generating and
disseminating knowledge, in other words, “the advancement of learning” (Klotsche, 1966).
Ideas generated on collegiate campuses have a way of filtering into mainstream knowledge.
Universities and colleges have forever stepped up in an attempt to fill the gaps in knowledge
that afflict society. Universities and colleges have been preserving knowledge for centuries and
make up some of the oldest institutions in existence. Universities as institutions have the ability
to withstand the test of time. Their presence can outlast the life of any one person. At the same
time, they ensure that individual contributions are not lost or forgotten.
Universities and colleges will always play an instrumental role in understanding ourselves, the
universe around us and the issues that will impact both. Prior to World War II, universities and
colleges in the United States existed to produce information about agriculture and the
mechanical arts (Bok, 1982). During war times the focuses shifted towards the generation of
knowledge for military purposes. Today environmental and economic issues receive much focus
in academic communities.
It is because these institutions play such an instrumental role in society that there is the need to
seek their continual improvement. The continual improvement of these institutions should
create a more functional environment for the people who use them. Here a functional
environment is described as an environment that allows its users to participate fully in the
broad range of interconnected activities hosted by the environment. This thesis began with an
exploration of design paradigms focused on creating more functional environments. The three
paradigms which will be discussed in this thesis are sustainability, social design and universal
design. They were selected because of their user‐oriented focus and have been examined for
the role they play in creating more functional environments.
Sustainability was selected because it seeks to balance diverse considerations in order to
improve both the built and natural environments. Sustainability is centered on the belief that it
is possible to provide for the current needs of people without affecting future peoples’ ability to
provide for their own needs. Social design and universal design were selected because they set
up a design process and guiding principles that help to create more functional environments.
One model of sustainability focuses on a three areas of consideration which are environmental,
economic and social. When developments are formed around the balance of these three
considerations, then a sustainable development can result. To better understand this, it is
helpful to imagine how the three considerations affect and influence each other. When one
consideration is checked against another the overlap between these considerations is an area
where compromises need to be made. For instance, when finding a balance between
environmental and economic considerations one would not want to be so cautious of the
environmental consideration that they allow it to stifle economic development. Concurrently, it
would be a mistake to allow economic activity to proceed at the total expense of the
environment. The balance between these two considerations lends credence to whether a
development could be considered sustainable from an environmental or economic standpoint.
The compromise between environmental and economic considerations can be viewed because
quantitative measurement systems for them currently exist. One way of quantifying the
environmental consideration, involves looking at the impact of a development on the
environment in terms of carbon footprint. In this system of measurement a large carbon
footprint is worse than a small carbon footprint, because it has more negative impacts on the
environment. The economic consideration can be quantified in terms of cost which can be
measured in a variety of ways (i.e., monetary value, time, etc.) but basically always relates back
to monetary expenses. A quantifiable method for measuring the social consideration of
sustainable development does not currently exist. This creates a disconnection between the
environmental and economic considerations and the social considerations. Without a
quantifiable measurement system to account for the social considerations of sustainable
development, it is impossible to begin measuring the balance between social considerations
and the environmental and economic considerations.
Keeping in mind the goal of improving the functionality of collegiate campuses’ environments,
this thesis set out to find a quantifiable method for measuring sustainability’s social
consideration. Creating a quantifiable measurement system for the social consideration will
provide information that allows the social consideration to be better understood. Creating this
measurement system is done by searching for an explanation of what makes a functional
environment. Understanding what makes an environment functional will also help in
understanding what will need to be measured in order to quantify functionality.
Examining what affects peoples’ ability to function in any particular environment provides
information that will aid in the creation of a measurement system. The World Health
Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF)
takes an interesting perspective on disability and functionality. They describe disability as a
function contingent on environmental factors and personal factors (World Health Organization,
2001). Environmental factors are directly linked to the design of the environment. Designs can
create both enabling and disabling environments. Personal factors describe the functional,
sensory and/or cognitive abilities that impact the way a person interacts with the environment.
Considering both environmental and human factors, functionality is classified by a person’s
ability to participate fully in the broad range of interconnected activities offered by an
environment. The WHO’s ICF provides the first important piece needed to better understand
how to measure the functionality of an environment. That piece is the unit of measurement,
activity performance, and it will help in quantifying the social considerations of sustainability.
Activity performance will be assessed as an indication of an environment’s functionality.
Social design and universal design are the next important pieces needed to create more
functional environments. Social design creates more functional environments by involving the
people who use those environments in the design process. Involving users in the design process
allows designers to take a proactive approach to designing for functionality. Social design uses a
six‐step cyclical design process which ends with evaluation of the built environment. This is
important because it places emphasis on a design process which includes evaluation, as oppose
to a process which ends when a building is turned over for occupation. The evaluation of the
built environment is necessary for benchmarking its functionality, as well as, tracking its
progress over time. In social design, the design cycle can be thought of as a spiral continuum,
where the design process continues endlessly improving a design with each revolution through
the design cycle. Social design uses evaluation to help identify the successes and deficiencies of
a design. This helps to provide information about what works and what doesn’t work in a
design so it can be fixed or at least acknowledged in future designs. Universal design places
importance on the design rather than the design process. Universal design is a paradigm which
states that environments and information systems can be designed so they are usable by all
people. Applying this design paradigm’s principles in the design of an environment will aid in
assuring that an environment is functional.
Using the activity performance based measurement system in conjunction with social design
and universal design, frames a method for creating more functional environments. Social design
and universal design will be used to describe how to take the measurement tool, described in
this thesis, and use it in a practical application. These design paradigms also begin to indicate
who (i.e., the user) needs to evaluate the functionality of an environment.
By explaining sustainability and its three considerations, the disconnection that exists between
the social consideration of sustainability and the environmental and economic considerations
becomes apparent. This disconnection describes the need for a quantifiable measure for the
social consideration of sustainability. This thesis will describe a method for measuring the social
consideration through functionality. Then it will outline an assessment method that can be used
to monitor an environment’s functionality over time or compare one environment to another.
Ultimately, the assessment method described in this thesis can be used to create a better
understanding of the relationship people share with place. It does this by creating an
understanding of how functional or dysfunctional an environment is for its users, by identifying
who is finding what part of the environment problematic. This information can then used to
create more functional designs.
Sustainability is a term that has come to have many different definitions. It is believed that the
concept of sustainability emerged alongside the environmental movement. Many of the
definitions for sustainability share the same goal but differ on the means of getting to that goal.
In many instances this depends on whether sustainability is viewed as a journey or a
destination. If sustainability is viewed as a journey then emphasis can be placed on the path it
follows. If it is viewed as a destination then the method of achieving sustainability becomes less
Since this thesis is founded on the concept of sustainability it is important that the term be
operationally defined, since the current definition of the word depends on whom you ask. Once
a definition for sustainability is settled upon then it may be easier to understand where social
sustainability fits in this context. This portion of the thesis intends to explore the definition of
sustainability. Then it will look at a model which will aide in conceptualizing this broad concept.
Journey or Destination
There has been debate over whether sustainability should be viewed as a journey or a
destination. Arguments supporting both positions are convincing and center around whether
sustainability can be reached or rather just reached for. This argument is complicated by the
context in which sustainability is being described. For instance, is sustainability viewed on a
global scale or a building scale and for what time period is something viewed as sustainable?
These are all considerations which will influence whether sustainability can be viewed as a
journey or a destination.
