I’m a small town Kansas boy who became a licensed Professional Engineer with a Ph.D. in Anthropology. In graduate school as an archaeologist, I focused on studying built environments, cultural transmission and centralization within an evolutionary framework. It forever changed my view of people in relation to their built environments, seeing the latter as part of the extended human phenotype. I believe that evolutionary theory is an untapped tool for creating and operating sustainable environments that meet the needs of the people who live, work and play within them.
The built environment can have a powerful impact on the wellbeing and social cohesion of its occupants. It can create divisions and inequities or help to eliminate them. TVOL offers insights from evolutionary researchers on how to promote prosocial behavior and decrease fearful overreactions, as well as the perpetuation of conscious and unconscious biases. I believe the building/construction industry has a role to play in this as well, weakening the foundations of institutionalized inequities and creating environments that lead to a greater sense of unity.
One way designers of the built environment have an impact is by creating the spaces needed to facilitate equity education (formal and informal) as well as interactions among groups of varying economic, racial, ethnic, religious and national backgrounds. Well designed, socially/culturally relevant “public” spaces at multiple levels of human interaction are an example of this.
Through the creation of common or public spaces that meet the needs of the occupants served, that are welcoming and avoid being offensive to various groups, often minorities, we have the power to help minimize unconscious biases and reduce fear, increasing uniformity and strengthening our organizations, communities and cities in the process. We can help chip away at institutional racism and other forms of discrimination, and increase overall social cohesion.
The industry is already starting to become more sensitive to occupant health and wellbeing and the impacts that inequity has on this. The new WELL Building Standard’s feature 98, Occupational Transparency, recognizes that “[o]rganizations that espouse fair, equitable and just treatment toward their workforce help create a culture of reduced stress and greater employee satisfaction, as well as a heightened sense of loyalty.”
It’s a good start, but more deliberate and focused efforts are needed for incorporating equity focused education, increasing interactions and incorporating cultural relevancy into the WELL Building Standard. While research from a variety of disciplines and theoretical frameworks will play a role in this, I believe that evolutionary theory, accessed through TVOL, offers critical insights.
TVOL has certainly been an inspiration to me in my role at Forte Building Science / M.E. GROUP. This is only one example of the insights I believe evolutionary theory offers for the design, construction and operations of more sustainable/regenerative built environments that equitably meet the needs of everyone, as well as minimize, and even reverse, the built environment’s contributions to climate change.
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