- continued, part 2 -


Basically, the search is for relationships between two very different fields of our human existence: direct experience of concrete things and knowledge of their meaning.

On the one hand, it is a question of describing the factual and spatial structure of material culture which we designate as 'built form' and of becoming aware of its importance. It is no negligible phenomenon. It is the framework that humans always discover, the one into which they are born, just as they are born into the language of their native land; it is the framework that they maintain, directly or indirectly, which to them is order and which is carried around with them throughout their lives. In our time and in our customary perspective, these are objects for the architect, they are the houses and other buildings that they plan and build. In a broader sense, however, they are not merely the often empty and deserted monuments of architectural history, which we compare with the buildings of daily use. Rather it is the inhabited houses, markets, and towns of non-European peoples that suddenly erupt into the view of the student of architecture; everything ever built by man belongs to the province of the student of architectural theory. It involves an enormous amount of material, some of which still has to be defined and then studied and described in the field. We call this 'objective opening'.

In order to compare these different things, a few useful auxiliary terms have been adopted within the last 20 years: place, environment, landscape. These terms are methodologically important, because they raise the discussion above the level of usual architectural practice. Place, environment, and landscape imply very generalized categories (to be in a place, in contrast to moving from place to place, travelling etc.), which point to cultural conditions (behaviour in relation to place, the relations of people to a particular place). Seen from an epistemological point of view, these new terms are important signs of a departure from the popular traditional ideas of architects, namely that they know from the outset what a building is (deductive thinking, as required by religion), and a turning to scientific method, which proceeds from individual cases, via classifying concepts, to the general rule (inductive thinking, as applied in natural sciences). This causes not only a rupture with the former primacy of aesthetics (the demand for "fine architecture" in the subjective sense) and the attitude of the art historian, which was based on aesthetic criteria: the most important result of this incipient inductive procedure lies in the fact that, of necessity, it sets its sights on everything built by man. A tremendous opening up, a liberation from hackneyed doctrines becomes visible. A huge amount of material is spread out in front of the enquiring architect, as a new challenge to his curiosity! If, with Thomas Kuhn, one perceives a new paradigm in this reorientation emanating from Kansas, it is also possible to recognize an emerging "scientific revolution".

As auxiliary terms, 'place', 'environment', and 'landscape' are not yet sharply defined and, since they can always be used in new connections, they will probably not be clearly defined within the foreseeable future. Herein lies their productiveness: they reveal relations with socio-cultural aspects of 'built environments'. In this respect Hummon (:34) has made a notable contribution. He makes use of the already considerable literature on 'place and identity'. At the level of dwelling and the community, "places are environmental contexts with real consequences for people." From descriptions of a place of residence given in response to questions, one can detect quite different relations to it. They range from "being deeply rooted" in the place to "estrangement from current locality," and "adaptable", exhibiting "a sense of place relativity" to those "whose place perspectives are very thin", ..."who have only an unclear sense of home" and are characterized as "without place". And while these attitudes are sometimes dependent on the character of people, in other cases they seem to be determined by earlier places and the conditions of the immediate place of residence. Interesting too are the many existing studies of the family with respect to its territorial and social behaviour within the home. Dumesnil/Herrin (:16) have made a survey of studies on the influence of status, class, and ideology as related to dwelling behaviour. In this context McCracken (:68) shows how a middle-class American couple, contrary to their original intentions, furnishes and uses a two-storeyed house in accordance with their ideas of their different roles in marriage. In following up these 'place and identity' and 'place and behaviour' groups, there is no doubt that those conforming to the opinion of Low (:65) are particularly rewarding: namely, that as far as the connection between place and culture is concerned, they can only be understood when studied on the spot, in the field. "The Mythic Consciousness as the Eternal Mother of Place-Making" by Brill was less convincing. Such studies as those of Eliade on religious history, which are remote from the primary sources, are uncritically accepted and watered down to something emotional and romantic. This type of 'research' clearly holds a certain danger for the general use of the terms 'place' and 'environment' etc., in as much as, without relation to objective results such as social surveys or field studies and on the basis of borrowed theories of human studies, statements are made about extremely typified environments. Such transpositions to architectural matters may be useful as hypotheses, but, in an inductively exact understanding of architectural anthropology, their results must be tested in each and every instance of their postulated application to certain sections of concrete reality. Otherwise they remain scientifically worthless.

The right side of our diagram shows the structure of scientifically accumulated knowledge which is related not to built forms but rather to the structure of existing disciplines. It supplies the countless drawers in which the researcher of architecture finds materials and descriptions of the state of built environment, on the one hand, and on the other, more or less ready–made attempts and methods to describe and interpret them. We call this aperture towards the right 'interdisciplinary opening'.