Viewing sustainability as a journey implies that it is a state which is moved toward, while
viewing it as a destination means that it is a state that can be reached. This thesis believes that
sustainability is a journey that continually moves toward the improvement of the built and
natural environments. The success of either depends on the symbiotic relationship they share.
Granted, in the past the success of the built environment has been at the expense of the
natural environment. It is now recognized that both may come to an end if a balance cannot be
Sustainability can be thought of as a cultural and societal ideal, that can advance as fast as
technology permits. This is because, the concerns we have with the environment will
continually change, evolve, and become more apparent as our ability to collect, interpret and
analyze data about our environment improves. As technology and our understanding of the
environment improve, new problems and issues will become apparent and will change the way
sustainability and sustainable developments are viewed. For example, as the ability to measure
air and water quality has improved, these improvements have translated into new
understandings of the responsible use of these resources. This is bound to happen again as our
ability to analyze the environment improves.
Some would sharply disagree with the assessment that sustainability is a journey, rather
believing that it can only be a destination (Curnow, 2006) (Hockings, 2006). Many who believe
that sustainability must only be viewed as a destination think the concept loses value and will
not be taken seriously if it cannot be rigidly defined. In an attempt to describe sustainability
Curnow states, that either our use of a particular resource is within renewable limits or it is not.
Hockings compares sustainability to pregnancy in the following stating that, in his view,
sustainable is like pregnant and it’s not possible to be a little bit pregnant. The frustration these
authors have in defining sustainability as a journey is understandable. However, it seems
necessary to attempt to account for the unaccountable (e.g., technology and new
understandings). At the very least the unaccountable should be noted as a factor that can
change a hard and fast definition of what is sustainable.
If the definition of sustainable, as a destination, is subject to change with technology and new
understandings of our environment, then there is no point in creating a definition now,
knowing that in the future it may be irrelevant. It would seem that identifying sustainability as a
destination would also require a date to be attached to the design (e.g., Design X was
sustainable in May 2009). I would also argue that viewing sustainability and sustainable
development at the building scale is too narrow a focus. While it is a good place to start, true
sustainability needs to be viewed on a global scale. Describing sustainability as a journey allows
the concept to move with the bumps, twists and turns that technology and new understanding
of the environment will hurl into its path of travel.
Another thing to consider when creating a definition for sustainability and sustainable
development is the way in which these concepts are measured. The simple fact that they can
be measured alludes to there being different degrees of sustainability. In the United States
buildings are measured using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green
Building Rating System. In 2008, this system looked at five areas of human and environmental
health which are sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials
selection and indoor environmental quality (U.S. Green Building Council, 2008).
The LEED’s system generates a score for a building or development that is representative of
how sustainable or green that building or development has been designed and built. LEED
certification currently has four different classifications: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
While any building that is certified may be seen as sustainable or green, a building certified as
Platinum would be much more sustainable than one that is Certified, Silver or even Gold.
Sustainability needs to be viewed as an ongoing effort to improve both the natural and built
environment. It is an effort that will be affected by changes in technology and new
understandings of our environment and the way in which we use it. The uncertainty for what
the future may hold is what makes sustainability a journey.
Considering that sustainability and sustainable development are being viewed as a measurable
journey, let’s look at existing definitions which begin to define sustainable development
through this lens. In this section definitions for both sustainability and sustainable development
will be outlined.
The World Commission on Environment and Development has created one of the most relevant
definitions of sustainable development. In their publication Our Common Future also known as
the Brundtland Commission Report, sustainable development is defined as, “…development
that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs.” (Brundtland, 1987) (Dunphy et al., 2000). This is quite similar to the
definition the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has adopted for their
definition of sustainability however their definition avoids mentioning the word,
“development” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2008). This thesis uses the U.S. EPA’s
definition of sustainability which is, meeting the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Dunphy et al. further describes sustainable development as, “…economic and social
development that protect and enhance the natural environment and social equity.” This
definition could be further expanded to include the built environment, as well as, the natural
environment. The definition provided by Dunphy et al. also neglects to describe the process as
the continual enhancement of the environment. Building on their definitions sustainable
development is seen as economic and social progress that protects and continually enhances
the built and natural environment, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
To advance the concept of sustainability a three considerations model can be used to think
about sustainable development. The three considerations model states that there are three
considerations, or spheres of influence, that when balanced create a sustainable development.
The three spheres of influence are based on environmental considerations, economic
considerations and social considerations. Each consideration in the model can be used as a lens
to view sustainable development. The lenses help begin to break the concept of sustainability
down into three smaller areas of consideration. The three considerations model is represented
as a Venn diagram with three overlapping spheres, as seen in Figure 1. This model was selected
over other models for sustainable development because it is well balanced and well suited for
Figure 1: The Sustainability Venn Diagram
Each sphere in the model can be sustainable in itself however when the spheres are checked
and balanced against each other they create a sustainable development. If they are not
checked and balanced against each other then, a development could be created that is
economically sustainable but not environmentally sustainable or socially sustainable. The
environmental sphere accounts for both the built and natural environment. The economic
sphere accounts for the cost of development over its lifespan. The social sphere accounts for
people and their experience in the built and natural environment. Overlapping areas between
spheres can be thought of as areas of compromise between the three considerations.
The overlap between environmental considerations and economic considerations describes the
need to balance economic development against its cost on the built and natural environment.
This means that development should be viable both economically and environmentally. A
development which overvalues one of those two spheres would likely not be considered a
viable sustainable development. The overlap between environmental considerations and social
considerations describes the need to create equitable environments that are usable by
everyone. The overlap between economic considerations and social considerations describes
the need to consider social consequences of economic decisions. When all considerations are
properly balanced sustainable development can result.
Social Sustainability and the Three Considerations Model
As stated earlier the three considerations model is composed of three interconnected
considerations that when balanced create what would at the time be considered a sustainable
development. In this section the three considerations model will be dissected and examined for
the relationship which exists between its considerations. Here it will be described how the
three considerations affect each other and how each of the considerations is measured.
The environment and economic considerations will be described first because they seem to
receive the most recognition and have the easiest relationship to explain. The environmental
consideration is the part of the model which takes into account the built and natural
environment. This consideration places a high level of importance on the protection and
responsible use of natural resources. This is because it is understood that natural resources are
finite and can become exhausted. In this consideration, a sustainable use of natural resources
describes a harvesting method which uses resources at a renewable rate. Using resources at a
renewable rate helps to ensure that, while we are meeting the needs of the present, we do not
disadvantage or compromise future generations’ ability to meet their own needs.
The economic consideration is used to describe the costs of a building or development. This
consideration accounts for the costs of a development in all of the stages of its life cycle. It
takes into account the initial cost of planning, programming, design and construction while also
looking into the costs associated with a buildings occupation. Here it may make more sense to
spend a little bit more money during the planning, programming, design and construction of a
building if that extra money spent provides a return on its investment. For example, in the
initial construction of a building it would be more expensive to create a design which
incorporates a water cistern than one which does not. However, if the cistern has an initial cost
of 10,000 dollars to install but saves 75,000 dollars over the course of ten years, than the initial
costs of the water retention system would seem worthwhile. This example describes the use of
a single water storage and reuse system, similar examples could be made for many other
The overlap between the environmental and economic considerations can be viewed and
balanced because there are measurement systems in place for them. Explaining a
measurement system for the environmental and economic considerations will help to illustrate
how two considerations affect each other. It will also help to clarify the compromises being
made in order to balance the two considerations.
