World renowned Environmental Psychologist builds bridges with Sheffield

Professor Robert Gifford presents his work to Sheffield students and staff

On Monday 16th January the Department of Landscape hosted a visit by world renowned environmental psychologist Professor Robert Gifford, Professor of Psychology and Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

One of the pioneer founders and leaders in environmental psychology research, Robert has authored many influential publications in his field. He is currently editor in chief of the Journal of Environmental Psychology and serves on the editorial boards of Architectural Science Review and Applied Psychology.

Robert’s visit to Sheffield formed part of a visiting professorship to the UK funded by a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Fellowship, based at the University of Strathclyde, Urban Design Studies Unit with whom Dr Kevin Thwaites has a long standing collaborative relationship in socially oriented urban design research.

This was Robert’s second visit to the UK as part of the Fellowship and follows a week spent in Glasgow in October at the Urban Design Studies Unit developing research collaborations including journal papers and funding proposals.

Kevin said: “Robert’s visit to the Department of Landscape in Sheffield provided the opportunity to further consolidate our areas of shared interest in developing ways to bridge boundaries between disciplines involved in developing towns and cities and ensuring quality of life for their inhabitants. This allowed us to explore in detail areas of convergence in my own research in Socially Restorative Urbanism and transitional edges, Robert’s expertise in the interface of environmental, social and personality psychology, and the Urban Design Studies Unit development of Plot-based Urbanism and related morphological urban structures.”

James Simpson discusses the potential of his work on mobile eye tracking with Professor Robert Giffo

“All these strands of research into urban form and the quality of life it can sustain coalesce in our collective development of a research funding proposal to the UK Leverhulme Trust. This will make possible a multi-disciplinary collaboration of several universities, embracing landscape architecture, urban design, environmental psychology, sociological studies, and energy efficiency. Through this multi-disciplinary team we will demonstrate that the sustainability and resilient design of cities is inextricably tied up with people’s acceptance and preference for certain forms of urban organisation that can encourage pro-environmental behaviour in urban residential areas. This will further advance our collective research in socially restorative and plot-based urbanism by helping to consolidate socio-spatial approaches to delivery of urban form increasingly accepted as necessary to meet the complex challenges of accelerating global urbanisation.”

Professor Gifford’s talk to a varied disciplinary audience attending the lunchtime seminar of the Department of Landscape, Place, Inclusion and Equity research cluster, captured this cross-disciplinary theme. Entitled ‘Urban Design, Quality of Life and Pro-environmental Behaviour: bridging urban design and environmental psychology’, the talk illuminated the need for, and challenges involved in, building better and more effective disciplinary integration if we are to successfully meet the changing social, environmental and ecological challenges inherent in present and future urbanisation.

Stimulating and insightful discussion concluded the talk and Robert’s visit to Sheffield with the clear message that if socially and environmentally sustainable urban environments are to be a part of the future of humanity, then there is a growing need to review ways to achieve more effective integration in how we study human-environment relations and how we translate what we find into the delivery of towns and cities.

Professor Gifford's lecture is available to watch here.

Dr Kevin Thwaites' research is also part of the Faculty of Social Sciences Innovative Methods research cluster.