In this post, we'll touch on a side of architecture that is less spoken about, social architecture.

Socail Architecture is a branch of architecture where designers use people-centric research and design goals to implement design strategies in their projects. We are looking at ideas such as place-making, communal spaces, undertanding behaviours and co-creation.

Post contents:

  • What is Social Architecture?
  • Aspects of Social Architecture
  • Ethnography & Research Methods
  • Design Methodolgies
  • Case Study - Social Steps

What is Social Architecture?

Social architecture is the conscious design of an environment that encourages a desired range of social behaviors leading towards some goal or set of goals. [1]

It consists of the study of people, activity and place. It also involves the observation, analysis and understanding of the connections between these three aspects.

The architectural design based on a socially-oriented hypothesis is a key aspect of social architecture.

[1] Claudia Gatsby. "Social Architecture: A New Approach To Designing Social Spaces." Huffington Post 06/05/2014

Why is Social Architecture important?

People should be at the heart of any architectural design project.

Understanding how people think, say and act enables us to envision better, more holistic solutions in the buildings we design for.

Ultimately, we want to design spaces taking into account the interconnectivity between people, place and activity, through Observation & Research, Mapping & Analysis, Co-creation & User input

The 3 Aspects of Social Architecture

We begin with the three aspects that makes social architecture - people, activity and place.

Studying each aspect and understanding the connections/ meaning across them will aid us architectural designers to create vibrant, sustainable social spaces for the community.


What is social architecture without the people?

Here we are looking at the following when it comes to design research and goals:

  • Communities
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Mindsets
  • Identity


Apart from people, we should also study events that occur which can also play a part in our design decisions in social architecture.

We are focusing on the following:

  • Events (private vs public, individual vs group)
  • Time of event
  • Routines


Lastly, we should also study the importance of what makes a place 'the place', with key ideas such as:

  • Typologies
  • Climate data
  • Icons (cultural, social)
  • Landscape
  • Objects

62-2 SocialA.png
People. Activity and Place

Research - Find meaning and connections

Identifying the key aspects of social architecture is one thing.

You can begin to discovering the interconnections between people, place and activity.

Research can be done through Observation & Research, Mapping & Analysis, Co-creation & User input.

By perfroming research, you will better understand the meaning of place and why people do certain activities with specific people.

62-3 SocialA.jpg
Research outcome - finding meaning & connections.

Ethnography & Research Methods

We can design for a more social architecture by proper research of people, activity and place.

Once there's a proper and tested hypothesis, we can proceed to design the architectural solution.

Behavioral Mapping - AEIOU method

The AEIOU Method is a methodology to perform a holistic analysis of a site.

AEIOU stands for:


Fieldwork Techniques

These techniques includes Photographs, Recorded observation of users, Timelapses, Interviews.

63-1 SocialA.png
Overview of Ethnography & research methods

Case Study - Social Steps

In order for you to better understand, I have put together some slides outlining a social architecture group I was invovled in.

The basic premise of the case study is to discover why some public staircases become a hub for social interaction and activity apart from pure circulation.

We asked ourselves the following questions:

Are our public staircases considered social architecture?

Although some were specifically designed for siting or activities such as events in mind, some of our social steps are not - for pure circulation, or a means of travel from one level to another.

What makes these public staircases social?

Is it the dimensions or surrounding context?

Thus, we studied the various staircases in Singapore and tracked the demographic, time as well as position of activity at these staircases.

Check out the full paper, available on issuu.

64-2 SocialA.png
64-3 SocialA.png
64-4 SocialA.png
64-5 SocialA.png
64-6 SocialA.png
64-7 SocialA.png
64-8 SocialA.png
64-9 SocialA.png


If you want to get started on social architecture, you can start by developing a empathy for the group of people you personally connect with. You need to fully understand their pains, journeys and stories in order to propose the most impactful design.

Conduct your own interviews, gather data, seek quantitative data that justifies qualitative data and your hypothesis before even starting to creat your design. Stay tuned for the next instagram post to learn more on research methods.

If you loved this post, do share with your architecture friends who may want to learn more about this.

Further reading

Paul Jones & Kenton Card (2011), Constructing “Social Architecture”: The Politics of Representing Practice, Architectural Theory Review, 16:3, 228-244

Nick Wates & Charles Knevitt (1987), Community Architecture: How People Are Creating Their Own Environment, New York: Routledge, Chapter 1: Rebuilding Communities, 15-25

Lee Stickells (2011), The Right To The City: Rethinking Architecture's Social Significance, Architectural Theory Review, 16:3, 213-227

*David Harvey (2003), The Right to the City, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27:4, 939-941

*Henri Lefebvre (1996), ‘‘Right to the City’’ in Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (eds), Writings on Cities, New York: Blackwell, 63–181.