28 July, 2019

Hammocks, Grills, and Sociospatial Thrills

Summer is the perfect time to recharge! Whether the season takes you to far-off lands or a few quiet moments hiding from the heat, we hope you’re seizing this opportunity to refresh mind and body. We sure are! We’ll be taking a one-month hiatus from our monthly updates, resuming in September. But we won’t leave you high and dry; may we humbly suggest a few sources of summertime inspiration/distraction? Scroll on down for PLASTARC’s summer reading list!

On our minds

The Reading List

Ah, summer! The peak heat may bring its challenges—like picking out a wardrobe that doesn’t leave you either shivering or dripping with sweat (or both!)—but it’s tough to feel blue when it’s grillin’ season. To help you while away the hours while the kabobs are browning, PLASTARC team members have cooked up a compendium of curated content for your consumption. Here’s what’s on our reading (and listening) list this summer:


When did you last have time to read a whole book cover-to-cover? Seize this opportunity to indulge in one of these fascinating reads:

PLASTARC Design Analyst Varis Niwatsakul suggests Architecture Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape by Molly Wright Steenson. It includes chapters on design patterns, AI, responsive architecture, and more, featuring the work of Chistopher Alexander, Richard Saul Wurman, Cedric Price, and others.

Fellow Design Analyst Kristin Mueller recommends diving into the classics... of design, that is. Try landmark urban planning text The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, or browse Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language. For something further afield, try Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan. Kristin notes, “Though it's not focused specifically on spaces, it totally extends to spaces.” How? Media exist to convey content. Space does too, in its own way. For example, McLuhan writes that "a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence." What environments are you creating?

For a book that’s just plain fascinating, Sociospatial Analyst Sarah Wilen suggests Cleopatra, a Life by Stacy Schiff. The author goes back to primary sources to explore the life and personality of one of history’s most notorious leaders.

More can’t-miss recommendations from our team:

Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability by Eyal Weizman

The Business of Research: Knowledge and Learning Redefined in Architecture Practice by Deborah Saunt, Tom Greenall and Roberta Marcaccio

Spatial Agency: Other ways of doing architecture by Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, et al.

Inquiry by Design by John Zeisel (another classic)


Prefer your explorations in bite-sized pieces? Check out a few of these intriguing reads from recent press:

PLASTARC Founder and Executive Director Melissa Marsh suggests “How we tune out distractions.” It explores the neuroscience behind attention, highlighting how our brains have evolved to ignore much of what our senses pick up so that we can focus on the important stuff. And speaking of the sensory experience, this piece about the gendered effects of temperature on workplace performance kicks off the perennial discussion about whether office temperatures can be sexist. Goldman Sachs thought so.

Last month’s newsletter—about the promise (and perils) of the AI-driven world that’s just around the corner—reminded us of an intriguing piece on Robots and Jumping Rope. It’s always reassuring to learn that there are still some things humans do better!

More pieces you might enjoy:

Tips to avoid burnout at work, from FT readers who have been there

Mission statements are over (questions are better)

Wikipedia: The Internet’s Last Utopia

Movie titles now have more punctuation marks


Want to keep learning without taking off your shades? Charge up that mobile device and download some of these favorites bits of ear candy:

Sarah recommends Marketplace, which features a range of topics, including news and trends in workplace design and policy like “Imagine a 4-day work week”. We were even featured for our opinions on the finances of coworking a while back. Also on Sarah’s list? “I like the Work of Fiction podcast, which talks in-depth about movies from the perspective of organizational design and systems thinking. Their episodes on the Devil Wears Prada and Up in the Air are particularly relevant to workplace, as those films cover topics like work-life balance, upward mobility, and employee engagement. They also have one on Game of Thrones that focuses on leadership and negotiation skills. Each episode is really fascinating, but beware of spoilers!”

Kristin suggests 99% Invisible and Invisibilia. These both dive deeper into things we can't easily see, but which have a big impact on design and psychology, respectively. This sort of thing is our jam!

Varis recommends Failed Architecture, which explores the meaning of architecture in contemporary society. “I like it because it centers around the idea that architecture is about social justice and climate justice, pop culture and subculture, representation and imagination: everything that happens after the building has been built.” He also suggests Mixed Methods, which touches on core themes of user research such as how to use data responsibly, and usability testing

More of our Greatest Hits of the podcast world:

Planet Money is always measuring things that we often don't think of measuring.

Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior.

The Community Podcast explores how people connect, share and create, with topics that range from how to build the world’s most curated community of creatives, to how cult brands like Ikea, Rapha and Kickstarter are building and scaling their culture.

From the archives

Summertime is when memories get made. To whit—two years back our keyboards were a-flutter with our WestElm collaboration, Unoffice the Office. To learn more about how the right fixtures and furnishings can support performance in any workplace, download the full white paper here.

Further back in the halcyon days, we moderated a panel on Data in the Built Environment, hosted by AIANY in 2015. This is one of our favorite topics and we wrote about it this spring for Quartz at Work.

Now, if you don’t mind, we’re going to pour ourselves a glass of cold tea and take a bit of a newsletter breather—we’ll be back in your inbox in September. In the meantime, drop us a note to share your favorite thinkpieces, podcasts, or summertime distractions.

In Case You Missed It

It’s been so hot! We wouldn’t blame you if you were hiding out in the nearest walk-in freezer. Here’s what happened while you were chillin’:

Street Makeovers, Quantified

Fascinating case studies from our friends at State of Place, take a look at these data-driven urban transformations.


We presented at the landmark 50th edition of this social and eco focused conference alongside our friends at the AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee

Delos is Hiring

Our friends over at Delos are seeking a Project Strategist. Spread the word!

Looking Ahead

When the last beach sunset has faded, we’re right back in the thick of it. Save these dates, won’t you?

Learning About Schools: Where Do Design and Research Fit In?

With AIA NY we host a conversation around school design using research on social and learning outcomes.

Data 4 Good Exchange

This informative and inspiring conference focuses on using data science to solve global challenges from internet crime to social justice. Bloomberg hosts, Sep. 15 in New York.

IFMA World Workplace

Facilities Management professionals share groundbreaking discoveries, emerging tools and strategies impacting the industry. In Phoenix, Oct. 16-19.


Join thousands of commercial real estate and tech professionals to learn about innovation in the industry. Join us in New York, Oct. 16-17.


We’re speaking with industry experts from diverse fields who are exploring research and learning environments; past, present, and future. Oct. 22 in Milwaukee.