Environmental considerations are often measured in terms of carbon footprint. The
measurement system used to measure the economic consideration is cost in dollars. When
looking for the balance between a development’s cost and its carbon footprint the compromise
between the environmental and economic considerations becomes more clear. Buildings are
often designed to keep construction cost down without much thought of the operating cost
over a building’s lifespan. This begins to outline the area of compromise that is, the cost today
versus the savings tomorrow. Here if more money is spent up front it could save much more
than the initial investment over the lifespan of the building. In the previous example the cistern
would essentially pay for itself and then begin generating money that would have otherwise
been lost. This does not mean that environmentally friendly buildings techniques necessarily
have to cost more initially than traditional construction techniques.
The social consideration is not as easy to understand as the environmental and economic
considerations because it attempts to account for human behavior. This consideration accounts
for the relationship between people to people and people to place. In the social consideration
the relationship between people has an effect on the experiential quality of an environment
and so does the relationship between people and the physical properties of the environment.
This thesis will view the social consideration by examining the relationship of people to place.
Examining the relationship between people and place will help create an understanding that
will allow an environment to be improved.
The social aspect of the three considerations model is underrepresented as a consideration for
sustainable development. There is currently no standardized way of measuring the fit between
people and the environment. In order to standardize this measurement system, a quantifiable
measurement system and assessment tool needs to be created. Without a measure for the
social consideration then it is impossible to begin weighing this consideration against the other
two. With no measuring system in place it is impossible to understand what is being gained or
lost through the implementation of various designs.
Consider this, a development may find the perfect balance between the environmental and
economic considerations, but if that environment is not functional for its users then a design
has failed. In order to better match people and the environment this thesis will develop a
quantitative system of measurement which can benchmark and track environments’
functionality over time. One measure of functionality that can be used to assess the
relationship between people and place is the extent to which people are able to be a full
participant in the broad range of activities an environment hosts. The following sections will
probe deeper into the social consideration of sustainability and then describe a quantitative
measurement system designed to be used in conjunction with two user‐oriented design
paradigms. Synthesizing these elements will outline a process which will help create more
socially sustainable collegiate campuses.
3) Social Sustainability
In the previous section, sustainability was described as a design paradigm which has a focus on
environmental considerations, economic considerations and social considerations. In order to
create a sustainable development each of the considerations needs to be checked and balanced
against the other two. Without this system of checks and balances a development could be
created that is environmentally sustainable, economically sustainable or even socially
sustainable but likely not sustainable in all three considerations.
It can be decided whether something is environmentally sustainable or economically
sustainable because quantifiable measurement systems already exist for these two
considerations. These systems of measurement also allow the balance between the two to be
viewed. In order to create a measurement system for the social consideration, social
sustainability needs to be operationally defined and described. This will help create a better
understanding of what needs to be measured and why.
What is Social Sustainability?
In the summer of 2008, when this thesis began to take shape, social sustainability had been
relatively an under developed subject. At the time, anything that could be found pertaining to
the creation of built environments and sustainability was heavily slanted toward ecology and
economy. This was likely because going green was in vogue and the economy seemed to be
headed for a recession. In the few short months after I began writing, a simple internet search
for social sustainability would turn out thousands of hits, and now definitions for social
sustainability are anything but sparse. So readers don’t confuse how this thesis intends to use
social sustainability, this concept will be operationally defined.
This thesis uses social sustainability to describe the end product of a design process, which is
focused on the creation of environments which function well for all of their users. For the
purposes of this thesis, the environment which will be targeted is the collegiate campus. The
measurement system that will be used to assess an environment’s social sustainability is not
specific to collegiate campuses and can be applied to any environment.
Social sustainability is characterized by its ability to create equitable opportunities for full
participation between the built environment and all of its users. The concept of social
sustainability should be thought of as a cultural and societal ideal which can be moved toward
through the continual improvement of the built environment’s design. The operational
definition for social sustainability used in this thesis is described as the end goal of a design
process which is founded in the continual improvement of both the build and natural
environment with the specific focus of creating environments which function well for their
It is important to understand that what makes an environment socially sustainable is subject to
evolve and change with new technology and new understanding of our environment. For that
reason it is important to understand that social sustainability can be continually moved toward
but not reached. Designs and technology which may seem to be state of the art today could
become outdated by advances in technology tomorrow. These changes in technology will
change the way environments are designed and experienced, which ultimately changes the way
people behave in them.
An example of technology changing behavior can be seen in communication technology. The
internet is one prime example of a technological revolution which has completely changed the
civilized world. In the past people communicated in person, by mail, or by telegraph. Today
those forms of communication may seem outdated because, people can videoconference and
send e‐mails. The switch from analog communication to digital communication has
undoubtedly changed the way people behave. To think that less than 150 years ago the
telegraph was the most advanced form of long distance communication is staggering. We can
expect unimaginable changes in technology to again reshape our future and the way we view
the world. To describe this in a parallel way, stating that a design is socially sustainable is similar
to stating that it is the best without the knowledge of other alternatives. Without knowing the
other alternatives, it would be naïve to assume that a one design can hold the title of best. Even
with the knowledge of other alternatives, it would be impossible to forecast and discredit
future designs. This would be similar to someone arguing that the telegraph is best tool for of
long distance communication and always will be. We now know this is not true and will likely
never be true of any design. For this reason a design could be described as more socially
sustainable relative to another design, but likely would never be described as a socially
sustainable design. The measurement system set forth in this thesis should not be drastically
affected by changes in technology. Creating an assessment method which can transcend time
and cannot be easily dated was a major goal of this undertaking.
Other reasons why social sustainability can be moved toward rather than reached include the
asymptotic relationship which exists between the progression of design and social sustainability
(see Figure 2). As a design improves to become more functional for all, it becomes more socially
sustainable. Driving the improvements in design is the need to create more functionality and
accommodate a very diverse range of users, with differing levels of functional and sensory
abilities. Figure 2 illustrates how the progression of a design can indefinitely improve to become
more functional, therefore making it more socially sustainable over time.
Figure 2: As a design progresses over time to become more functional it becomes more usable and socially
sustainable. It never reaches social sustainability but can continually move closers to it. The red line is used
to track a designs progress over time. The dashed line represents socially sustainable design.
Another reason social sustainability is moved toward rather than reached is the cyclical nature
of the design process which is used to move toward this form of sustainability, as seen in Figure
3. Here the design process is described as a cycle beginning with planning and ending with
design evaluation (Zeisel, 1975). The design evaluations look for deficiencies in the design which
can then be addressed starting the cycle over. Lessons learned from one building will also
transfer into other subsequent buildings. This becomes increasingly important in a campus
setting with multiple buildings. This helps take the weaknesses of one design and translate
them into the strengths of another.
In order to move toward social sustainability, the creation of a measurement system and
assessment method will help frame and shape decisions made during the planning,
programming and design of collegiate facilities and their grounds. Creating inclusively designed
environments that do not disadvantage or disable their users, in turn creates environments
which are more functional and more socially sustainable.
Social sustainability can be moved towards by first benchmarking an environment and then
tracking it over time for improvement. Each time an alteration happens in an environment it
should improve the design to become more inclusive, equitable and functional. By collecting
and indexing information about users’ experiences in specific environments, a system can be
created that provides information about the functionality of those environments.
Figure 3: This is a representation of Zeisel’s cyclical design process.
What Does a More Social Sustainable Design Look Like?
