Kirk Hamilton
Jill Hunter Kirk Hamilton

Kirk Hamilton, FAIA, is a leading advocate for an evidence-based design process in architecture. For him, the most significant roadblock to adopting quantitative data is reticence among architects who believe that the creative design process is hindered, rather than enriched, by data. “Architects everywhere in the world use information in order to improve the quality of their design decisions,” he says. “Every architect is, at one level or another, doing this.” The only difference, Hamilton reports, is in the quality of the information available.

What’s interesting to me is how the term evidence-based design has become a buzzword. I use it because my editors and publishers want to take advantage of it in a Google search, so it serves a practical function. But evidence-based design is about a process by which one arrives at a product. It’s about credible research that’s relevant in the context of a unique project. And where I come in is to advocate for a higher level of rigor in doing that.

I see some residential architects starting to think in these terms, which makes sense. After all, research is an important element of working with residential clients—and architects who work with residential clients spend a lot of time trying to understand those clients at a very deep level. There’s a builder who has been interviewing me and working with psychiatrists and academic scholars in order to understand how to rigorously gather better client information and, as a result, the buildings he’s doing fit the client better than, perhaps, the ones he was doing before that research. And he has ended up with happier clients.

Evidence-based design represents a process that’s suitable for every building type. Period. My field happens to be healthcare, in which it makes an awful lot of sense—and a majority of firms in healthcare have become very good over the last decade in accepting and using legitimate research to design better environments.

Evidence can come in an infinite variety of forms, but one of the problems in using that evidence is how casually the idea of “design research” can be interpreted. It’s about much more than going to a catalog to find materials. It’s about seeking out reliable scholarship, having a design hypothesis, testing your ideas, and finding new information.

By and large, the field of architecture is becoming consistently more sustainable than it was even five years ago. Sustainable design processes, supported by scientific evidence, contribute to improving public health, improving where we live and how we work. But the intentionality of someone designing anything—anything at all—has to include interpretation of the best possible information. —As told to William Richards