Schmidt Hammer Lassen's Sanne Wall-Gremstrup on human behaviour and data-driven design

We're just scratching the surface on all the technology components entering into the design field. It’s tremendously exciting.
– Sanne Wall-Gremstrup

When Perkins and Will (PW) bought Schmidt Hammer Lassen (SHL) last year, it knew it was getting the Danish firm's expertise in human-centred design. SHL's managing director Sanne Wall-Gremstrup told CLAD that's only going to improve.

"It’s always been core to us to take a hard look at human behaviour," she explained. "We are constantly looking for ways to improve our understanding of how people and spaces coexist, as it drives productivity, joy and health."

Tracking and gathering that sort of data has become easier over time as the technology for doing so has improved, but it's something that Wall-Gremstrup says SHL has been able to accelerate further under PW's ownership.

"We're currently involved in projects where we’re making use of advanced sensors in our pursuit to learn more about how people use buildings. We used to simulate it, but now, sensors empower us to explore things in real-time with real data."

"As an example, in the common spaces of libraries, we can tell if people are concentrated or stressed. When stress arrives we can offset this through, say, reshuffling interiors and work processes. Then we validate the prototype, and if it works, we stick with it and capture the learning, and if it doesn’t, we’ll try something different. It allows us a life more in beta, always dynamically testing and pursuing perfection at a very different cost picture than it used to be."

As did PW's CEO Phil Harrison when we spoke to him, Wall-Gremstrup gave the example of the Dokk1 project in Aarhus, Denmark, with the firm exploring the impact of its architecture on the experience of the library's users.

For the ongoing Monroe Blocks masterplanning project, meanwhile, it has been using factors like energy performance, daylight and people-flow simulations to understand potential massing and to inform elements like the location of entrances and lift capacities.

And, for the Seaport World Trade Center, it has been using weather scenario simulations to assess site resiliency and how to adequately protect the building against extreme sea-level rises.

"We're just scratching the surface on all the technology components entering into the design field, said Wall-Gremstrup. "It’s tremendously exciting and we’re going to learn much more about building materials, upcycling, recycling, intelligent lighting, energy consumption and how to deliver sustainability goals etcetera.

"We can use these insights to fuel our essential belief that quality architecture enhances people’s lives. Now, it’s smarter, faster and comes at a lower cost. It’s not that everything becomes scientific, it’s more that our creative decisions become better informed."

You can also read our interview with Phil Harrison, CEO of Perkins and Will, in which he talks about Schmidt Hammer Lassen and human-centred design.

Schmidt Hammer Lassen  Perkins and Will 
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When Perkins and Will (PW) bought Schmidt Hammer Lassen (SHL) last year, it knew it was getting the Danish firm's expertise in human-centred design. SHL's managing director Sanne Wall-Gremstrup told CLAD that's only going to improve. "It’s always been core to us to take a hard look at human behaviour," she explained. "We are constantly looking for ways to improve our understanding of how people and spaces coexist, as it
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Schmidt Hammer Lassen's managing director Sanne Wall-Gremstrup says insights from data can contribute to creating architecture than enhances people’s lives
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Company profile: Willmott Dixon
Willmott Dixon delivers the social infrastructure that people depend on in their daily lives. We partner with our customers to focus on the services they want to provide, not just the building we construct, and we are committed to achieving a higher social purpose through our work.
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