To better understand the relationship between design and social sustainability; consider social
sustainability being used in the comparison and evaluation of architectural designs. In this
hypothetical situation, two designs will be compared and evaluated (e.g., Design A and Design
B). The purpose of the comparison and evaluation is to determine which design is more socially
sustainable. In this instance both designs are paths of travel to entrances designed to address a
level change. Design A (Figure 4) is a path that addresses level changes with the placement of a
couple of steps. Design B incorporates a gently sloped path instead of steps. Here Design B
would be described as more socially sustainable because it is more inclusive, equitable and
functional. Design B (Figure 5) does not require users to cope with abrupt changes in the height
of the path, unlike Design A. Design B can be seen as an improvement over Design A but one
wouldn’t say that Design B is the best design solution for addressing level changes. It may be a
very good solution at the time but a better one could exist.
In order to create environments which move toward social sustainability, provisions must be
made for equitable use. When this is put into the context of the Design A and Design B
example, equitable use describes environments which do not exclude or have barriers for use.
In Design A, steps are used to represent a barrier. A gently sloped path, providing the slope is
not to steep, provides equity for people either walking or using wheeled mobility devices.
While environmentally and economically sustainable building practices are important often
they can be somewhat mitigated by placing more weight on the social consideration. By
designing environments which are more equitable, the environmental and economic
considerations of the building over its lifespan are also taken into account.
Consider the single design element of stairs at the entrance of an academic building. Stairs need
to be built, maintained, shoveled in the winter, etc. Since this is an academic building stairs are
often accompanied by ramps. If the original building design didn’t incorporate a ramp then the
ramp would have to be added at an extra expense using more materials. Once built, the ramps
have to be maintained, shoveled and often require much more space than stairs. Just adding
this single design feature has doubled the amount of maintenance required to keep up the
entries to the building. A more inclusive, equitable and integrated design would have
eliminated the stairs by regarding the landscape to create a barrier free entrance. Here stairs
are being used to illustrate how a single design feature can affect the long term cost of
maintenance required for the upkeep of an entrance.
Figure 4: Above is a picture of a path of travel to an entrance that uses steps to address a level change.
Figure 5: Above is a picture of a path of travel to an entrance that uses a gently sloped to address a level
The Measure of Social Sustainability
Now that social sustainability has been described, it is more apparent that provisions for
equitable use and functionality create more socially sustainable environments. It is important
to note that an environment is functional when it allows all of its users to fully participate in the
range of activities offered in that environment. A person’s ability to fully participate in an
activity depends on the extent to which they find it problematic for one reason or another. This
means that a person’s ability to participate in activities is the measure for functionality.
Here rather than assessing the specific characteristics of a design, an assessment of peoples’
ability to participate in activities which incorporate specific design characteristics will be
measured. When the same activity is performed using different design features, this allows the
design features to be assessed for their functionality relative to one another. When comparing
different design features, a design which allows the same activity to be performed with fewer
problems would be more socially sustainable than a design which makes performing the same
Assessing the functionality of a design can be done by surveying an environment’s users or
potential occupants. Users or potential occupants should be asked to rate how problematic an
activity is in the presence of a specific design. This creates a baseline measure which allows for
the comparison of the same activity in the presence of different design features.
For example, if the activity being rated is the use of a door, then a diverse sample of people
would be asked to rate the use of several different door designs. First they may be shown an
automatic sliding door and asked to rate how problematic the door was to use. This creates a
baseline which allows the use of other doors to be compared. Next they may be shown an
automatic revolving door and asked to rate how problematic that door was to use. This would
provide something to compare against the baseline measure. It may turn out that a diverse
sample of users all found the use of an automatic revolving door to be more problematic to use
than the automatic sliding door. This information could be carried into future designs or used to
build a case for replacing automatic revolving doors with automatic sliding doors throughout a
campus. The use of doors is just one of many examples of an activity that could be compared.
Any activity which could host a variety of design features is subject to comparison.
4) Social Design and Universal Design
Earlier, it was described that the measurement system used to assess social sustainability was
intended to be used in conjunction with two user‐oriented design paradigms. The first of these
design paradigms is social design and the second is universal design. Social design is a design
paradigm which outlines the cyclical process of design needed to advance social sustainability.
This is important because it will describe where measuring the functionality of an environment
belongs in the design process. Universal design provides an interesting way to begin thinking
about the characteristics of a design. Universal design provides a set of guiding principles which
can be applied in a design to increase its functionality for its users. These design paradigms
have been selected because they share the similar focus of creating more functional
environments through user‐oriented design. This section will outline the design process which
is necessary to ensure the continual improvement of the built and natural environment. It will
also describe universal design and its guiding principles.
The Need for Social Design
Social Design is a design paradigm that will advance the social sustainability of collegiate
campuses when it is used with the assessment method that will be described in the following
section. Social design helps create more functional and humane environments. It does this by
closing the gap between the architects who design buildings and the users who occupy them
(Gifford, 2002). Three groups are involved in a building’s design and occupation, the client or
owner, the architect and the building occupants. This gap exists because the client or owner of
a building is the only contact point with the architect. This is because architects generally design
their buildings to fulfill program requirements provided by a paying client. This is problematic
when the owner is not the occupant because the owner may not always be in tune with the
Social design emerged during the 20th century when construction techniques were rapidly
advancing. New technology allowed buildings to be created at unprecedented sizes and speeds.
Because of this, some architects created designs which placed form before function. When
social design was conceptualized, there was a growing need to move away from formalistic
design which had the tendency to treat buildings as pure shape without regard to their practical
or social function (Arnheim, 1977)(Sommer, 1983). Flawed designs which disregarded the
practical and social functions of a building generated a new interest in user‐oriented design.
This began to happen as designers and academics became increasingly aware of the complex
relationship that exists between people and place. Through this new interest in user‐oriented
design emerged the need for a new design paradigm.
The need for a user‐oriented design paradigm emerged during a time when architects and
planners alike were making large scale decisions to reshape the built environment. The
decisions architects and planners were making dealt with projects that were implemented in
order to bring our cities and infrastructure up to date. In many instances these decisions had
dire consequences on the people they affected. Many projects followed the path of least
resistance, which essentially took advantage of the people who were most in need of good
planning and good design.
During this time the term urban renewal described a top down effort to clean up and rebuild
blighted areas within cities. This was an attempt to rebuild neighborhoods that were
considered past the point of no return. Urban renewal meant that buildings which were at the
end of their life cycle needed to be torn down and replaced by more modern buildings. Here
the destruction of blighted neighborhoods cleared the way for towers in the park. This was a
relatively new concept which was heavily influenced by architect Charles‐Édouard Jeanneret‐
Gris, also known as Le Corbusier.
One notorious example of urban renewal can be seen in the Pruitt‐Igoe urban housing project
of St. Louis, Missouri. The housing project consisted of 33 eleven story buildings. A photograph
of the housing project can be seen in Figure 6. The Pruitt‐Igoe buildings showcased an
Figure 6: Above is a picture of the Pruitt‐Igoe Housing project. The picture was provided by the United States
innovative new system of vertical circulation. The system was composed of a skip floor elevator
system which proved to be very problematic. The skip‐floor elevator system only stopped on
every third floor. This required building occupants who lived between elevator stops to either
walk up or down a flight of stairs to get to their apartment. This seemingly good space saving
and efficient idea turned the stair wells of the building into a breeding ground for crime. The
federal government eventually condemned the buildings and destroyed them less than twenty
years after their completion.
