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Evidence Based Design


Marc R. Parette, AIA - April 23, 2019
Designers are often criticized for subjective or arbitrary decisions. All of us have happened upon a building or a room and wondered, “What the hell happened here?” Reasons for questionable decisions can include: “This is what the client wanted”, “This was required by code”, “I thought it would look cool”, “This is all we could afford”, etc. The list is long and rarely satisfying. 

But what if there were a way to limit the subjective and arbitrary?

Evidence-Based Design (EBD) is the process of basing decisions about the designed environment on credible research in order to improve design outcomes.

As defined by D.K. Hamilton and D.H. Watkins, in their book Evidence-Based Design for Multiple Building Types: "Evidence-based design is a process for the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence from research and practice in making critical decisions, together with an informed client, about the design of each individual and unique project". 

According Rosalyn Cama, there are four prerequisites to evidence-based design: 

  • Gather qualitative and quantitative intelligence

  • Map strategic, cultural and research goals

  • Hypothesize outcomes, innovate, and implement translational design

  • Measure and share outcomes


It probably comes as no surprise that EBD has its roots in Healthcare design, an environment readily associated with experimentation, research and rigorous study. But while EBD has been a key component of Healthcare design for decades, there are opportunities to enlist EBD in all building typologies. There is growing interest in Education, Manufacturing and Retail.


If measurable results can demonstrate superior outcomes, we should expect to see more investment in EBD from the client side. When designers can point to quantifiable results from their design interventions, they stand out from their competitors, making EBD a compelling addition to an Architect’s offerings.

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