July 21, 2021 Professor’s Research Connects People with Nature through Architecture

Profile picture of Mark DeKay

Since 2017, Professor Mark DeKay in the School of Architecture has been researching a concerning trend in architecture: People’s disconnection from nature. Now, with support from a 2021 Chancellor’s Grant for Faculty Research, DeKay will be able to accelerate both the research and the acquisition of external funding for the work.

In a new book, Feeling Form: Experiential Design Schemas, to be published by Island Press in 2022, DeKay and research partner, Professor Gail Brager of UC Berkeley, address what they call “the monotonous, unhealthy indoor environmental conditions in contemporary buildings and associated impoverished architectural experiences.” Simply put, these unhealthy conditions result from architecture’s role in flattening the dynamic variability of light, temperature and other conditions that brings humans pleasure.

“Buildings tend to isolate occupants from the outdoors, disconnecting them from meaningful relationships with nature,” said DeKay, who teaches in the college’s School of Architecture. “These two trends—monotony and disconnection—have numerous, well-documented, pervasive, long-lived negative impacts on health and well-being.”

DeKay’s work focuses on the potentials for “experiential delight and the higher ranges of human experience,” work that will fill a gap in literature and in design disciplines’ methods.

“The work will result in tools that will empower students and professionals to design rich human experiences, bridging scientific and humanistic approaches, ideas that are both radical and practical,” DeKay said. Future research also will expand this work to build online affordable and accessible resources that make the knowledge more accessible to students and designers worldwide.

In fall 2021, DeKay and Brager will conduct classroom and professional tests of their concepts, and during spring 2022, the course-release period, he and Brager will complete the book’s manuscript and develop activities for scholars worldwide to engage with the knowledge base. These activities could include a website, networking portal, an exhibit and a national peer-teaching workshop.

Early successes of the research include a sponsored Summer Graduate Research fellowship, held by Amy Loy, a student in the college’s Master of Architecture program. The fellowship focuses on the representation of human experience in the predesign and preliminary design phases. DeKay also has secured a Fulbright Specialist project award to work with Iuav University in Venice, Italy, in summer 2022. There, he will be assisting with development of the research infrastructure organized on the principles of integral design theory developed in the current work and that of his earlier book, Integral Sustainable Design: transformative perspectives.

Learn more about Mark DeKay’s publications and research.

diagram of flow chart showing implications of architecture on health
DeKay’s Experiential States Map depicts a response to the industry’s tendency to construct architectural experiences that are Neutral or unnoticed. DeKay’s research is focused on shifting the potentials in buildings to the right-side zones of Comfort, Pleasure and Peak Experiences.