Constructing an Econiche
William H. Warren Jr. Brown University
Ecological psychology is concerned with the relations that have evolved between organisms and their natural environments that support successful perceiving and acting. Yet, our species is currently unique in that it lives in an environment that is largely of its own construction, built in order to fine-tune or extend the job done by evolution. Most of the objects we grasp, surfaces we walk on, and shelters we inhabit are, for better or worse, artifacts. We are thus in the rather novel position of constructing our own econiche, or as the architect Lerup put it, "We design things and things design us." Yet, despite several decades of progress in ergonomics, there are still few general working principles for designing environments that fit the activities of human beings and anticipating the reciprocal effects on human activity.
Panero and Zelnick ( 1979) noted this when they described the assorted volumes of reference standards that are used by architects and designers: "Much of the available material is based almost exclusively on outdated trade practices or on the personal judgments of those preparing the standards. With few exceptions, most reference standards are simply not predicated on enough hard anthropometric data" (p. 12). Ecological psychology has something to contribute to such design problems, because ecological research is relevant to human action in the built environment as well as in the natural one.