Lecture Recap :: Valerie Fletcher



By Angeline Focht, BArch Candidate

Valerie Fletcher is currently the executive director of the Institute for Human Centered Design. In 2005 she was awarded the Woman in Design award by the Boston Society of Architects. Last Thursday she came to the BAC, as a part of the Fall Student Lecture Series, to talk about 'Designing for the 21st Century Bodies and Brains.'

She started her lecture by introducing the Institute for Human Centered Design, an international non-profit organization. Their firm is centered around two core beliefs: first, that design is powerful and influences our daily lives and our sense of confidence, comfort, and control, and second, that variation in human ability is ordinary, not special, and affects most of us for some part of our lives. Both of these beliefs are expounded on throughout the course of the lecture. 

Valerie proceeded to introduce a number of statistics about human disabilities, or variations of human ability (a much more empowering phrase). She acknowledged that the statistics are overwhelming: 1 in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder; 1 in 4 adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder every year; each year 1.4 million Americans suffers a traumatic brain injury.

Even eyesight and hearing impairment are on the rise. But it proves the argument that these are ordinary, that they affect us or someone we know every day, and should not be designed for as special circumstance. 



Beyond this, she reminds us that buildings are multi-sensory and have the ability to affect users more than on a purely visual level. She urged that we must move beyond designing for designers, self expression, and novelty, but to strive for human centered design; we must consider social sustainability to be a powerful driver and inspiration. If we don't keep pushing to learn more, we will never accomplish new goals.

She believes in and supports the integration of biology, psychology, and neuroscience in architecture. I personally have a profound respect for those who study the quality of a space and scientifically based strategies to create an atmosphere, rather than assumption of what the effect will be. One online resource she pointed out for further research on the topic is the ANFA, or the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.


After the lecture I had the chance to speak briefly with Ms. Fletcher. I asked how her firm determines which strategies work successfully and which do not. She responded that they are advocates of post-occupancy evaluations as a way to gather information and research.

One of her last statements 
of the lecture, that I found to be incredibly perceptive, was that opportunities should be seen as a connect-the-dots. I found her entire lecture to be inspirational, discerning, and beyond all, insightful.

You can learn more about Valerie Fletcher and the Institute for Human Centered Design here. Throughout the lecture, Valerie stressed their library as a resource for students. The institute strives to work with and to keep their doors open to interested students.

While we have an incredible resource in the BAC library, the one at the institute is incredibly rich with information concerning universal/human centered design. They host regular seminars and work closely with students who express interest and want to bring in their project and use the library for more focused research.