Show The Graduate Center Menu

David Chapin
Campus Affiliation: CUNY Graduate Center
Phone: 212-817-8722
Training Area: Environmental Psychology
Research Interests: Video in Field Research; Design as a Mediator of People's Interaction with Place

My interests in environmental psychology stem from my own dissatisfaction with conventional architectural practice, especially after having the experience of knowing my niece (who was born brain-damaged) and realizing how little my skills as an architect seemed useful or relevant to her needs as she underwent endless hours of physical therapy, day after day. I learned a lot from her and in many ways credit her as directing my life towards working with people and their needs as a basis for thinking about creative architectural design.
I also think being gay helped me see the perspective of the outsider and the questioning that goes with that view, rather than accepting a more comfortable and perhaps self-satisfied point of view.
During the 1970s and well into the 1980s I worked as part of the ARC Group in Cleveland, Ohio, funded by the Ohio Department of Mental Health, Office of Program Evaluation and Research. Architecture-Research-Construction was a collaborative group of 22 very creative people who worked in many different “treatment” settings to design, build and evaluate changes to institutional environments. Behavioral Change on Ward 8. The early work was in mental hospitals but expanded into other settings such as places for people diagnosed as “mentally retarded.” This work became more and more participatory to the point that we carefully measured the effect of participation, itself. The Effects of Environmental Changes on Elderly Residents’ Behavior. We learned a great deal from this work including a very clear sense of how resistance institutions are to meaningful change. We also worked in less institutional settings such as group homes. Privacy, Territory & Participation: Projects for Your Environment.
In the early 1980s we also began a series of projects involving children and participation. Children’s Spaces: Designing Configurations of Possibilities. The ARC Group also used participatory design approaches to create the permanent exhibit of the Cleveland Children’s Museum, “Bridges, Over and Under.”
Soon after coming to the Graduate Center in 1986 I was very fortunate to meet Louis Sackman, who 45 years earlier had worked on depression-era projects that sparked my interests. This led me to research the history of US Public Housing and especially to see that its great threat to the private housing market was a major aspect of its willful destruction. 1930s Housing Environmental Design Research: A WPA Project.
This same work led me to question the tendency of Environmental Design Research to posit itself as a new or “emerging” field rather than seeing that it is part of a much richer history from which critical lessons might be learned. New Directions in Environmental Design Research.
Since 1980 I have been documenting a particular road in Berlin Township, Erie County, Ohio, and the housing being built on it and some of the attitudes of people there in an informal study of what the US Census categorizes as “Rural Non-Farm.” To me this is a scary form of housing that is built on virulent anti-community sentiment.
In 2005, Zeynep Turan and I undertook a video research project on how people make meaning in a well known monument of modern architecture designed by Louis Kahn. This result of this work is a 54 minute documentary. Living Salk Institute. Recently, I’ve worked interactively with the staff of Project Stretch using video research. Stretch Excites Learning.
Another video project has given me special pleasure–a depiction of the work of educator Dr. Vivian Windley. Turning Pages.
There are two seminars which I am currently doing regularly. Architecture: Placing Desire. Theory & Practice. And The Visual in Field Research.