The failure of the Pruitt‐Igoe housing project would be looked at as one of the largest failures in
architectural history. It would also influence changes in the way the federal government looked
at urban renewal and urban housing projects. Eventually, laws would be changed to require
public participation in a planning process which used federal funds. This effectively changed the
planning process and the way civic participation is viewed by both planners and architects.
Failures like the Pruitt‐Igoe building enhanced the need for user‐oriented design and when it
finally came it would be known as social design.
The social design concept is grounded heavily in the belief that input from building occupants,
during the initial stages of design helps to create more functional environments. Had the Pruitt‐
Igoe buildings been created with social design the skip floor elevator would have almost
certainly never existed.
Social Design Defined
As described earlier, social design emerged from the belief that environments needed to be
designed in more humane ways, which were sensitive to a building’s practical and social
functions. Many architects at the time social design emerged were accused of placing form
before function and criticized for creating building designs which were visually appealing or
innovative but not necessarily very functional for their occupants. Robert Sommer best
describes social design as,
“Social design is working with people rather than working for them; involving people in
the planning and management of the spaces around them; educating them to use the
environment wisely and creatively to achieve a harmonious balance between the
social, physical and natural environment; to develop and awareness of beauty, a sense
of responsibility, to the earth’s environment and other living creatures; to generate,
compile, and make available information about the effects of human activities on the
biotic and physical environment, including the effects of the built environment on
human beings. Social designers cannot achieve these objectives by themselves. The
goals can be realized only within the structures of larger organizations, which include
the people for whom a project is planned.” (Sommer, 1983 p.7)
Sommer’s definition for social design shares many of the same user‐oriented values as
social sustainability. Both social sustainability and social design believe that form follows
function. Placing function before form means that a design needs to be first and foremost
useable. If a design is not usable or dysfunctional then it doesn’t matter how good it looks
because it is destine to fail. In social design functionality is important.
The Design Cycle and Social Design
This section will examine the design process set forth by social design that will ultimately be
used to create more socially sustainable collegiate campuses. Social design differs from other
forms of design because it sees the design process as cyclical where other design processes may
view design as a one off case. While other design processes end when a building is turned over
for occupation, the social design process views evaluation of the occupied structure as a
Figure 7 illustrates the steps of social design. When the design cycle finishes its evaluation
phase, the information found is then cycled back into the building’s design and/or fed forward
into the design of other buildings and projects. This creates a continuous cycle of design,
evaluation and redesign. The design cycle in social design can be thought of as a spiral
Figure 7: In the diagram above, on the left is Zeisel’s design cycle. The spiral continuum on the right shows
how the design cycle should look over time.
continuum, also seen in Figure 7. With each revolution through the design cycle new
information about the design presents itself during the evaluation phase. This new information
can then be corrected starting the design cycle over. With every revolution through the design
cycle, the spiral closes in on social sustainability. This also helps to form a knowledge base that
can be fed forward into other projects, hopefully reducing mistakes recognized in previous
It is the evaluation phase of social design which sets it apart from other design processes. It is
also the evaluation phase where the measurement system that will be described can be used.
This system becomes invaluable in a campus setting where multiple buildings need to be
monitored for their functionality.
Universal design emerged from the same user‐oriented school of thought as social design.
While social design focuses on the process of matching environments and their users during the
initial stages of the planning process and through evaluation, universal design states that
environments can and should be designed in a way that are usable by all people regardless of a
person’s functional or sensory abilities. Universal design is built upon a knowledge base of
human needs and behavior. This knowledge base has been formed through examinations of the
match between users and environments. Beginning a design process aimed at creating
functional environments without the use of universal design would be counterproductive.
Universal design is often confused with accessible design however they are not the same.
Accessible design has a specific focus of creating more access for people with disabilities.
Accessible design is mandated in the United States by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
of 1990 and guided by the American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).
These guidelines dictate the minimum design requirements for access. Universal design
however believes that designs can be created which work well for people regardless of size,
age, physical condition, sensory ability, or cognitive conditions.
Many people use accessible or universally designed features everyday and likely don’t even
realize it. The absence of steps at an entrance, an automatic door, tactile markings, adjustable
height desks are all examples of design features which not only provide convenience for people
with disabilities, they provide convenience for the person pushing a stroller, walking with their
hands full of groceries or performing any number of activities. Universally designed features
create environments that are more functional for everyone.
The Seven Principles of Universal Design
The seven principles of universal design are intended to help guide the design process. They
were originally conceived at the Center for Universal Design in Raleigh, North Carolina (Center
for Universal Design, 1997). The seven principles of universal design were republished in
Universal Design New York which is distributed through the New York’s Mayor’s Office for
People with Disabilities (Danford & Tauke, 2001). The principles in Universal Design New York
were specific to buildings, but for the purposes of this thesis the principles have been
broadened to incorporate design in general. This could mean building design, signage design,
product design or any other designed portions of the built environment. These more
generalized principles can be seen in Figure 8.
The first principle of universal design is equitable use. This principle represents the goal of
universal design and in part the goal of social sustainability. If there were a hierarchy to the
seven principles, then equitable use would be at the top. A design would be considered
equitable when the other six principles are met.
Since the principles of universal design are so fundamental to creating more functional
environments, it only makes sense that they be incorporated in a design process which aims to
move toward social sustainability.
The Seven Principles of Universal Design
Principle 1: Equitable Use
The design is usable by anyone. It does not disadvantage, stigmatize or
privilege any group of users.
Principle 2: Flexibility in Use
The design accommodates not only a wide range of individual user
preferences but also users’ varying functional abilities.
Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive
How to use the design is easy to understand regardless of the user’s
experience, knowledge, language skills or concentration level.
Principle 4: Perceptible Information
The design communicates all necessary information effectively to users
regardless of ambient conditions or the users’ varying intellectual or
Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
The design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of accidental
or unintended actions by users.
Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
Everyone can use the design efficiently, comfortably and with minimal
Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use
The building provides an appropriate size and space for approach,
reach, manipulation and use regardless of the users’ body size, posture,
or functional abilities.
Figure 8: Above are the seven principles of universal design.
5) The Measurement System and Assessment Tool
The measurement system and assessment tool that will be discussed are intended to quantify
the relationship between people and place. It does this by identifying and assessing frequently
performed activities on a collegiate campus. The extent to which these activities are found to
be problematic by a diverse sample of users, describes the functionality of the environment
where those activities are taking place.
This measurement system and assessment tool have been created to fit specific criteria. First,
the measurement system and assessment tool needed to be able to assess equitably the
environment for its users. Second, the measurement system needed to be flexible in use. Since
activity performance is being measured, this system allows for designs to be evaluated at many
different levels from product design to building design to the design of whole environments.
Third, the assessment tool needed to be simple and intuitive so it could be easily used by
people without a great deal of knowledge about design. Finally this assessment tool needs to
be standardized, so when it is used to assess an environment over time, it produces information
that is relevant and comparable to previous assessments.
In order to benchmark and compare environments through activity performance, first
frequently performed activities need to be identified. Once an inventory of activities is created
for each environment or building, then the activities can be assessed by the people who would
typically perform them. Activities can then be compared to one another revealing who finds
what activities problematic. A group of indexed activities, representative of a whole
environment or building, can be aggregated in order to create an overall representation of the
functionality of an environment or building.
