What does it mean to apply "design thinking" to issues as complicated as housing inequities, and in such entrenched institutions as our court system? In this course, architecture students from Wentworth Institute of Technology and law students from Northeastern University [both in Boston] will work together to research, identify, frame, and propose solutions to issues they uncover in the processes surrounding housing court and in the physical space of the court itself. Working with the generous cooperation of Massachusetts Housing Court and the NuLawLab, students will carefully consider the diverse users of the space and legal system, the financial implications of their ideas, and the logistical nature of making physical and/or logistical interventions in the highly regulated, and possibly contentious, spaces found in court buildings. This course will be highly interactive, combining lecture, workshop, and field-learning formats, and is appropriate for students interested in the impact of design thinking and training outside the bounds of traditional practice, design-build, and community engagement.

This blog is a record of students' experiences in this course, reveals the process of collaborative and cross-disciplinary design thinking leading to tangible results, and supports the ultimate aim of gaining funding to continue the project with additional partners and at a larger scale.

Installation and Observations | Blog Post 4

Installing the courthouse intervention did not go as planned. At all.

The final design was to place signage around each space in the atrium, calling out the important rooms of housing court and allowing for the user to understand where they need to go next. By looking out into the atrium, the user could easily see where their progression would take them.

When we arrived at the courthouse and began to install, we realized that it was physically impossible to reach and place banners along the atrium space without any ladder or machine. Even if we had a ladder, the courthouse restricted use to only the facilities workers, who had already finished their day’s work.

As we discovered this roadblock, we quickly had to come up with a solution – an alternative – which was to hang the banners on the railings along the atrium, with extended paper wrapping around the columns.

Blog Post #4 (Omar Malkawi)

After installing and observing our interventions, we learned that the process of design for public spaces is a complex and risky process. One of the groups even received a stern response to moving a piece of furniture a few feet, which is something that was not expected but is understandable since the users of the space know what they need best. The parameters for our interventions were very strictly guided by the court staff and the installations had to meet a rigorous set of guidelines. Throughout the term, we came to understand that legally, it takes a very (very very) long time and much effort to change anything in the court because of the restrictions of the law. I now fully understand why it is such a complex process. The government is trusted by the public to represent all it’s constituents, therefore, any change that will affects the public has to go through a rigorous analysis and be scrutinized down to a t.

Blog Post #3: Re:Universal Ethics" (Omar Malkawi)

In response to Brody Walsh’s post “Blog Post #3: Universal Ethics”

As Brody mentioned, I agree that the IDEO Little Book of Design Research was a great resource to understanding the level of respect and understanding that interventions like this require. As he mentioned, attempting to foresee an issue as specific as the structure of a specific connection in his installation is the level of focus such interventions require. Even though we are only deploying the interventions for a few days on a tight budget, we have to ensure that the physical objects or non-physical affects do not cause any harm to any person. For our way-finding intervention, we are hanging objects from great heights and should be very pre-cautious of the objects falling and injuring any person. The signs used will also capture the attention of the users of the non-housing court services in the building, therefore the sign must not waste their time by misguiding them when they could be going through a stressful time.

Blog Post #4

Reflections on Real-Life Design

This class has given us, as architecture students, the opportunity to put our design skill to the test in the real world for real people. This is something that very few, if any of us have done throughout our college and professional careers so far as being students of design. The installations that we implemented allowed us to design, build and observe new conditions of human-centered design which was incredibly eye-opening to me. Through thinking through our design issues and having to build something that would help people that we have never even met is something beyond our architecture education; it gave us real-life lessons and insights into how to think like an architect and design like an architect while having no first-hand experience.

To reflect our my part of the installation project, the privacy booths for the Lawyer of the Day program, I can take from this experience a new sense and understanding of being able to analyze space through my education and training as someone who knows how to conceptualize space and understand how humans use and see space, especially for people experiencing new spaces for the first time. I feel that our installation worked incredibly well for a first run installation, there could definitely be some improvements in the construction of the pieces as well as the dimensions and scale of the installation. As a team we have some ideas to better both our installation and the way that it functions for the lawyer of the day program that could translate into improving the lawyer of the day program itself. Ideas of improving the way the lawyers conduct private conversations as well as how they are positioned in the housing court sector of the courthouse through separating the one entity into two to improve flow of conversation and availability of the lawyers. Other ideas we had we about spreading the reach of our installation to be available throughout the courthouse through use of the temporary booths or through more permanent installations that could provide space for clients to meet with their own lawyers or space for people to use their phone in a private setting. This process of thinking and building will definitely better my understanding of what it means to be an architect and a designer.

Blog Post #3

Designing for the Client

In beginning to look at an installation for the housing court, I took another look at my original observations from our first visit. I was drawn to the lawyer of the day program especially due to its integral part in the proceedings for the court and the public that uses it. The lawyer of the day program gives free advice to those who seek it, whether it be a landlord, a tenant or a property manager. The volunteer lawyers can help each person at varying scales of involvement, from getting a proper form for the client to actually representing a client for a hearing. The conversations that the volunteer lawyer has with each client is sensitive information and should not be shared with other parties present in the very chaotic corridor in which the lawyer of the day program operates.

I began thinking of different ways for the lawyers to have space to be able to talk to their clients in a quiet and helpful setting. Several of my ideas had components of temporary booth-like structures that could be assembled to give the lawyer a space to talk to their clients. Other ideas included separating the lawyer of the day program into multiple entities in order to separate the use of the lawyer of the day program between landlords/property mangers and tenants which would give the two different parties space for their own conversations as well as organizing the program more successfully because at the moment the one-table entity becomes swarmed and very chaotic with multiple conversations occurring all at one time.

