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Ali Al Yousifi

Quasi-Profound Insights for the Users of Architecture

No amount of research whatsoever has gone into the writing of this


article. I do not claim that the ideas here are correct, nor do I claim that they
are useful. I will even go as far as to say that I myself have not determined
my

personal

position

towards

them

yet.

What

will

strongly

and

uncompromisingly claim though is that these ideas crossed my mind,


aroused my curiosity and interest, and in doing so have become fit to be
shared. And for those who refrain from sharing their ideas before they have
meticulously developed them into a finalized and presentable form, I suggest
that sharing an idea and opening a dialogue surrounding it is not something
to be done only after the idea has matured, but is part of the process that
allows the idea to truly mature in the first place.
Let me first start by providing a working definition for the word
happiness, since it will be used often in the rest of the article: let
happiness be more than merely a feeling of fleeting pleasure, but a longer
lasting and more meaningful sense of satisfaction. Let happiness be a
general feeling of comfort and contentment. Let happiness be an allencompassing achievement of total well-being.
And so without any further ado, I present to you an idea:

Ali Al Yousifi

Lets imagine two houses sitting side by side. They are of about the
same size, but designed very differently. Living in one house makes a certain
user happy (review definition above), while living in the other makes that
same user sad. If the design of the houses alone is responsible for this
emotional disparity, which house is designed better? Although I cant claim
an objective answer to this question, I would confidently say that most
people would agree that the design that makes the user happier is the better
design, and consequently makes the better house. After all, the design of any
house is meant to serve its users needs, and allow them to lead better lives.
The goal of the previous example is only to illustrate that judging
architectural design quality (and in fact of anything else) according to user
satisfaction is a legitimate method of assessment. This holds even when
taking into account that user satisfaction is subjective and will differ among
users. It actually explains why a number of designs can be very different,
and yet equally good: each design is formalized to serve the different needs
of different users. The previous arguments can be summarized in the
following principle: A design of a building that makes its users happy
is better for those specific users than a design that would make
them sad.
If this was the sole principle by which we understand the user /
building relationship, then whenever there is a deficiency in user satisfaction,
our only option would be to change the design to better fit the users needs.

Ali Al Yousifi

But the previous principle is lacking, mainly because it assumes that the only
variable in the user / building relationship is the design, while users are,
although different, equal in their effectiveness at being users.
To better illustrate this point, lets further develop the example of the
two houses. What if there were two users that both had a chance to live in
each house. If the first user was happy with the design of both houses, while
the second user could only be happy with the design of one house, which
user is better? This question might seem counterintuitive, but users do
indeed vary in their ability to embrace architectural designs. And I claim that
better users are those who are able to embrace a wider spectrum of designs.
This is because just like a house is meant to serve the users needs, and
allow them to lead better lives; equally so, a user is meant to embrace the
design of the house and make use of it. Just like a design of a building can
disappoint the users expectations, the users negative attitude can stop the
building from reaching its potential. The user is no less important to a
buildings success than the building itself.
Its critical to be very clear here: this is not to encourage complacency
with bad design, nor is to suggest that all designs are of equal quality, or
that we should treat designs of varying quality equally. It is instead to
recognize that the ability to appreciate and embrace a wider spectrum of
designs is a skill, one that shows a deeper and more sophisticated
understanding of architectural design. And that being able to only appreciate

Ali Al Yousifi

and embrace a narrow selection of what the world of architectural design has
to offer is anything but a sign of refinement; it rather shows an incompetent
and boring understanding of architectural design.
And so we can state another principle: A user who can be happy
with the design of a building is a better user of that particular
building than a user who cannot; Of course this is assuming that both
users have similar programmatic needs. The main point here is that users of
architecture are not equal. There are better users and worse users. And an
architectural education is not necessarily a path towards being a better user;
in fact it can even be detrimental to the basic instinctive skills that make a
good user.
Having broad knowledge in the history and theory of architecture
might make you a great critic; having extensive experience in construction
sites might make you a great builder; having a prolific career designing many
successful buildings might make you a great designer; but it does not make
you a good user. In fact, you can even design, build, analyze, write about,
and live in a fantastic house, and yet be a mediocre user of it.
A good user of a building is someone who can gather personal
happiness from that building. A good user, despite being able to critically
understand a buildings shortcomings, can also appreciate all the small
advantages of the buildings design, may they be intrinsic to the design or
even forced by the user. When columns are not aligned, a bad user

Ali Al Yousifi

complains, but a good user sees it as a profound statement proclaiming the


impossibility of perfection. When the steps of a staircase have unequal
heights, a bad user complains, but a good user understands a hidden
message explaining that in the path of advancement, obstacles will vary in
difficulty. When an electric socket doesnt work, a bad user complains, but a
good user learns to love things for what they are, and not only for what they
benefit us. When the inspirations of the design are eclectic, a bad user
complains, but a good user knows that the design is trying to show that the
different nations of this earth that live together in peace. When the AC
system occasionally hums, a bad user complains, but a good user learns to
enjoy the hidden music of the flowing air. When the roof leaks rainwater, a
bad user complains, but a good user makes a fun game out of placing
buckets under every dripping crack. To summarize: when a building is badly
designed, a bad user complains, but a good user adjusts his / her thoughts
and actions to make the best out of the situation.
But it would not be practical for everyone to be a good user, especially
architects. There should be those who insist on fixing every tiny mistake in
the design of a building, because eventually this will lead to progress in the
field. What Im trying to communicate though, is that there are different
ways to interact with architecture, and that just as we judge buildings on how
well they serve us, we should also judge ourselves on the attitude with which
we engage with our buildings. What kind of user are you?

Ali Al Yousifi

And so ends this semi-worked-out stream of ideas, and article.