So it is a matter of linking built form with the complexes worked out for us by the Humanities (so-called 'intellectual sciences', 'Geisteswissenschaften', in German!) and offered as "ideologies" of cultures or, more socio-anthropologically, as the cultures of social behaviour. It is immediately evident that there are endless possible relationships and that this no doubt leads to a very lengthy process of research. For the time being, in the relative area of 'meanings', it can imply a testing field in which, using different methods and approaches, an attempt can be made to fathom the relation between building and man as a cultural being. It remains to be seen whether the results will come from individual studies, piece by piece like a mosaic, or, as Robinson thinks, from a combination of a few contradictory concepts. It is conceivable that certain theoretical concepts and methods will eventually gain ground because they offer a conclusive picture as seen from various standpoints. Time will tell. However, it is already certain that the currently favoured phenomenological, semiotic, structuralistic, behaviouristic, and psychosocial approaches are very promising, because somehow they all seem to suit the complex nature of built form.

However it should not be overlooked that there are problems within the spectrum of 'meanings'. As shown in one particular case, this arises from the fact that corresponding approaches and methods, taken from certain cultural anthropological disciplines, are applied to architectonic situations. Thus the structuralistic approach is primarily taken over from linguistics and secondarily from Lévi-Strauss, who applies it with ethnological emphasis to social - and therefore very abstract - structures. It is conceivable that architectural theory could be used to establish what 'structure' (in its concrete constructive sense) has to offer in the way of terminology and method, because built order in space certainly implies its own principles of structure and, in Latin, the word "structura" means precisely the built structure of an edifice. The semiotic approach is also derived from linguistics and is thus in danger of not finding its own terminology for built form. Seligman (:122) offers a good example of this. He asks: can the White House tell us a "story" with the "narrative power" of that which people relate by word of mouth? Naturally the question is wrongly posed and has to be answered in the negative, because architecture is certainly not competing with literature! It has its own kind of communication and this has to be deciphered. Regarded in this way, Seligman's resigned conclusion is invalid. <13> Eyong (:27) proceeds in the same direction. In a critical discussion with semiotic theorists, he questions the validity of applying linguistic semiotics to architecture. There is a fundamental difference between the "production and consumption of architectonic artefacts and language" he says. Here too the situation is the same as that described above. It is not a question of testing the application of linguistic semiotics to architecture. It is really a matter of questioning architecture itself about its semantic qualities. It would be quite possible to pose the question in architectonic terms: what is the potential of built form with regard to signs? <14>

There also was an interesting discussion of contributions dealing with symbolism. Mathieu (:71), for instance, demonstrated the close connections between the spatial organization of dwelling houses and community buildings and the old, traditional customs in an isolated Hutterite colony living in the Central United States. In particular, the planning and utilization of the communal "dining/kitchen complex" is strictly in accordance with the separation of the sexes, which is still practised by the Hutterites. Husband (:37) shocked her audience with her theme: she dealt with places of execution used for the death penalty, which is still common in many parts of the USA, and spoke of their symbolic relation to social and local surroundings. Her historical survey showed a development from the stage, when executions were public spectacles, to our times, in which the event takes place behind hidden facades and locked doors. In this line of study Mroczek (:81) was concerned with idealized types of the traditional American barn and the "New England scene". For Americans, these and other such symbols are the very embodiment of what is simple, genuine and original and they serve as patterns of association for nostalgic evocation of early pioneer life. Pader (:91) also belongs to this group of researchers studying symbols. She is in favour of studying the interior of homes for the sake of its symbolic value. In her view, the household is a microcosm of its sociopolitical environment and reflects a society's central values. It is a powerful means of cultural determination and the values concretely expressed in its structural substance have a socially stabilizing influence. In contrast, referring to a culturally decadent Lhota village, Lindholm (:63) questions the symbolic, anthropological relationship between built form and social structure as postulated by Geertz and Lévi–Strauss. Lindholm's conclusion is unconvincing: if a village maintains its traditional ideals and its outward material orders despite social decay, this cannot be adduced as evidence against the above-mentioned relationship. Political decline is a case of temporary 'anomy' (in Durkheim's sense). That it does not involve the formal order speaks against Lindholm and for the importance of the relationship: at least appearances are still kept up!

In the psychological line of study, the following contribution should be mentioned. The sociological enquiry by Duncan (:18), carried out in a working-class district of Vancouver, showed, surprisingly, that about 80% of those questioned rejected a plan to demolish a district of villas and replace them with council housing. For these people the villa district is the embodiment of their liberalist dream of a better life.

