Human roles in Changing buildings


Research Paper (Individual)

Fall 2017, Changing Buildings

Professor Dr. Michael Holleran, The University of Texas at Austin




A term, ‘built environment’, represents places and spaces created or planned by people, which it consists of buildings, parks, and transportation systems. Especially in recent years, the ‘built environment’ started to include the ideas of healthy food access, community gardens, public health, mental health, walkability, and bikeability.[1] People affect the built environment by designing, planning, and conducting maintenance. Reversely, the built environment also has major effect on social experiences, communities, and economic development. Therefore, changing buildings in built environment is considerably associated with human’s activities and lives.

[1]   “Built environment,” last modified October 17, 2017, accessed October 20, 2017,

Changes of human roles in built environment

In the past, people tended to focus more on mass-production and construction of buildings as soon as possible. At those era, the time consumption for construction was considered as economic values directly. Recently, however, a ‘sustainable’ strategy which is used in many fields (especially in the built environment) converts people to consider human health and nature. It changes the values that people think priorities. As the human health is emphasized, the human roles in built environment are changed following better communities. With a perspective of sustainable design, each building is associated with surroundings, human behaviors, social experiences, communities, natural environment, and atmosphere.


Human roles in maintenance

Life-cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life-cycle analysis) is a term that emphasize assess environmental impacts related to all the stages of a product’s life from raw material to processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair, and maintenance. It is a technique to analyze all environmental impacts and changes human’s perception to production, especially changing buildings (Environmental Protection Agency 2011).

There are many different reasons why buildings change, intentional and unintentional way. Life-cycle of buildings and human’s live-pattern have been changing continuously. Technology also enables buildings to expand their lives and new materials make buildings be supported. New materials such as keep themselves stable and new technology of maintenance are diversely used in buildings, which it affects building life-span longer. With appropriate materials and maintenance method, buildings can be changed in a right direction stably. Furthermore, it is associated with economic benefits.

Human roles in building design, long-term values

At a design phase, the significance of sustainability to the built environment is emphasized nowadays. The design of the built environment (changing buildings) plays an essential role in achieving sustainable consumption and development. In order to protect ourselves from the climate change, people need to design our buildings and plan our cities more sustainable.

There are diverse factors to drive specific design and make appropriate decision-making in changing buildings. As the buildings and cities that were planned by human’s intention react to us directly and indirectly, we have to consider sustainable strategies; material choices and energy performance methods. For instance, the High Line Park in Manhattan, New York city, was converted the abandoned highway into creative public park. Architects, planners, governors, and neighborhoods had communications and decided to provide visitors to have specific experiences in the complicated city. The High Line Park has significantly made it possible for Manhattan to walkable and ecological city, which includes long-term values environmentally. Its length is good enough to walk and run, also it gives people beautiful scenes which would be like flying between buildings.


Social impacts

Buildings affect social experiences and make city’s identity. We recognize facade and are familiar with public spaces near buildings in compact cities. The building adaptation and transformation are associated with outdoor public spaces and community spaces. The changing process of buildings produce positive and negative impacts on society.

For example, I could see social impacts that I mentioned above in the Seagram Building in New York city, which was designed by Mies Van der Rohe in 1958. The tower is renowned for its structure and facade system. Moreover, its Plaza which is located in front of the tower responded to the city with the grand gesture of setting back the building 100 feet from the street edge. The Plaza has an essential role in attracting people with its two large fountains surrounded by outdoor seating. By making this change and idea, Mies had a different strategy from New York morphology at that time.



In the book, ‘How buildings learn’, Brand asserts that we need to honor buildings that are loved rather than merely admired (Brand 1994). We need to design and plan for our health and comfort in the built environments.

Human roles in the built environment have been changing continuously following priorities and values. Buildings and cities that we live in are significantly related to our communities. Sustainable strategies are important to the planning, design, construction, and preservation of the built environment, because it helps these activities reflect multiple values and considerations. We consider not only economic benefits but also environmental and social benefits during changing buildings. With appropriate maintenance methods, long-term design strategies, and socially creative expressions, it leads the sustainability movement for us to live in dynamic balance with its own diverse needs and the natural environment. A decision to change buildings and cities depends on human role and perception, and it will make our cities and communities with smart growth and sustainable development.



Brand, Stewart. 1994. How Buildings Learn: What Happens after They’re Built. New York: Penguin Books.

National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Incorporating Sustainability in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Sustainability and the U.S. EPA. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press.

Wikipedia. “Built environment,” last modified October 17, 2017, accessed October 20, 2017,




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