Creating an Activity Inventory
In order to begin assessing activities found around a collegiate campus, it is important to first
identify the activities which are taking place and use them to create an activity inventory. Once
identified, these activities can then be grouped by the environment where they are taking
place. This section will describe the process used for identifying the activities that will be
While all activities will eventually be weighed the same, there is a hierarchical order to the way
activities are experienced. Some activities may serve as a prerequisite to other activities. For
this reason activities need to be viewed as a chain where each activity is connected to the
previous and subsequent activity, as seen in Figure 9. Understanding the order in which
activities take place allows for weak links in the chain to be identified. Weak links in the
beginning of the activity chain present a greater problem than activities near the end.
Figure 9: Above is a diagram of an activity chain that could be seen in a campus’s residential unit. The circles
represent activities that are being indexed. The chain starts outside the building and continues into the interior
of the unit.
Something to consider when creating the activity inventory is that environments and buildings
are different and they will all have unique activities. This is not to say that a universal list of
activities couldn’t be created and applied to most buildings. Most buildings will likely all require
that a user is able to find an entrance, access the entrance, open the entrance, maneuver
through the entrance, maneuver through the a building, access a lavatory, and so on. When
identifying the activities that will be included, it is important to decide the purpose of
assessment because this will inform the type of activities that can be included in the
If the purpose of the assessment is to benchmark and track an environment over time, then the
activities included in the assessment can be specific to that environment. Any activity can be
benchmarked and measured over time. If one were creating an activity inventory for a chemical
research laboratory, then activities examined may be as detailed as moving from a work station
to an emergency wash station. When compiling a list of very specific activities it is all the more
important to involve an environment’s users in the creation of the list.
If the purpose of the assessment is to compare one environment to another, then the activities
being assessed need to be generalized to both environments. If this is not done then an
accurate comparison of the environments cannot be created. For example, a library has many
unique activities that would not be found in a gymnasium. If the library were being compared
to the gymnasium then the activities being assessed should be common to both buildings.
Creating an activity inventory can be done by performing a user needs analysis. In conventional
architecture the needs of users are often identified in a building program created by the owner.
This is problematic because, the owner of a building may not understand the needs of the
people who are meant to occupy that building. A user needs analysis circumvents this problem
by going directly to the users or potential occupants of a building.
Identifying users’ needs begins with focus groups representative of the users or occupants of
the environment. The purpose of the focus groups is to identify activities which people find
problematic that could have been overlooked or never recognized. The focus group should also
contain users of varying functional and sensory abilities. These users will present issues which
may be unrecognized by other users. Focus groups help to ensure that the right questions are
being asked during the assessment. Asking the wrong questions or not asking the question at all
will not provide information that can be used to increase the functionality of an environment.
Identifying the right activities to ask questions about is fundamental to creating an activity
In creating an activity inventory it must first be decided whether the purpose of the assessment
is to compare different environments or compare the same environment over time. This will
certainly impact the specificity of the activities within an environment being assessed.
Surveying the Environment
Once the purpose of the assessment has been decided and the activities inventory has been
created, then it is time to begin administering the assessment. The assessment should
administer surveys to an environment’s occupants or potential occupants. The section will
describe the survey’s design.
The design of the survey has two main components. The first component is designed to collect
demographic information. Typically demographic sections of surveys ask questions about race,
income, etc., however, for this assessment tool those questions are not very important. This is
because a survey participant’s race and income will not impact the way they interact with the
built environment. On a collegiate campus the built environment is not going to reconfigure
itself because of someone’s race or wealth. That said it is important to know who is taking the
survey. Questions asked in the demographics section should help provide a better
understanding of why a particular activity is problematic for someone. Because of this the
following questions should be asked:
• How often does the MOBILITY OF YOUR ARMS/HANDS (for example: reaching, gripping,
touching, etc.) affect your ability to perform routine activities?
• How often does the MOBILITY OF YOUR LEGS/FEET (for example: walking, climbing
stairs, running, etc.) affect your ability to perform routine activities?
• How often does the MOBILITY OF YOUR BACK/NECK (for example: bending, twisting,
etc.) affect your ability to perform routine activities?
• How often does HEARING (for example: hearing loss, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to
sound, etc.) affect your ability to perform routine activities?
• How often does SIGHT (for example: astigmatism, cataracts, etc.) affect your ability to
perform routine activities?
• How often do MENTAL and/or COGNITIVE CONDITIONS (for example: autism, dyslexia,
obsessive compulsive disorder, etc.) affect your ability to perform routine activities?
• How often do OTHER CONDITIONS (for example: height extremes, weight extremes,
respiratory problems, speech disorders, etc.) affect your ability to perform routine
Participants should be given the option to select whether a specific condition is always, usually,
sometimes, rarely or never a problem. Participants should also be provided with the
information that always is equal to 100% of the time, usually is equal to 75% of the time,
sometimes is equal to 50% of the time, rarely is equal to 25% of the time and never is equal to
0% of the time. This helps participants to better understand how their responses are being
interpreted and how they will be weighted during the indexing process. These questions should
also be paired with an open‐ended questions asking participant to describe why they answered
always, usually, sometimes or rarely. The open‐ended responses provide another layer of
information which can provide a better indication of why an activity is problematic. A sample
demographic survey is attached in Appendix A.
The next component of the survey asks questions about activities that were compiled in the
activity inventory. The questions should be asked in the order which they are experienced in
the activity chain. Each question needs to be paired with a description of the environment and
visual representation of the environment. The description of the environment should call out
the specific characteristics of the design that are intended to be examined. The descriptions
should also avoid using biased language that could influence responses. The visual
representation of the environment could be the actual environment, a photograph or line
drawing. The form of visual representation chosen for the survey needs to be consistent.
Pairing the question with a photograph or line drawing is helpful when a survey participant is
unable to experience the environment directly. Later the different forms of representation will
be discussed. The questions asked in this portion of the survey should use the same scale as the
demographic question previously described. The question format should look the same as the
• If you encountered this design, how often would you have a problem using this DROP
OFF AND PICK UP AREAS (for example: detecting its locations, getting to it, getting into
or out of vehicles, loading or unloading vehicles, etc.)
• If you encountered this design, how often would you have a problem using this PATH OF
TRAVEL TO THE ENTRANCE (for example: coping with level changes, moving on it
comfortably and safely, etc.)
• If you encountered this design, how often would you have a problem using these SIGNS
(for example: detecting their locations, understanding them, etc.)
• If you encountered this design, how often would you have a problem using this SINK
AREA (for example: having enough space to use it, using mirrors, using faucets, drying
your hands, etc.)
These questions would also be accompanied by an open‐ended response asking participants to
describe why they stated that something was problematic for them. This will provide a layer of
qualitative information that can help to understand what makes a certain activity problematic.
A sample survey question is attached in Appendix B.
These surveys can be disseminated to participants in several ways, two of which will be briefly
described. The benefits and disadvantages of each method will also be described. Surveys can
be handed out in paper format at the location that is being assessed or sent out electronically
using a survey software package. Paper surveys handed out on location are beneficial because
people can directly experience the activities while they are taking the survey. Distributing
surveys this way requires more resources and increases the potential for error in recording
responses. Surveys distributed in print form cost money to be printed, they use paper and
require the information to be transferred from paper into an electronic database. Because
open‐ended questions are a large portion of the survey it is imperative that they be transferred
verbatim from the paper survey into an electronic database. One problem that can pose an
issue is the legibility of people’s hand writing on these printed surveys.
