Architecture in Crete & Empathetic Design

Moving Beyond Ego.
Architecture in Crete and Empathetic Design

Architecture in Crete & Empathetic Design

The Practice of the Future: Empathetic Design

The disruptive business environment of the past fourteen months, has raised questions about how construction and architectural firms in Crete, Greece can thrive in the future. ARENCOS has investigated the sector’s experience and the performance of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to conclude that firms can create value by taking advantage of new technologies and practises for healthy and dynamic growth in the long term.

This report offers a broad perspective on the principle of empathetic design. A complete empathic design practise involves a holistic investigation and constructive dialogue with the end-users to understand their needs, requirements and behaviour to produce a design outcome of excellence.

It then identifies the synergies shaping the practise’s future and offers an outlook for the future trends in the architectural design. It ends with a discussion of how small and medium-sized construction and architectural businesses can prepare to thrive in the coming years.

Architecture is something that is often pursued as a reply to an essential requirement or need with some kind of specific purpose:  a family shelter, security, fellowship, work, enjoyment or wellbeing.

Empathy Design requires us as architects and designers to put aside our lessons learned, culture, knowledge, perspectives and critical thinking purposefully in order to meaningfully and effectively understand others’ requests and priorities.

Obviously, this new practice requires an extensive knowledge and a strong sense of creativity and dialogue to realize other peoples’ views, needs, desires, objectives and motivations.

There is a long tradition of developing and implementing empathy design and its associated principles through direct experience of other people’s lives.

In the mid-1970s Patricia Moore, a twenty-six, industrial designer working at the prestigious New York firm Raymond Loewy – who had been responsible for designing the Coca-Cola bottle and the Shell logo, had a tremendous idea.

Patricia Moore: Roman Krznaric How an industrial designer discovered the elderly.
Patricia Moore: Roman Krznaric How an industrial designer discovered the elderly.

Couldn’t we design the refrigerator door so that someone with arthritis would find it easy to open?

During a meeting she asked a modest question: ‘Couldn’t we design the refrigerator door so that someone with arthritis would find it easy to open?’ And one of her senior colleagues replied, with disdain: ‘Pattie, we don’t design for those people.’ She was angry. What did her colleague mean, ‘those people’?

Accordingly, she decided to conduct an empathy experiment and identify the realities of life as an eighty-year-old woman.

The Transformation...

She put on makeup so she looked old, wore glasses that blurred her vision, clipped on a brace and wrapped bandages around her chest so she was hunched over, plugged up her ears so she couldn’t hear well, and put on awkward, uneven shoes so she was forced to walk with a stick. Patricia Moore, in her twenties, facing the world as an eighty-year-old.

Now she was ready to experience the world as an old lady. Between 1979 and 1982 Patricia visited more than 100 American and Canadian cities in her new identity, attempting to negotiate the world around her and find out the everyday challenges that elderly people faced and how they were treated.

With her body altered to simulate the normal sensory changes associated with aging, she was able to respond to people, Patricia Moore took industrial design in a radically new and exciting direction.

Based on her experiences and understandings, she was able to design a complete series of state-of-the-art products that were suitable for use by elderly people, such as those with osteoarthritis – one of the major causes of disability in people aged >65 years.

She then started the company MooreDesign Associates that works with communication design, research, product development and design, environmental design, package and transportation design, market analysis, and product positioning.

Patricia Moore – at the forefront of Empathetic Design
Patricia Moore – at the forefront of Empathetic Design

We do not seek to challenge why we are feeling a particular emotion; instead, we seek to confirm it.

Dr. Paul Ekman, the world’s leading expert on emotions and facial expressions, describes how empathy refers to how we respond to another person’s emotions and feelings.

He goes further by describing different aspects of empathy, explaining that “in cognitive empathy we recognize what another person is feeling. In emotional empathy we actually feel what that person is feeling, and in compassionate empathy we want to support the other person deal with [their] situation and [their] emotions”.

In architectural design, there are the needs, ideas and requirements of a person (the client) and the desire to support these needs and ideas but what sometimes is missing, is our own understanding of what the people we are designing for (the client) are actually experiencing, the emotional empathy.

How perhaps we perceive that deeper understanding in a way that is supportable enough and resourceful in our residential or commercial buildings? We aren’t able to go out and live the lives of our clients like Patricia Moore did.

ARENCOS & the Empathetic Design

We need to be in that building, working on the design and project proposal. So, our practice has to be something that we can incorporate into our schematic design which also becomes a part of the complete development process. This understanding is vitally important to design spaces that really matter.

At ARENCOS – especially for our commercial and renovation projects – we always observe people during our site visits and conduct dedicated surveys before a project has started.

If we look at surveys as an opportunity to tap into the residents’ needs and lifestyle, we can redefine what this stage in the design process really means. Who is sitting at the balconies?  Which are the most popular areas of the building?

Who is sitting by the pool and who needs more privacy in the garden? Could the space give that user a greater degree of comfort and wellbeing or is there something that can be improved? This is a real opportunity to practice our observation and empathetic design approach.

What's Connects Empathy and Good Design?
What's Connects Empathy and Good Design? Photo by John Fornander on Unsplash


Generally speaking, empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and feeling the emotions they feel.

According to Juhani Pallasmaa, a Finnish architect and former professor of architecture and dean at the Helsinki University of Technology, empathy in architecture is when “The designer places him/herself in the role of the future dweller and tests the validity of the ideas through this imaginative exchange of roles and personalities.


Generally speaking, empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and feeling the emotions they feel.

Recent results of neurocognitive research, identified how empathy works within our bodies. Through a process called embodied simulation, we take in information directly from our experiences and interaction with others about how the world works.

Embodied simulation and the mirror neuron system underpinning it enables and bootstraps the constitution of the sense of identity we normally entertain with others.

However, embodied simulation is not just limited to understanding and interacting with people, it extends to objects and space and the synergies between users, bodies, empathy and aesthetic experience.

Empathic and Embodied Imagination:Intuiting Experience and Life in Architecture
Empathic and Embodied Imagination:Intuiting Experience and Life in Architecture

Architecture in Crete & Empathetic Design (Putting People First) by ARENCOS on Scribd

Spark Innovation Through Empathetic Design

This empathic architectural approach is a cornerstone of our human-centered design and one of our creative approaches to develop innovative proposals that are tailor made to suit the needs and requirements of our clients.

At ARENCOS we always have to remind ourselves that in order to impact a person’s life through our work, we need to represent that impact and synergies with the environment, the rest of the users and the technology in the most powerful way possible.

Our architectural practice is not an end-in-itself but rather a wide range of means, approaches and methods that allows us to address the development risks and create places that advance sustainability, enhance wellness and enrich lives.