Carl Bower

Julie Kriegh, AIA, principal and founder of Seattle-based Kriegh Architecture Studios, is a 2014 Upjohn Research Initiative grant recipient for her work in understanding how behavior can drive building performance. Kriegh, who is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Washington, is collaborating with environmental psychologists Lynne Manzo and Linda Steg and Center for Integrated Design researchers Joel Loveland and Heather Burpee. Her architectural design studio is united by a research agenda that centers on evidence-based design. “If we encourage pro-environmental behavior at the community or neighborhood level,” she asks, “will we motivate people to engage in sustainable behaviors at the individual or household level?”

Social norms and the idea of individual agency are both important. But the idea of outcome efficacy—that you can, and will, make a difference because of your behavior—is incredibly so to environmental psychology. One of my theories is that if we encourage pro-environmental behavior at a community level, it will foster behavioral change at the level of the individual.

Clients, building users, and architects can contribute to the protection of our environment by using resources wisely. That could be about materials or that could be the amount of energy a building demands, among other things. If you can thermally control an environment, create comfort, and dial down energy use in the first place, you can get to net zero really quickly.

From the perspective of environmental psychology, you have to understand base values before you can design a building for people. To that end, I issue a values survey to communities, community groups, and client groups—focused on pedestrian access, for example, if I’m doing a master plan. If it’s a house, I’ve found that it’s about designing forms that are elemental and easily divided into zones. Thermally, you can isolate these zones to create greater efficiencies.

It’s all in how people use their buildings, though—and that’s key. Just because your building sips energy doesn’t mean it’s wise to use more energy than you need. Now that I’m a Certified Passive House Consultant, I’m wondering why we can’t set up buildings to work properly in the first place. It is a matter of values that a client brings—altruistic, biospheric, or egoistic—and perceived value of benefit to cost. Yes, there are more upfront costs—and that’s difficult—but there are greater long-term benefits as well. We absolutely know how to design buildings and neighborhoods that promote well-being and abundance, but behavior is the wild card. My main question is: If we can understand behavior and create “situational cues” or “factors” in the physical environment, can we encourage people to use less energy? -As told to William Richards