Sending out surveys electronically is cost effective and removes the risk of errors that may
occur during the data entry process. Survey packages have the ability to automatically create
databases. Electronic surveys also have the ability to reach a larger audience. On a collegiate
campus the surveys could be sent to people who are known users of an environment. The
amount of people that pass through a building on campus in any given day pales in comparison
to the amount of people who check their email. The problem with this method is that it does
not provide the survey participant with a direct experience. Rather it relies on a representation
of the environment to provide enough information to allow the survey participant to accurately
Representing the Environment
Representing the environment helps remind participants where they are being asked to
perform an activity. In the past researchers have worked to find evidence that simulated
environments create comparable responses and reactions to actual environments. Research
has found that environments can be simulated to create an accurate representation of an
actual environment. Simulated environments can even evoke the same psychological and
behavioral responses as the actual environment (Bateson, J. & Hui, M., 1992).
Contemporary research on environmental simulation focuses on the different media in which
simulations can be conveyed. It’s believed that as simulations take on more qualities of the
actual environment being simulated, then people’s responses to those simulated environments
will become more aligned with responses to the actual environment being represented by the
simulation. This idea, called behavioral realism, is based on the concept that, “…as a display
better approximates the environment it represents, an observer’s responses to stimuli within
the display will tend to approximate those that he or she would exhibit in response to the
environment itself.” (Kort, Ijsselsteijn, Kooijman, & Schuurmans, 2003; Freeman, Avons,
Meddis, Pearson, & Ijsselsteijn, 2000). Some research argues that visual simulations which
contain high quality images may receive positive feedback based on the quality of the image
rather than the content (Catalano, R. & Arenstein, W., 1993). This argument provides a good
basis for choosing a media which is less visual and more content oriented. The positive aspects
of line drawings are that they can include or exclude information which may contaminate a
Possibly the most important piece of literature found pertaining to the representation of the
environment was written by Arthur E. Stamps III. Stamps is an expert on the topic of
environmental simulation. He has conducted many research studies and written a great deal of
literature regarding visual simulation. His article Simulation Effects on Environmental
Preference, published by the Journal of Environmental Management, is particularly relevant.
Stamps’ study focused on simulation effects on environmental preference. His study focused on
two variables (Stamps, 1993):
• Preferences in pre‐construction drawings versus as‐built photographs
• Preferences in the angle between the façade of the building and the line‐of‐sight of a
The findings in this study help to make an informed decision about how to present simulated
environments. They also help decide whether using line drawings (pre‐construction working
drawings) is a valid method of simulation.
For the first variable in Stamps study, participants were asked to look at slides containing pre‐
construction working drawings and post‐construction photographs. After viewing the slides
participants were asked to rate how pleasing the environment seemed. Results from the pre‐
construction working drawings were compared to the results from the post‐construction
photographs using a correlation test. The comparison produced a correlation coefficient of 0.73
(Stamps, 1993). This represents a strong relationship between preferences based on line
drawings and preferences based on photographs. This means that line drawings communicate
as well as photographs.
The second variable tested whether viewing angle effected people’s preferences. The Beaux‐
Arts hypothesis, which states that people have a preference towards visual representations
presented in two point perspective rather than one point perspective, is what made this
variable an issue. To test this variable people were again asked to view slides containing
buildings represented from two different angles. One angle represented a one point
perspective elevation view and the other represented a two point perspective view, shot from
roughly a 45° angle. After the data collection, Stamps concluded that the viewing angle did not
make a difference. His test showed evidence that the Beaux‐Arts hypothesis may be flawed or
in need of revision.
In review, it would make sense to adapt concepts from other literature to create a visual
simulation that represent a specific environment. Showing simulations from various angles may
also increase the ability of our participants to fully understand the concepts and design features
In addition to a review of other literature, the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental
Access has conducted an in‐house study. This study consisted of 172 participants who were
students of the University at Buffalo. Each participant was asked to take the same survey three
times over the course of several weeks. All of the surveys participants were asked to evaluate
their activity performance using seven design features. While touring the building the
participants were asked to rate their ability to use these features in four categories:
• The level of effort required to complete the task,
• the level of difficulty associated with completing the task,
• the level of acceptability for that amount of difficulty and,
• the amount of assistance they would have asked for had someone been present.
For the first survey participants were paraded through the actual environment making their
ratings as the approached and proceeded to use each feature listed above. The second survey
taken the following week asked the same participants to evaluate their ability to use the same
features under the same conditions. The only difference in the second round of surveys
involved the way in which the features were presented. Rather than experiencing the actual
environment participants viewed line drawings of the same features. The third survey taken the
following week was executed the same way the second round of surveys was however, again
the form of environmental simulation was changed. In the third round participants were asked
to evaluate their ability to use the same features they had already seen twice before, but this
time the environments were presented as photographs.
When the analysis of the study was complete it compared the direct experience to the
simulation using line drawings, as well as, comparing the direct experience to the simulation
using photographs. The analysis showed the least discrepancies between the direct experience
and simulation using line drawings. Photographs did not rate as well against the direct
experience as the line drawings. The information found in this study reinforces information
found in other literature stating that, line drawings are acceptable forms of simulation.
Indexing Activity Scores
Having administered the surveys the data can now be analyzed. In order to do this the
information collected in the surveys will be put into the Problematic Activities Index (PAI)
(Danford, Grimble & Maisel, 2009). This index creates a number representative of a single
activity for a single demographic. Multiple index numbers provide information about who is
finding what portion of the environment problematic.
To easily communicate the responses for each activity in the survey, a single index number is
generated. The index number is representative of a single activity for a single demographic
group. This process begins by breaking each question down by condition and activity into
frequency counts. The frequency counts are then placed in the appropriate cells of Figure 10.
The number created is called the Problematic Activities Index Score and is based on how often
the participants’ condition typically affects performance of routine activities in an environment
and how often the specific activity in question is problematic.
The PAI Score is an index number that indicates how problematic an activity associated with an
environment is on a interval scale from 0 to 100. The higher the PAI score the more problematic
the activity. The significance of a PAI score is always relative. The meaning of a score for an
activity for one condition depends on how it compares to the scores for other activities and/or
Activities’ PAI Scores enable the environments with which they are associated to be ranked on
their functionality both within and across users’ conditions. By knowing which activities present
the greatest problems for various user groups, one can develop design solutions that improve a
design’s functionality for everyone.
A two step process generates the PAI score for an activity based on the percentage of users
reporting that a condition always, usually, sometimes or rarely affects their performance of
routine activities who also say that their performance of the activity in question is always,
usually, sometimes, rarely or never a problem as seen in Figure 10. Figure 11 is similar to Figure
10 however the formulas have been replaced with numbers.
This section will describe in detail the two steps for creating a Problematic Activity Index Score.
This section references cells that can be found in Figure 10.
Step 1: The number of users saying that the activity in question is always, usually, sometimes,
rarely, or never problematic are placed in columns C, E, G or I based upon the participants’
reports of how often their condition typically affects performance of routine activities. These
frequency counts are automatically converted into percentages to normalize the counts on a
scale from 0 to 100 in columns D, F, H and J.
Step 2: The percentages in Step 1’s columns D, F, H and J are then weighted twice by (1) first
multiplying the percentage by how often performing the activity in question is a problem (i.e.,
always = 100%; usually = 75%; sometimes = 50%; rarely = 25%; never = 0%) and (2) then
multiplying by how often their condition typically affects performance of routine activities (i.e.,
always = 100%; usually = 75%; sometimes = 50%; rarely = 25%). The formulas for weighting the
percentages are listed in G11‐15. The sum in G16 is the Problematic Activity Index score for the
activity in question that indicates the functionality of the environment with which the activity is
associated – i.e., the lower the activity’s score, the higher the environment’s effectiveness; the
higher the activity’s score, the lower the environment’s effectiveness.
