Learning in the Field: Post-Occupancy Evaluation

“When I came to the Landscape Architecture Department in the fall of 1981 as a graduate student in the three-year MLA program, deliberations on the purposes of landscape architecture as it engaged a new range of social sciences, environmental science, planning, and policy resounded through every pedagogical venue.  Three sets of dialogues coursed through the halls, classrooms, and studios of the department.  First, the ongoing social science analysis of built environments that laid bare the inadequacies of modernist design and planning in meeting ordinary human needs for comfort and sociability.  Implicit in this critique was the questioning of professional expertise, simplistically—and inaccurately—characterized as 'design v. social factors.' Clare Cooper Marcus’s lecture course, LA 140 Social Factors in Landscape Architecture, proved a foundational experience for most students.  Within ten short weeks we completed an environmental autobiography and two field-based research projects: 1) a critique of the downtown San Francisco open space based on William Whyte’s Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, and 2) a post-occupancy evaluation of an urban park, a social science based evaluation tool that Clare had developed in her work on Easter Hill Village.  The close observation of people in urban open spaces proved to be a kind of conversion experience for students and made real the interaction of the built environment and human agency.  Clare’s lectures about her own research in public and subsidized housing poignantly illustrated the distressing personal and familial consequences of housing design driven by aesthetic theory rather than social and cultural needs.”

--Louise Mozingo, in Landscape at Berkeley: The First 100 Years (Lowell, Byrne, McDade, Eds., 2013), p. 31.

Post-Occupancy Evaluation Assignment, Clare Cooper Marcus
ca. 1992

"The purpose of the post-occupancy evaluation (POE) assignment is to introduce students to a method for systematically evaluating a designed space from the user’s point of view. This project requires students to employ the following methods:

  • Subjective appraisal:
    • Feelings (Hearing – touching – smell and taste)
    • Method of recording
    • How does this place experience itself?
  • Objective appraisal:
    • Initial exploration
    • Sub-areas
    • Messages from administration
    • Behavior traces
    • Behavior mapping
    • Interviews
    • Use-analysis
    • Analysis of non-conformities
    • Problem definition and re-design"

From the Clare Coope Marcus Collection, Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley. 

Professor Galen Cranz has also assigned Post-Occupancy Evaluation projects as part of Architecture 110AC: Social and Cultural Processes in Architecture and Urban Design.  Here she reflects on the value of this work: 

"Having studied both the 'inside' object and the 'outside' landscape, I turned to study 'the wall,' that is, architecture itself; my students and I have conducted a series of nearly two dozen Post Occupancy Evaluations of new buildings on campus and the Bay Area, published in various academic journals.  Here the idea is to find out how a building performs socially from the multiple points of view of its inhabitants—visitors, regulars, administrators, and maintenance crew.  For them such studies are part of organizational learning, for architects practical feedback for the next project."

--Galen Cranz, "Sociology and Design," written for "Teaching Design with People in Mind," an exhibit at the College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley, March 2017.