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Planning an Accessible Campus

Dr. Sara Girotto (Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychology at Saint Joseph’s University)

Q: What is your name and role here at Saint Joseph’s University?

A: My name is Dr. SaraGirotto and I’m an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychology.

Q: What inspired you to learn more about the Psychology behind Architecture?

A: Well, I started as an architect. My first degree is in Architecture and my PhD is in Experimental Psychology. I realized that knowing about space and knowing about the built environment itself was not enough unless we know how people operate in the environment. That is when I started linking Psychology, and looking at how people acquire information about space and the processes behind building better spaces for people. 

Q: What is the correlation between psychology and architecture?

A: The humans are the users of space. Psychology gives us insight into how we behave in these spaces. By knowing more about the user, we can build better spaces, whether it is a small room, a building, a campus, or a city. We can process better community building by providing the right spaces for people. Q: What is campus planning?

A: A campus in itself is kind of like a small city. Planning a campus means putting the right buildings, spaces, connections, and balance between public and private spaces on the campus. The users are not just the students – it’s the staff, security, the community around the campus – they need to use the space as well. Campus planning is the process of providing functions and uses that are needed for those using the space. 

Q: What would you say to someone who doesn’t think there is a correlation between psychology and the way that universities and buildings are designed?

A: People use the space so there has to be a correlation between the two. You cannot just design a building top-down by looking at a floor plan and campus map, and design arbitrarily how to build the building or space. That won’t satisfy all the requirements of the people that have to use that space. As an architect, my goal and my job is to provide the best environment for the people who will be using it. For a campus, if you build something without thinking about who will be using it, you might as well not build it. It won’t be successful.

Q: Do you find that most universities are built with accessibility in mind?

A: Universities do have accessibility in mind, however full accessibility is not always easy to accomplish as a lot depends on the history of the university. Think about the history of Saint Joe’s. It moved from downtown, started out as one building with all-male students in the 1920’s. Accessibility was not one of their priorities. The plan was to expand, but they never knew how much or how. The expansion was piecemeal, and being on a hill was no help in terms of accessibility. It all depends on the history. Building a new campus from scratch somewhere else – accessibility should definitely be a priority.

Dr. Sara Girotto can be contacted at sgirotto@sju.edu. This Spring, Dr. Girotto will be teaching Introductory Psychology and Cognitive Psychology. 

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