When this process is completed for every activity across every condition then activities can be
compared against each other. Figure 12 is a Problematic Activities Index Score Matrix. This
matrix allows for various activities to be quickly compared. This matrix also provides
information about who is having a problem performing what activity. A group of activities could
be aggregated to create an overall representation of an environment. This would allow
different environments to be compared. The overall representations of all environments of a
campus could then again be aggregated to create an overall representation of that campus.
A B C D E F G H I J
1 CONDITION CONDITION CONDITION CONDITION 1
2 Always Always % Usually Usually % Sometimes Sometimes % Rarely Rarely % 2
3 Always # C3/A8*100 # E3/A8*100 # G3/A8*100 # I3/A8*100 3
4 Usually # C4/A8*100 # E4/A8*100 # G4/A8*100 # I4/A8*100 4
5 ACTIVITY Sometimes # C5/A8*100 # E5/A8*100 # G5/A8*100 # I5/A8*100 5
6 Rarely # C6/A8*100 # E6/A8*100 # G6/A8*100 # I6/A8*100 6
7 Never # C7/A8*100 # E7/A8*100 # G7/A8*100 # I7/A8*100 7
8 SUM(C8+E8+G8+I8) SUM(C3+C4+C5+C6+C7) SUM(E3+E4+E5+E6+E7) SUM(G3+G4+G5+G6+G7) SUM(I3+I4+I5+I6+I7) 8
9 ACTIVITY CONDITION 9
STEP 2: PROBLEMATIC ACTIVITIES INDEX SCORE
10 How Often Multiplier How Often Multiplier 10
11 Always 100% Always 100% SUM(D3*D11*F11)+(F3*D11*F12)+(H3*D11*F13)+(J3*D11*F14) 11
12 Usually 75% Usually 75% SUM(D4*D12*F11)+(F4*D12*F12)+(H4*D12*F13)+(J4*D12*F14) 12
13 Sometimes 50% Sometimes 50% SUM(D5*D13*F11)+(F5*D13*F12)+(H5*D13*F13)+(J5*D13*F14) 13
14 Rarely 25% Rarely 25% SUM(D6*D14*F11)+(F6*D14*F12)+(H6*D14*F13)+(J6*D14*F14) 14
15 Never 0% SUM(D7*D15*F11)+(F7*D15*F12)+(H7*D15*F13)+(J7*D15*F14) 15
16 SUM(G11+G12+G13+G14+G15) 16
A B C D E F G H I J
Figure 10: Sample Problematic Activities Index
A B C D E F G H I J
1 CONDITION CONDITION CONDITION CONDITION 1
2 Always Always % Usually Usually % Sometimes Sometimes % Rarely Rarely % 2
3 Always 36 8 44 10 6 1 8 2 3
4 Usually 57 13 18 4 16 4 10 2 4
5 ACTIVITY Sometimes 22 5 34 8 20 4 25 6 5
6 Rarely 17 4 25 6 17 4 26 6 6
7 Never 20 4 18 4 8 2 19 4 7
8 446 152 139 67 88 8
9 ACTIVITY CONDITION 9
STEP 2: PROBLEMATIC ACTIVITIES INDEX SCORE
10 How Often Multiplier How Often Multiplier 10
11 Always 100% Always 100% 17 11
12 Usually 75% Usually 75% 14 12
13 Sometimes 50% Sometimes 50% 7 13
14 Rarely 25% Rarely 25% 3 14
15 Never 0% 0 15
16 40 16
A B C D E F G H I J
Figure 11: Completed Problematic Activities Index
Figure 12: Sample Problematic Activities Index Score Matrix. Each number in the chart above is a PAI Score.
The measurement system and assessment tool has its benefits as well as its limitations. It is
important to understand the limitations of this tool, to prevent it from being misused or
misunderstood. The limitations of this tool are as follows:
1. While this assessment helps to provide a quantitative measure for the social
consideration of sustainability, it only measures the aspect of the social consideration
that relates to people and place. It is not designed to measure other relationships which
could impact the social consideration, such as people to people.
2. This measurement system creates an indirect assessment of an environment, building or
product. It does this by asking people to critique their ability to perform an activity in
the presence of a design. Doing this allows participants to describe information related
directly to the design’s functionality. This allows people to critique the aspect of a
design which they are more familiar with (i.e. its use) and prevents them from critiquing
the technical or aesthetic aspects of a design which may not be related to its
3. When this measurement system is being used as a tool to improve functionality and not
just benchmark and track progress over time, it relies on the ability of the interpreter to
translate both the quantitative and qualitative responses into a more functional design.
4. This measurement system creates an index number for an activity on a scale of 0 – 100.
One index number is meaningless unless it is being compared to another. Meaning that
arbitrary lines cannot be drawn on the scale, stating that an index number below 25
must be a great design and a number above 50 is bad. The significance of a PAI Score is
relative to other PAI Scores.
5. This system is only able to measure the aspects of the environment which show up on
the survey. If the right questions are not asked, then an accurate assessment of the
environment will not be created.
My collegiate career and this thesis began with the question, “What can I do to help myself and
other people create better environments?” The answer to this question involved creating a
measurement system and assessment tool that can be utilized to better understand the
relationship between people and place. Understanding this relationship is fundamental for
creating functional environments that are well matched to their users. This thesis provides the
tools to help better understand our environment and how it is used. Understanding the
environment and how well it works for us is a fundamental step to improving it.
A quantitative measure for the social consideration of sustainability of sustainability will help to
create more functional environments. It does this by providing a better understanding of the
balance between the social consideration of sustainability and the environmental and economic
considerations. The ability to quantify each consideration of sustainability will assist in making
truly informed decisions. Quantifying these relationships also helps to move towards true
Appendix A: Sample Demographic Survey
INSTRUCTIONS: Mark the answer that best represents your response to the question using the following scale:
Always = 100% of the time
Usually = 75% of the time
Sometimes = 50% of the time
Rarely = 25% of the time
Never = 0% of the time.
How often do the following conditions affect your ability to perform routine activities?
Always Usually Sometimes Rarely Never
1) Mobility of your Arms/Hands (for example: reaching, gripping, touching, etc.)
2) Mobility of your Legs/Feet (for example: walking, climbing stairs, running, etc.)
3) Mobility of your Back/Neck (for example: bending, twisting, etc.)
4) Hearing (for example: hearing loss, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to sound, etc.)
5) Sight (for example: astigmatism, cateracts, etc.)
6) Mental and/or Cognitive (for example: cerebral palsy, dyslexia obsessive compulsive disorder, etc.)
7) Other (for example: height extremes, weight extremes, respiratory problems, speech, etc.)
8) If you answered Always, Usually, Sometimes or Rarely to any of the conditions listed above, please describe why below.
Appendix B: Sample Survey Question
INSTRUCTIONS: Mark the answer that best represents your response to the question using the following scale:
Always = 100% of the time
Usually = 75% of the time
Sometimes = 50% of the time
Rarely = 25% of the time
Never = 0% of the time.
Below is a drawing of a kitchen sink. This sink is adjustable in height and can be raised and lowered using the two buttons
below the counter to the left. This sink has separate handles for the hot and cold water controls. It also incorporates a
hand held sprayer to the right of the controls. The sink provides knee space below and has a pressure sensitive plate which
stops the sink from crushing items below.
1) If you encountered this design, how often would you have a problem using this SINK?
2) If you would like to explain your answer above, please do so below.
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