Clare Cooper Marcus is Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. She is internationally recognized for her pioneering research on the psychological and sociological aspects of architecture, land-use planning and landscape design – particularly urban open space. Marcus has conducted many open space studies and evaluations of place design and place use by the means of observation. She has been particularly concerned with the distinguishing elements of public spaces such as gardens around hospitals, care homes, and public housing estates; environments for children and pubic open spaces.
“I heard Clare speak about her research findings on what residents said they wanted in housing — as opposed to what many architects and planners were assuming they wanted. After her talk, I went out and purchased Easter Hill Village. Her book was a real “eye opener” for me. Easter Hill Village remains on my bookshelf today, alongside Clare’s more recent work.”
— Wayne Senville, Editor, Planning Commissioner’s Journal
Clare Cooper Marcus completed her undergraduate studies at the University of London, majoring in Cultural and Historical Geography, followed by a Masters degree in Urban Geography from the University of Nebraska. She worked for several years as a city planner in London, before returning to the U.S. for a second Masters degree in City and Regional Planning at Berkeley, focusing on designed environments. In 1969 she began teaching at Berkeley, in the Department of Landscape Architecture, focusing on the psychological and sociological aspects of architecture, land use and landscape design.
As a young Masters student in the 1960’s she began studying the public realm and the built environment by employing social science research methods. Through the use of structured interviews and systematic observation, she conducted post-occupancy evaluations of several housing schemes,- including Easter Hill Village, Richmond, California and St. Francis Square, San Francisco.
Cooper Marcus has written and taught extensively on the psychological impact of home. Her use of methods derived from Gestalt Therapy, and concepts from Jungian psychology have allowed her to closely examine people’s relationships and attachments to their homes, best illustrated in her internationally-popular book House as Mirror of Self. Her most recent work has focused on the therapeutic benefits of gardens in hospitals and other health care facilities. Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations (with Marni Barnes) won the EDRA/Places Award for Place Research in 2000.
Cooper Marcus has lectured and consulted in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Scandinavia, Australia and China. She has researched cohousing in Europe and North America and served as an advisor to The CoHousing Network. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Award for Exemplary Design Research for her book Easter Hill Village in 1983, the annual Career Award of the Environmental Design Research Association in 1984, and a 1989 Guggenheim Award to research a book on cohousing. Her book Housing as If People Mattered received a 1992 Citation for Research in Progressive Architecture’s annual award program. People Places received a Merit Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1993.
Cooper Marcus is an associated partner of Healing Landscapes, a consulting firm that specializes in user-needs analysis related to the programming, design and evaluation of outdoor spaces in health care settings.
Social and psychological factors in open space design
Cooper Marcus explores the psychological and sociological aspects of the built environment. She discusses how people relate emotionally to their physical surroundings, the degree to which people’s environments affect their behaviors, and how the built environment can facilitate the creation of communities. She emphasizes that human behavior and social activities must inform and shape the designed environment. Aesthetic goals need to be balanced and merged with ecological needs, contextual issues, and user preferences.
Taking this conviction seriously requires a reversion of the design process, so that it begins with people’s motivations and behaviors. Because users of space differ in age, gender, ability, and interest, these differences need to be addressed in the design of spaces. She promotes context-sensitive design as a way to understand what specific people and communities need psychologically, rather than asking people to choose between a set of designs.
While general public places are still used and valued, Cooper Marcus suggests that semi-public spaces – communal spaces – are becoming increasingly important. Spaces near offices, schools, hospitals, hotels, day care centers and housing estates are shared by specific groups of people with their own needs and expectations. Safety and predictability have become prime elements for the success of those spaces. In an era of high mobility, heterogeneous backgrounds, and fast pace living, Cooper Marcus argues, many people prefer the relative predictability of social life in shared outdoor space of a housing cluster, campus courtyard, or office building plaza to the strangeness of the town square, and these needs must be taken into account by designers.
Cooper Marcus reminds us that density entails a dimension beyond the number of units per spatial area. Depending on landscaping, accessibility and views, users might perceive two areas that meet the same zoning or planning criterion as having different densities. Density is highly necessary and socially desirable in urban environments. Cooper Marcus acknowledges, however, that many people currently hold low density single family housing as the ideal, associating high density with a variety of negative factors. Designers therefore face a specific challenge to create environments that convey low perceived densities, while capturing the benefits of higher-density urban living.
In her book People Places, Cooper Marcus presents guidelines for the design of public and communal outdoor spaces. She emphasizes that these guidelines are not prescriptive in the sense that they tell designers and planners what type of swing or bench or pathway to use in specific places. She contests that design guidelines should never undermine the creativity of planners or designers. Instead, Cooper Marcus supports the planning process by providing researched information about the motivations, needs, and behaviors of people who use shared outdoor spaces, including those who are often overlooked, such as children. Her design guidelines support the designer because they provide information he/she is often not able to access otherwise.
“The problem is not that designers are lacking for creative ideas, but rather that they are frequently hampered by not having the time to search out appropriate people-based research to take this step further: research based recommendation cannot substitute for public participation.”
“It is often easier to start with a generic program, to discuss what a particular neighborhood or day care staff agree with, than to start from scratch.”
“In our view, a designer [?] must consider both the larger societal changes and the creation of better, more supportive environments from people’s daily lives. We believe that thoughtful design takes into account existing knowledge and provides a chance for people to express themselves, be effective, and feel empowered.”
Healing Gardens, Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations, with Marni Barnes, New York Wiley, 1999.
People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space, with Carolyn Francis (Eds.), John Wiley & Sons, 2nd Revised Edition, 1998.
House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home, Conari Press, 1995/1997.
Gardens in Healthcare Facilities: Uses, Therapeutic Benefits, & Design Recommendations, The Center of Health Design, 1995.
Housing as If People Mattered; Site Design Guidelines for Medium Density Family Housing, with Wendy Sarkissian, University of California Press; Reprint edition, 1988.
Easter Hill Village: Some Social Implications of Design, New York: Free Press, 1975.
“Act of Healing: At the National AIDS Memorial Grove, restoring a landscape has helped comfort and restore those touched by AIDS,” Landscape Architecture Magazine, Nov 2000.
“Introduction,” Places, 6(1): 4-7.
“Considering Residents’ Needs in Planning for Higher Density Housing,” Planning Commissioners Journal, vol. 8, 1993.
“Hospital Oasis: Through a participatory design process, a failed Tommy Church garden in San Francisco is reconfigured as an exemplary therapeutic landscape,” Landscape Architecture Magazine, vol. 91 (10): 36-99.
“The Neighborhood Approach to Building Community: A Different Perspective on Smart Growth,” 2001.
“California Retro: The expansion of Chase Palm Park on Santa Barbara’s waterfront has provided a handsome addition to that city’s public space,” Landscape Architecture Magazine, 2002.