It has been said that the best possible outcome of research is to watch two questions grow where only one grew before; to find the possibilities and replace mere notions with points of reference for a fuller understanding.

“If we were to look to research and see what it shows us about how people react to different spaces,” says Erin Costino, the 2012 AIA Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ) research scholar, “then slowly but surely, if architecture is done correctly, generationally you would eventually be able to see changes on the macro level.”

The changes she wants to see, though, have to do with a public realm that most people simply don’t see in their everyday lives: courthouses, correctional and detention centers, and law enforcement facilities.

To that end, Costino is currently developing a comprehensive database for AAJ that allows users to search for information, trends, and best practices in the design of those spaces. The database draws from AAJ’s trove of research, much of it published in the AIA Knowledge Community’s annual Justice Facilities Review.

For AAJ, it’s a necessary step to streamlining best practice research for architects across the country. For Costino, it’s a natural evolution of her multidisciplinary background, which includes a large-scale research project in the Psychology and Law Research Lab at the University of California, Irvine, where she interviewed inmates who violated their probation. It was during this time that she first became interested in justice design.

In 2011, she completed her M.A. in political science at UC Irvine, which resulted in a study on how the architecture and interior design of city council chambers “influence politically relevant behaviors, such as participation in local politics and perceptions of government,” she says. Costino believes that architecture, aided by evidence-based design, can assist in changing societies, a view that consistently appears throughout her studies.

Costino, who is now pursuing her M.Arch. at The New School of Architecture and Design in San Diego, has a strong research background. This also helped to make her an impressive candidate, says Jay Farbstein, FAIA, who helps oversee her scholarship work. Her background in the social sciences has also given her a more nuanced, balanced perspective of the practice of justice design. “The reason I went into architecture is because it is the field of application for everything that I’m interested in, and it’s a way for me to explore these sorts of ideas in a very tangible way,” she says.

Costino will wrap up her graduate studies in 2014. Afterwards, she aims to land a job with a firm that specializes in justice architecture—mirroring the hopes that members of AAJ have for her. “Erin is very excited about her growing knowledge of justice facilities, and told me recently that she believes it will be a career-long commitment,” says Farbstein. In the meantime, she continues to sort volumes of data into a robust, practical resource for architects interested in justice planning and design, and participating in the AIA as a student allied member of the San Diego chapter, in which she encourages other students to take part.

“I’ve had an amazing experience so far because I’ve been able to be in contact directly with several people who are doing what I want to do,” she says. “Without getting in touch with the AIA—and AAJ specifically, for me—I would have felt lost, so it’s given me a form of direction.” —Jennifer Pullinger.