Meeting 1/16/2013: Laura Malinin — Situating Creative Practices: The Role of the Designed Environment in Creativity

Stories abound about how creative people believe that the aspects of their settings — including the spaces they inhabit along with the tools and materials they use — are important to their creative process. Anecdotes relay how Immanuel Kant felt he needed the church steeple view from his bedroom window to be creative, Proust preferred to work in a cork-lined room, and Rudyard Kipling would only write with obsidian black ink. Despite the appearance of idiosyncratic behavior commonly associated with creative people, these stories suggest that an individual’s creative process may be intrinsically linked with the physical setting. This hypothesis has informed the design of buildings and the planning policies of cities, yet there is little evidence that such design strategies are based on more than anecdotal evidence or substantiated by post occupancy analysis. Specifically, there is little indication that empirical findings from the psychology of creativity literature have been meaningfully integrated into architectural designs and urban plans. Conversely, the creativity literature also largely ignores the role of physical settings in creativity, focusing primarily on either the mental processes of creativity or its social context. As product designers, interior designers, architects, and city planners spend considerable time and money designing artifacts of the physical environment to foster human creativity, they do so with no common theory to guide such practice.

My goal is to begin to address this gap in the creativity literature by developing a functional theory about the role of the designed environment in people’s creative processes. In contrast to normative theory, which focuses on design principles often associated with aesthetics and stylistic trends, functional theory is based on empirical knowledge and focuses on the principles of environmental experience and the relationship between users and their environments. A functional theory about the role of the designed environment in creativity is intended to organize knowledge about person–environment relationships during creativity in a framework that is useful and appropriate for informing environmental design strategies.

In this presentation I will defend a hypothesis that creativity is a physically situated process (e.g. embodied and embedded) by presenting three creative contributions:

First I will identify the different situated modes of creativity and describe the relationship between them through a multi-modal process model that describes creativity as a situated practice. The model is derived from an analysis of existing creative process models and uses as its starting point Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) work on creative flow and Schön’s (1983) theory of reflective practice. It is used to identify the ways that features of the designed environment (from tools to cities) become part of people’s creative processes.

Next I will illustrate how people use features of the designed environment to engender, sustain, and inhibit different modes of creativity. I will present a theoretical framework, grounded in Gibson’s affordance theory, which describes these relationships.

Finally I will describe the implications the framework has for the design of settings to support creativity through the concept of Rich Environments.

Brief Bio
Laura Malinin is a licensed architect and instructor in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado where she is also pursuing a joint PhD in Cognitive Science and Design and Planning. Her areas of interest include cognitive studies of creativity and design processes; visual-spatial representation and reasoning; architecture and cognition, human/ social factors and the environment, and technology-supported environments for collaborative design/social creativity. Laura holds a MEd from the University of Texas and BA in Architecture/ Art and Art History from Rice University. Prior to working at the University of Colorado, she was a Design Architect/ Project Manager with two Houston architectural firms and has had her own practice since 1990. Laura previously taught at Houston Community College and the Art Institute of Houston and developed the curriculum for a public high school architectural program in Texas.