Temporal categories are important elements in this relationship between built form and culture, as indicated in the diagram. Since human attitudes are always shown in relation to continuity and change, "before" and "after" has something to say, in whatever dimension. For instance, in describing the development of a small Portuguese town, Lawrence (:59) shows how the changeover to new ways is not a reflection of real needs, but is clearly motivated by ideas of status and, just like the new forms, the traditional behaviour of the inhabitants also changes, slowly but surely. Camargo (:8) drew attention to the ethnographically documented attempt by Christian missionaries to convert the Indians of Central Brazil (Bororos) by breaking up their system of ideals and, to this end, ordering a total rearrangement of the traditional plan of the village. Camargo tried to reconstruct how far the Indians were able to save their system after this change, and how far they were harmed by it. Foote (:29) reports on a collection of photographs of Victorian London, showing first the sudden and rapid changes in the city and, secondly, the effect this had in rousing the first defenders of historical monuments to action. Egenter criticized Wittkower's abstract, mathematical, Renaissance view of proportions, contrasting Wittkower's historical construction with his own reconstructed development of the 'arch and columns'- motif (based on medieval evangelical illustrations). Egenter suggests an 'ontological' meaning of proportion expressing "polarity" or "coincidentia oppositorum", a theme which touches upon a central philosophical concept of the Middle Ages. Architecture as a model of all-unifying harmony? Perhaps not quite un–topical! Prokop's text on the Hagia Sophia and an early Renaissance Italian painting (Carpaggio) provided confirmation of his thesis. Following Giovanni Sartori, an Italian theorist of democracy, Rudd argued that change is one of democracy's most fundamental conditions, together with reason, freedom, sense, and community. Change stands in strong contrast to the demand for continuity and stability. Accordingly, the concept of 'change' is discussed in relation to the expressions "self and society", "development and improvement" and the tensions between "nature and society" or "shelter and symbol". Unfortunately, such broadly based theoretical treatises, ranging from the most generalized and abstract concepts, such as democracy to reason, freedom, change, community, self, society, to development, improvement, etc. are not very productive.

Though not without its problems, the wide range of topics was evidently stimulating! In addition to the more favoured lines, around which schools of thought have already developed, there were many contributions which, individually or in small groups, belong to the cultural anthropological disciplines indicated on the right. They constitute the major part of the contributions. Here we mention only a few of the most important of them.

The following contributions were strongly influenced by sociological or sociopolitical views. Sauer (:115), reporting on a sociological study of council housing in the USA, showing that one-parent families {one divorced or widowed parent with child(ren)}vehemently, and unexpectedly, rejected the functional arrangements of the planned buildings, which were intended to meet their specific needs: they wanted to avoid any sign of social stigma and therefore demanded complete integration in the surrounding middle–class housing schemes. Dominguez (:12) demands "a redefinition of residence within the context of current social living patterns and future housing trends corresponding to ... many types of multivariate family units." which should respond to "the multidimensional needs of society. In general, she advocates a more flexible design in the construction of houses. In a world which is subject to the rapid dynamics of social change, flexibility and adaptability must be essential criteria of a flat or house. Yet it may seriously be asked whether the housing market should dance to the tune of rapid progress or whether it should not act as a stabilizing counterbalance. Gordon et al. (:33), taking the slum area of an American industrial city as their example, reported on the 'classical dilemma' between architectural aspirations and the necessities arising from the poverty and stigmatization of the inhabitants of a council housing project. Oliver (:84) gave an important report on a previously unknown building and planning phenomenon of the Iron Curtain countries: he dealt with the social, economic, and planning conditions of illegal building in a Yugoslav town (Kaluderica). Pellow (:91) presented a study of building ethnology which was devoted to the development of domestic housing in a nomadic community in Accra, Ghana. Special attention was paid to the spatial arrangements dictated by the segregation of the sexes required by religion. On a more practical level, Denel (:12), citing Turkish examples, recommended that slums should not be replaced by bureaucratically enforced, urban forms of building, but that there should be greater openness for the integration of more traditional types of building. As a method of the ethnographical field study of buildings, Rodman (:102) presented a card game with little houses which she used for sociological inquiries into preferences with regard to different types of housing. One may question the value of this somewhat superficial test of 'vernacular architectural taste' as a means of determining the relative suitability of traditional or Western-style housing. The approach is too reminiscent of consumer psychology. Domosh (:13) gave an interesting sociohistorical account of the prestige thinking that lay behind the first New York skyscrapers. Saccopoulos (:111) is concerned with tradition and modernity in Greece. In the midst of a Greek landscape he set a modern steel construction, clad in whitened concrete plates. The detached family house looks like a traditional chapel. At the parting of the ways between formalists and functionalists, the author pleads for playing a kind of 'architectural hide and seek'. Samizay (:115) offers a contrast to such merely formalistic concerns: he drew attention to the enormous problem of "homelessness" in the developing countries. Finally, an interesting contribution from the Asian field of study: Johnson (:40) showed how Chinese 'Feng-shui' has influenced Japanese gardens.


