BIT-Kit – The Context

In current architectural discourse there is a lack of method in building evidence to understand the link between buildings and the wellbeing, independence and mobility of the people who use them. In response to this knowledge gap, the Building Interactions Toolkit (BIT-Kit) supports the gathering of real-world interaction evidence within buildings. Applying a mixed methods approach, BITKit evidence is generated through the combination of purposeful conversation, observation and building interaction data.

Findings uncovered through a case study that investigates the task of way-finding in a public building by persons with visual impairment, illustrate novel evidence of human interaction with architectural elements (such as stairs, doors and corridors) that enable and disable building users. These findings begin to define evidence in assessing the impact of buildings on people.

Background: Missing Evidence

Stephen Hodder, 2013/14 President of the Royal Institute for British Architects (RIBA), outlines the problem:

“What’s missing is the evidence. There is no evidence that good design improves people’s lives. If we can demonstrate that architecture can bring economic value or improve performance in workplaces or engender a better sense of community, we can elevate design up the government’s agenda.”  (Hopkirk, 2013)

The built environment is the context for every single human activity. However, regardless of current guidance and building legislation, buildings still exclude many different types of users (Arthur & Passini, 1992; Imrie & Hall, 2001).

The question becomes:

How do buildings impact on the wellbeing of the people who inhabit and use them?

In building a method towards answering this larger architectural research question, the Building Interactions Toolkit (BIT-Kit) is an approach to uncover the evidence of how buildings impact on people. BIT-Kit is composed of a mixed-method approach that incorporates purposeful conversation, observations and building interaction data. The evidence extracted can be understood in relation to the type of interaction, architectural context, spatial conditions, temporal conditions, social constraints and impact of elements of architecture (micro and macro conditions).

The findings,  uncovered from a case study of way-finding task in a public building by persons with visual impairment (McIntyre, 2011), exemplify the types of novel, contextual and generalisable evidence uncovered.

Building Interactions Toolkit (BIT-Kit): A Research Methodology

BIT-Kit was designed out of a need to gather evidence investigating the impact buildings have on people. There was an absence of methodology that would fully meet the needs of this type of investigation. Therefore BIT-Kit’s theoretical foundation was created from a combination of principals borrowed from the established approaches of Grounded Theory (Glaser, 1968) and Case Study (Yin, 2003), in addition to methods adopted in Architecture.

BIT-Kit: Research Principals

BIT-Kit was built from research principles which incorporated research factors of: 1) subject and setting, 2) process and analysis and, 3) evaluation and rigour. These principals guided the research.

Technical Case Study: Way-finding Scenario
This case study demonstrates the application of BIT-Kit within the real-world scenario of way-finding in a non-domestic, public building.

Context of the Problem

The built environment is failing to support people who have a form of visual impairment (Barker, Barrick, Wilson, Royal National Institute for the Blind,1995) and the task of way-finding in non-domestic buildings is particular problem (Arthur & Passini, 1992). There is a scarcity of evidence for architects to fully understand the impact a building has on what enables and disables these users as they find their way from a starting point to a destination.

This leads to a research question:

Can BIT-Kit uncover evidence of the impact non-domestic buildings have on the task of Way-finding by people with visual impairment?

The Participants
10 participants (5 male and 5 female), who had a range of visual impairment, took part in the study.


The Case Study: Way-finding Scenario

BIT-Kit was utilised to investigate real-life experiential components of wayfinding in a non-domestic building by people with a range of visual impairment. Composed of 3 Phases, the Way-finding Scenario was a mixed-method approach that incorporated purposeful conversation (probing peoples’ experience of buildings), observations (active acquisition in noting and recording what is happening) and, building interaction data (building floor plans and peoples’ ‘trace’ of interactions in buildings).

methodPhase 1 – A Chat about Way-finding in Buildings
Purposeful conversation (Burgess, 1982) was adopted as an unobtrusive way to initially gather narrative of general way-finding topics and experiences of Participants’ way-finding in buildings. The purposeful conversation was a planned approach that utilised an initial framework of topics.

Phase 2 – A Way-finding Task: Using a Building
The Participants took part in a way-finding task within the same non-domestic, public building and were asked to find their way from a starting point (the boundary wall of the building) to a destination point (an office within the building).

Phase 3 – A Chat about Way-finding in the Building in Phase 2
A purposeful conversation (Burgess, 1982) about Phase 2 encouraged Participants to talk about experiences of way-finding in a specific building. Participants’ memories of previous way-finding experiences were activated by events that happened during Phase 2 and they also talked about these.




Case Study: Data and Analysis
Each conversation, from Phase 1 and 3, was recorded with a Dictaphone and later transcribed for analysis. This data was then put through a process of hermeneutic coding whereby it was put through a process of open-coding, axial coding and selective coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

In Phase 2 the participants carried a small digital video recorder that captured their ‘way-finding encounters’. This quantitative data was transcribed onto floor plans of the building and became the participants ‘Way-finding Trace’ still images were also captured and aided in building understanding of what was actually happening at specific points in the building.

trace and chat


Each Way-finding Scenario (including data collection and analysis) influenced the next. From these 3 phases a range of both qualitative (e.g. conversational data) and quantitative data (e.g. way-finding trace data) was gathered. Each set of data was coded and as analysis evolved, the codes, memos and diagrams accumulated. Theory relating to the impact of a Way-finding Journey in a non-domestic building, experienced by people who had visual impairment emerged.


Some findings……

Guide Dog




Case Study Results: Evidence of end user needs

Using BIT-Kit within this case study has uncovered both qualitative and quantitative evidence of what enables and disables the task of way-finding by people with visual impairment. Through analysis of data it emerged that there were critical events and occurrences, coined ‘hot-spots’, which occurred within a way-finding journey and impacted on a way-finder’s experience of using the building. They were spatial conditions, social interactions, or temporal events. Hot-spots were positive experiences such as using ground textures to find the front door of a building or being able to break a journey to find the toilets. Hotspots were also negative experiences such as not being able to understand or use way-finding signage or not being able to find and follow a route through a building because of a change of use or extension. The hot-spots uncovered were the evidence to understand the impact the building had on the people using it.

There is an intrinsic link between buildings and the wellbeing of those who occupy them. Within architectural discourse the Building Interactions Toolkit (BIT-Kit) is a method that builds evidence to understand the link between buildings and the wellbeing, independence and mobility of the people who use them.


Additional Links

Building 4 Change: Good design improves lives: Research paper competition winners demonstrate link between built environment and wellbeing

A Case Study of adopting BIT-Kit: A Method Uncovering the Impact Buildings have on People (Full Paper)


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