People-oriented Designs: Designing with a Conscience

July 17, 2021



Germaine Dilay

To achieve People Oriented Designs, all stakeholders must take action (architects, engineers, developers, and users) by working together to find a win-win solution.

We all need to look at the value of spaces—those that are inherently designed for humans. Not just in terms of scale, but these spaces must be designed with kindness and well-being at the forefront. Yes, profit is still important, but what if profit puts people at risk?

The Pandemic really exposed the Capitalist Design System that focused on profits created from real estate and high-density spaces, which had little regard for human wellbeing. Pre-pandemic, offices were in full capacity and tall buildings were designed with elevators that had people travel from floor to floor packed like sardines. The system was obsessed in raking in the most profit out of a given space at per square meter rate and that stood as a major consideration in starting a project. Because of how the world changed with COVID-19, it really made people think about their exposure to risk in these high-density spaces. They started questioning their quality of life in the workspace, and this is well-supported by People Oriented Designs.

Designing Better

We can design better by looking at the way we interact, the way we use space, the way we breathe, eat and move—closely examining the aspects of human behavior that can greatly affect the quality of our communities in a holistic matter. These observations become vital pieces of information that help shape our design decisions and the manner we create the built environment. If we keep in mind that we are all in this together, we can shift our design decisions in crafting solutions that are a win-win for everyone. We have designed our built environment with walls that further divide the rich and the poor. These physical structures create silos of security and comfort for those who can afford it; but to the detriment of those who cannot. The sectors serving the rich pass these walls through checkpoints or a more difficult commute, which make these silos hard to access and challenging to manage—but not impossible to solve. With the pandemic, we realize that the virus cannot be kept away even with the tallest of walls. The rich have understood that the people who serve them originate from high-density places where social distancing is not a reality. In the arena of social strata, COVID-19 almost—if not complete —rendered both physical and metaphorical barriers useless.

We are all in this together. To be able to serve the best interests of everyone, the most important consideration would be to see everyone as human beings with dignity.

If we have this as our most basic design principle, we will do things differently. We need to take away the ideas of “who can afford” or “who deserves” but look at every human being as part of the society—each one with a specific role to play, integral to collective success.

We also need to have designers experience the conditions of who they are designing for—rich or marginalized. How can designers solve problems for the built environment intended for the poor if they hail from the silos of the privileged? Designers need to learn how to commute, walk on sidewalks, bike on the streets, visit high-density marginalized neighborhoods, and ask the right questions and gather data to better understand how people live. We need to see what we have now even before we start building or conceptualizing new projects.

Oftentimes, the idea of being able to come up with new solutions is a quick fix—it makes us abandon the things that need to be fixed, thinking that we can just forget about them by starting fresh. And since it hasn’t been resolved from its origins—we are cyclically confronted with the same issue again and again. We have seen our cities decay before our very eyes because of this mentality that newer is always better. I fervently hope that we can breakout from this sequence.

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