AboutI study the impact of psychology on architecture in the 20th century United States. My first book The Architecture of Good Behavior: Psychology and Modern Institutional Design in Postwar America is a close study of US government efforts to reshape hospitals, prisons, community mental health centers, public housing, and urbanism in light of psychological theories about color, territory, or privacy after World War II. Studying a series of national construction programs, the book tracks the impact of legislation on form. The book shows how neatly the ideas of functionalism and psychology fused into what I refer to as a “psychological functionalism.” Yet, architects and their new architecture were unable to solve the problems of equal access to hospital-based health care, of freedom from pacification by mental health diagnoses, and certainly of confinement in inhumane prisons, the ideas of psychological functionalism left their traces. The interdisciplinary and international importance of the topic was recognized by a Visiting Research Chair in Philosophy and Public Health from Fulbright Canada that funded a semester at McGill University to research and write Chapter 1 on public relations designs in community hospitals. Those connections led to a contribution to an edited volume on Montreal’s Expo 67, describing “Design Beyond Understanding” as the approach of using the Man and His Health building to build public relations to medicine through architecture. I have published a peer-reviewed article on “The Economy of Fear” expanding the study of crime prevention through environmental design from Chapter 3 of the book to address a special issue of Architectural Theory Review on spatial violence. I published a scholarly though not overtly peer reviewed article on “The Work of Diagrams, From Factory to Hospital in Postwar America.” The broad impact of the book is evident in reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and the American Conservative. This history has ongoing implications for the study of racial inequality in hospitals, the power of psychotropic drugs, the deployment of mental health as pacification, and the aesthetic of confinement versus therapy in prisons. The desire to influence behavior through design remains common in retail and user interface design and no less problematic.
My second book is a Critical History of Ergonomics, starting with the argument that psyche can not be functionalized. The programs studied above were ineffective; hospitals remain frightening and alienating for new patients, mental health care remains stigmatizing, and prisons are substantially less humane and healing. The functional paradigm arriving from important military and factory research into interface design had multi-sensory components attuned to task completion; some of the sensory elements were lost and much of the narrow focus of such models of behavior are inapplicable to chronic semi-domestic settings. I argue that the quick leap from a diagram to an architectural design via a diagrammatic or cybernetic understanding of humanity needs to be reconsidered. The book looks at a series of contact points, cockpits, studios, open offices, and screens to make the argument that there is a lot more to humanity than gets funneled into a comfortable interface.