How Does it Feel?
By Kristen Cole
Before reading about how
students interact with the Smith College campus and its
buildings, I had not given much thought to my own use of
the physical campus or, for that matter, to my office or
home. Yet, it is my very perception of the spaces I inhabit – put
simply, how I feel about
those spaces – on which I base a lot of decisions.
In fact, I made my largest purchase based on space considerations.
But first, the students. In her research, Smith School for
Social Work student Stephanie Keep gauged student perceptions
of campus and, in particular, found shifts in their behavior
after the construction of the Campus Center. Prior to the
construction, students listed a variety of places for hanging
out with friends, buying a snack and finding a quiet spot.
Afterward, the Campus Center became the locus for all of
those activities, according to Keep. While the findings themselves
cannot be characterized as groundbreaking, or even particularly
surprising, the importance of determining whether a particular
space achieved its intended goal, hit home. Literally.
Homebuyers consider much
more than just the facts about a house – i.e. its
age, square footage and number of baths and bedrooms. I
looked for a place that would allow for shared time with
my two kids. I wanted to be able to easily interact with
them during those precious few moments when we are all
at home, and I also want to be able to monitor their use
of the computer and television. The former desire led to
my purchase of a home with an open floor plan between living
room and kitchen. The latter desire, to my placement of
the computer and television in a first-floor location that
affords me full view of the screens whether I am preparing
dinner or reading the newspaper. Recently, my space desires
led me to purchase and install a new countertop so that the
kids can pull up stools to do their homework at the edge
of the kitchen and I can be involved while still taking care
of other tasks.
The same sort of search
for the right “feel” can
be applied to work space and how work space impacts job satisfaction,
notes Keep. “People don’t often talk about how
it feels to work somewhere,” she said. “We
get caught up in facts about a place as if that is how it
feels, but how it feels is a different thing.” Which
would make you feel like an important part of a
work place: The solo office in a basement or an office flanked
by other offices on the first floor?
This may be the point
to mention that Keep earned her bachelor’s
degree in psychology, also at Smith College. In fact, it
was as an undergraduate that Keep began taking architecture
courses and using the GIS lab. With assistance from GIS specialist
Jon Caris, she learned the technology to map student use
of campus and pursue the topic of her master’s thesis. “Social
work is very focused on looking at the person in their environment
but, as in all fields, you need assessment,” said Keep. “This
was the tool to say, did it work or didn’t it?”
In the case of the Campus
Center, a $23-million investment by the college, Keep’s findings appear conclusive.
Designed with the mission to bring together the Smith community,
Keep wrote, the Campus Center “successfully met its
In the case of my house,
other than the addition of a three-foot length of countertop,
I haven’t made any significant
changes since we moved in a few years ago. The house has “successfully
met” my goals.
Perhaps the conclusion
of Keep’s thesis is better
summarized by the message hanging in my kitchen: A home cannot
be bought; it must be made.