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The future of everyday living
EU2016 arts & design programme

How to be a perfect observer

Observation and reality: two different things
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A skill training in observation, given by Dr. Remon Rooij, Associate Professor of Spatial Planning & Strategy of Delft University of Technology/AMS education programme developer.

Outlook on the world

bron: http://www.bhaskar.com

bron: http://www.bhaskar.com

On Monday the 9th of May the students of the Off-Campus programme were invited to participate in the workshop ‘How to be a perfect observer’. The workshop is part of a series organised in cooperation with the AMS Institute at the Learning Lab of FabCity on Kop Java-Eiland. The workshop was focussed on creating critical awareness as well as providing some observation techniques for fieldwork. In order to prevent a top-down approach, it is of vital importance to base the project empirically and thus observe in a meaningful way. The workshop demonstrated how we as humans are programmed and how this again structures our outlook on the world.

bron: http://www.bhaskar.com

bron: http://www.bhaskar.com

Humans are programmed

In order to design a project that is tailored to the needs of the receivers and responds to a question of the stakeholders, it is necessary to go into the field and make observations of the daily routines. In this aspect, it is also important to gather information on the perspectives of the inhabitants in the specific neighbourhoods, to unravel how users experience a certain area. Therefore Remon Rooij invited us to observe our group, as well as the room of the Learning Lab where we were sitting and write down two or three keywords that captured this. For me, the group and room didn’t seem to have much potential for a variety of characterisations. And yes; many named the same words, yet I also heard new words that were a great description but which I would not have come up with. Also, some observations appear to be descriptions but actually are disguised expectations or assumptions. As Remon continued, he explained how we are all “programmed” in a specific way by personal experience, gender and things like our culture and social environment.

Frame of analysis

Furthermore we are not solely biased by our own perspective, also the frame of analysis that is chosen creates biases. For example, there is a difference between observing the environment, human behaviour or traces. Eventually such biases matter; not only does it influence our observations, our perspective also canalises the possibilities we come up with in finding solutions or designing a place. So it can happen that we find things in unexpected places and that great places are made in contrary to expectation, such as the Paley Park in New York.

Remon equipped us this morning with a critical awareness of the thin line between observation and interpretation. One of his recommendations was to give extra attention to visualisation of our observations. Make them accessible so that the process is explicit and can be followed by professionals as well as laymen.