Design psychology pioneer keynotes research symposium

Toby Israel, a pioneer in the emerging field of design psychology, discussed how a client’s personal history can be used to inform the design process in her keynote address at the Texas A&M College of Architecture’s 15th annual faculty research symposium, “Natural, Built, Virtual,” Oct. 21, 2013 in the Langford Architecture Center's Geren Auditorium.

Israel, who works with clients and designers throughout the world as the head of her consulting firm, is also a professor of architecture at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom and visual arts coordinator of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Israel uses psychological analysis to inform her architectural practice, exploring her clients’ history through a series of exercises to create a design blueprint, or environmental autobiography, that identifies important, personalized design elements — colors, styles, shapes, textures and special objects — which she incorporates into the project.

While teaching and consulting after earning a Ph.D. in environmental psychology from City University of New York, Israel noticed that designers showed little regard for her discipline.

Believing that everyone possesses a history of place, Israel developed a series of techniques for uncovering these subconscious concepts, then turned to three design luminaries, Michael Graves, Charles Jencks and Andres Duany, for help confirming her theory.

The collaboration formed the basis of her book, “Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places,” which has since been heralded as “the Bible of design psychology.”

Her analysis of Graves, Jencks and Duany revealed long-buried influences that appeared decades later in their architectural designs and work. For instance, Graves, who has earned critical acclaim for a wide variety of commercial and residential buildings and interior design, was not consciously aware that his home in Princeton, N.J., a ruin of a former furniture warehouse when he found it, echoed the form of the Indiana stockyards of his childhood.

Through Israel’s exercises, Jencks, an architectural theorist and landscape architect, learned that his grandmother’s house was the key to the home he designed for his family and the architectural theory that permeates his work.

Duany, a leader of the New Urbanism movement, completed Israel’s environmental family tree exercise and discovered a link between his grandparents’ home and his residential designs, a breakthrough Israel characterized as epiphanous.

She’s currently working on her second book, “Oasis for Healing,” which will focus on creating healing spaces for people in major life transitions, which she summarizes as “the four Ds”: divorce, disease, death and displacement.

Israel has been quoted in numerous media outlets, including The Los Angeles Times, Oprah Home, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer and NPR.

posted October 9, 2013