Many of my other ideas for installations at the housing court involved way-finding and be able to give members of the public a decent sense of maneuverability throughout the courthouse through methods of signage, way-finding diagrams placed at moments of major foot traffic as well as nodes of direction to point people in the right direction and answering many simple questions that come up for first-time users of the space.

Ben Gilbert_Blog #4

Through the semester and the development of the project I had learned a lot about how to observe and identify a problem. Understanding how to observe people in an ethical way is a skill that this project helped me work on and want to work on more. Doing a project based on observation as well as an understanding of how an average day works is challenging and teaming up with three others, led to many different takes and ideas. Each idea had their own pros and cons about how and why it would be the right decision to help solve the housing court issues that we had observed.

The members of the team all had ideas and offered many different ways to help each other out. We all helped work contributively together on what the design should work towards, how it should look, and what the criteria of the design should be. During the initial design decisions everyone had ideas that we all worked through, while consistently asking what is the purpose of the intervention? This question kept many of the group members in tune with the goal that we had set for ourselves. That goal would be to create a space for the lawyer for a day station and the client that talks to them, using a modular screen wall that is mobile and very dynamic. That dynamic partition wall that the team designed and built offered the lawyers and the clients a space for privacy when talking, a space separated from the busy hallway.

After observing, building, and observing again what our intervention did for the users and the space, it left a lasting impression on me. It was an immediate response to a design that we came up with through the semester. We were able to witness the intervention we design, be used and get feedback upon it. To see it be used and how it wasn’t used, it makes you as the designer think about a lot more variables that weren’t being thought of when the design was initially being designed. Studying and observing is something that can help the designer learn about what it is they’re designing for. To learn more about the issue and what it is that is being designed, needs to have who’s using the design as a large factor of the finished project.  

Class Report 4|4|18

  • The first part of class was spent on course evaluations.
  • After, we discussed our semesters long project. “What we did was amazingly revolutionary and rather unheard of in these types of situations!”
  • We got the attention of some pretty important people. Our work will be presented to Enterprise, who share an office with MASS Design Group.

*If we are interested in continuing this process in some capacity, we can get involved - Send an email to Marilyn! 


Way finding Groups (2)

- Observations -
  • Biggest takeaway from signs is that they are exclusive to housing court – their branding backfired. People think there is nothing else out on that floor.
  • People just went straight to the elevator and went to whatever floor and then they were lost.
  • They had hub everyone went to which was the front desk. People only stand there for maybe 3 seconds.
  • Privacy observation – The rotunda has an interesting acoustical effect where you can hear everything that people are saying on the other side. There is no privacy.
- Moving Forward –
  • The next proposal is to have signs of the larger picture of the program outside of the elevators
  • Plan next steps- To give each court their own color.
  • Craft and permanent nature of the signs is important– the next steps are going towards something a little nicer looking.
  • The next steps are to have a visual connection between the hub, the info desk, and other connections.
- Take Away -
  • Human factors are important in designing and the shape of a building or the design may not be able to overcome these factors. Something has to be done for people as soon as they walk in the door.
  • People already have their minds made up if they want to take the elevator or not. Is it important to change peoples’ behavior, or to design for what people are already doing?

Lawyer of the day Group

- Observations –
  • Took into consideration the height of the foldable walls
  • What actually happened with them? A lawyer would just take a client over to the walls and stand and talk for a minute, negating the chairs - having the chairs as an obstacle.
  • The lawyer of the day initiated if they were standing or sitting.
- Moving Forward –
  • Have privacy booths on a couple floors to create privacy. Matching wall color is a design option.
  • Considering the size and implementing maybe a shelf, etc. - maybe a more provocative graphic of the side.
  • Maybe something that is more loose instead of geared only toward the lawyer for the day. There could be some overlap with the Separation Group.
- Take away -
  • Peoples behavior are important to consider. How they interact with your design and how can you listen to their behavior and enhance and change your design.
  • In designing, we have to ask “what does everyone want” and “what is the common ground?”

Separation Group

- Observations –
  • Notice how people reacted to it. In Clerk’s Office waiting room, people turned chairs to create their own little pockets. To go further maybe there are smaller sections
  • The divider somehow signaled people to think they can move around chairs.
  • With the curtains on the benches in the hallway, it is giving people an appropriate sense of privacy – It gives people permission to treat the space differently.
  • There is an issues of ownership – who is in charge of making sure these stay where they are supposed to be? Also, we don’t want to make more work for people who are already doing a lot of work. i.e custodial staff or general staff.
  • On other floors, it seemed like there were a lot of people and it was more chaotic. On the floor with the dividers, it seemed that people were using it differently and the clusters created were more intentional, perhaps without even meaning to be.
- Moving Forward –
  • For the dividers themselves the next steps were more structural. Material choice is important - More sturdy, etc.
  • Make it more obvious that the people can arrange them. Maybe there is a sign?
  • What if the curtains come out of the wall and people will be able to move them?
- Take Away –
  • No one really knew that private conversations had to happen. Once they understood that, they really enjoyed it. How do you make the people know what these are for?

  • None of the interventions were way out of the realm of what they can achieve.
  • We didn’t come in with flashy tech ideas that
  • Get in the door, listen, and learn from the clients. We cannot come in and be ready to change everything. We have to listen and hear what their needs are.
  • There is a process that happens during a “day in court” - what is it like to occupy the space? We should design for the whole process and make little interventions along the way to make the process easier.
  • Important lesson- LISTEN to the client. CONSIDER the client.