Sociology and Architecture

Hi all,

Before I get into my situation and drawn out story, here are some of the main questions I have for anyone quickly browsing:

1) Do firms hire/consult with sociologists in regards to their designs?

2) Is there anyone that uses sociological theory in their practice?

3) Any architectural sociologists in the forums that would like to discuss their research?

So those are my basic questions, but really I am in need of some advice as I am in the middle of making a big decision about my education. I apologize for the long message, but I feel its mostly necessary to explain my situation.

I graduated from UNC Wilmington with a BA in Sociology and Criminology in 2014. At the time, I had no idea what I was looking to do with my degree. I didn't have any real research experience, and I was very interested in the sub-fields of micro-sociology, cognitive sociology, and social psychology (in other words, I was more interested in the social aspects of individual human behavior and thinking) which focus more on smaller studies and qualitative research. 

I ended up on a winding life path, interning for an event planning company, then working for a tech start up that dealt with connecting freelance contractors with employers, and then taking a 3 month road trip around the US to try to figure myself out (yes, it was amazing, and what I figured out about myself was that I have too many interests). When I came home, I ended up working at my dad's architecture firm, teaching myself to do 3D renderings for him, but then falling in love with design.

I started the B.Arch program at NYIT with prospects of becoming an architect and was doing very well. I had a 4.0, I loved my design and history classes, and was close with quite a few of my professors. I did a lot more theory work than the other students, simply out of interest and being an older student in his second degree, I felt compelled to do even more work than was being demanded of me (this lead to some health issues due to multiple all-nighters weekly but thats another story). 

But as I continued, I started to utilize the social theories I was interested in to inform my designs. And as I did this, my professors were intrigued but couldn't really give me feedback on my ideas as a lot of them required you to understand more about the theories I was discussing before hearing how I was using them. I became very frustrated, as I found all of my critiques were overly positive, mostly focused on composition of space, and didn't go into much depth regarding the extra research I was doing. I'm someone who needs to be challenged when it comes to the things I'm interested in, otherwise I become antsy. 

I realized that there was likely very little that could be done to change that unless I either found a more research oriented bachelors program (I'm not so sure there is such a thing) or I decided to go a Masters program (which I can because I already have the BA in Soc/Crim). As such, I took an early graduation with an Associates degree (to prevent spending 3 more years tuition on a lesser degree) and am currently seeking to go for a Master's program.

However, this is where I've come to a hiccup. I am not sure whether I should pursue a Master of Architecture, and continue to study sociology on the side and use social theory to inform my designs, or if I should pursue a Master/PhD in Sociology, focusing my research on architectural sociology and writing papers/ consulting at firms in order to inform architects how they can use the findings to design better buildings. I can get into my whole spiel on what I feel we can learn from research in architectural sociology, but I basically would like to take a symbolic interactionist perspective in trying to understand how we learn to fulfill different social roles based on the "gestures" of the built environment surrounding us. 

Currently, I am leaning towards the Sociology route for a few reasons, but I would first love to hear what others have to say about what they think could come of either degree without considering what my reservations might be. Theres obviously a lot to be considered from a financial standpoint, but I would prefer to focus on the potential options I would have after acquiring either degree and how realistic it would be to use social theory in a design firm.

Thanks in advanced to anyone who may be able to give me some advice, I'm not expecting a "do this option" kind of advice, just more along the lines of general things I should consider or know before making a decision.



Jul 29, 19 11:26 pm

I feel the same way, were you able to find out what your options were?

Mar 31, 21 2:18 am  · 


Mar 31, 21 3:30 am  · 

Interested to know if you figured it out.

May 29, 23 10:53 pm  · 

So interestingly I chose an architectural engineering undergrad because I studied in high school Geography the sociological aspects of housing infrastructure quality being closely linked with broad healthcare issues in marginalised communities where I'm from. 

I ended up working in my field for 5 years but got incredibly frustrated because I learned from practice that the built environment is essentially not designed for community. Architects and Engineering Consultants are hired by property developers or government who have essentially already decided how they invest capital into built infrastructure. We are more likely to end up doing the very technically detailed design work rather than the strategically prioritised development work. However, Urban Planners and Policy Analysts may apply more of the sociological lens in relation to elements that tie into the built environment e.g. social planning of schools, healthcare, public spaces. 

That being said, placemaking is becoming more popular (although this usually gentrifies areas) which combines the more community-oriented design of public spaces and architects can end up in this space. I've been working at my local community centre for almost 2 years and I don't do any technically detailed design work these days but I work closely with different teams in the local council who do engage consultants. It's a role that was essentially created for me as someone with an urban background who has experience and interest in community development which would be another option if you are more interested in the micro neighbourhood scale rather than the big masterplanning projects. 

I'm currently looking at returning to complete my master's in urban planning which might be better suited in combining human sciences like sociology and international development with applied sciences like architecture, and engineering. 

May 30, 23 8:46 am  · 

Also look into work for towns and cities such as: city council, town planner, and even mayor. Those are the players in a place working to do some of the things you're interested in. Individual architects at the employee level don't have a lot of influence on these things with rare exceptions. 

May 30, 23 12:06 pm  · 

sociology is central to contemporary architecture and planning theory. From Olmstead to the Chicago school to William Whyte to Jan Gehl. It is not central to actual development and the incentives can be perverse in the real world, especially for large projects. Bridging that gap seems to be an important part of where our various professions will go in the near future.

I have thought that Gehl and his offspring were pretty good at converting sociological tools into design tools for a late capitalist context. Soft City is a bit more formulaic on design side, but still includes the observational groundwork of Gehl's early days. Is that approach too far from what you are aiming for? Too cynical?

Another office that stands out in terms of process is One Architecture, which emphasizes its heavy involvement in community planning as part of their design method. They seem to have pulled together a design model around adaptation and urban landscape planning  that is purposefully inclusive and community-based. From the outside at least they appear to be a good example of what practice at that scale will need to be going forward. Very multi-disciplinary.

May 31, 23 9:25 am  · 

if you're really in to sociology, then the solution is obvious: go study sociology. architectural practice is a world of fulfilling client demands (and hence very narrow), and architectural academia, if not concerned with building, or history, is faux-intellectualism that lacks any really rigor that you would find in sociology departments. it also allows you to bring knowledge that you already have into a different discipline.

May 31, 23 9:57 am  · 
1  · 

Tell me you don't like sociology without saying you don't like sociology . . .

May 31, 23 12:13 pm  · 

quite the opposite - i think sociology is a great discipline, especially for the op's questions. my point was that architecture school is no place to seriously study sociology

May 31, 23 2:16 pm  · 
1  · 

Ah! Thanks for clarifying that.

I think the OP already has a sociology degree though and wanted to know if they should do their masters in arch or sociology. 

May 31, 23 3:32 pm  · 

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