The abundance of different topics might puzzle the reader but is, in fact, the positive result of the above–mentioned opening up of research perspectives. In conclusion there were two controversial contributions offering premature solutions or, at least, viewpoints. Tuan, with a Chinese traditional background, drew an analogy between "Moral Edifice and Architectural Edifice" or between architecture as constructed morality and the idea of morality as generally understood and referred to. Just as the latter can be less or more highly developed, so, on the basis of a very questionable comparison of the cosmic orders of the Pueblo Indians and the Chinese, he considered that architecture can be regarded as being of a primitive or a higher moral order. From this highly Confucian position, Tuan implicitly demanded "moral edifices" which would lead mankind to a better world. In contrast, Warringer/Conviser were less inspired by naive hopes. They proceeded from two negative possibilities. Today the postmodern designers find themselves in an "academic marketplace" between "nihilistic pluralism" (anything goes) and "neo-conservative totalitarianism" (Graves, Krier). Yet the suggested "Situated Diversity" - a kind of pragmatism of local conditions (according to Lyotard) - is not at all convincing as a way out of the dilemma. Nowadays we are far removed from those former small-scale idylls, in which everything was clearly visible. Today what is small is always and inevitably determined by what is large.

A way out of the architectural crisis certainly lies neither in a new and utopian morality nor in a small-scale solution. It can only lie in the direction of (possibly lengthy) studies, a procedure which remains in close contact with one of the many 'built environments' and which wisely avoids hasty association with 'castles in the air' which then prove to be short-lived bubbles. In this respect Case (:9) seemed to offer a more realistic approach than the panaceas just mentioned. He simply pleaded that architects should be given a thorough training in scientific method. He also reflected upon possible ways in which the designer could be motivated towards this new goal.

One should not be too eager in expecting concrete results from such an enormous opening up of the horizon. What we can distinguish for the moment are certain types of theories, as they are graphically presented in Fig. 2. Type 1 characterizes the conventional method of the art historian who applies the 'analysis of form' (AA) and 'comparative history' (HA) to historical or present works of architecture. Type 2 is focused on buildings in the conventional sense, but uses theoretical approaches and methods of an interdisciplinary opening at the right (x). Type 3 uses the same opening at the right, but opens also towards the left by extending the field of objects: it includes buildings that were formerly in the field of competence of other disciplines such as ethnology or folklore. Type 4 defines this opening by providing a new definition for what is considered as the object of research. It includes buildings which were conventionally not considered as buildings, such as 'semantic' or 'symbolic' architecture, which in turn are now described with the methods of type 1. Which of the typology of theories will prove most productive will be decided in the near future.

Architecture does research! This really is the most important factor. In Kansas there was not just complaint about the prevailing "lack of orientation", about the "crisis of Modern Architecture", and about the "lack of utopias". Kansas showed the value of being practical, of rolling up one's sleeves, of getting on with the work. There is a desire to know more, simply, logically, and in a modern way. Then comes the multiplicity of new ideas and approaches and the fact that there is so much to be said about a topic that everybody thought they understood. It was a refreshing experience to discover that architectural theory can arouse so much interest. In addition, there were the many workshops, research reports and ethnological reports, which cannot be dealt with here. Whoever is interested should order the 1986 reports (Carswell/Saile 1986, Saile 1986). They are among the most exciting publications on architecture that have appeared in the last 10 years.

One thing became very clear at this conference: the interdisciplinary approach has opened up completely new horizons for architects. Architecture does research! The broad interdisciplinary approach to architectural discussion is also attracting students of the humanities, whether they belong to the theoretical branches and are seeking concrete clues in built environments, or whether they gain something new from the spatial dimensions of planning in architecture. For many the important factor may simply be the productive interdisciplinary approach, which is preparing to deal with the concrete situation of dwelling and settlement.

In any case: architecture does research! Perhaps the reason why this new approach to architectural studies is bearing more and more fruit in the United States lies in the fact that the Americans always know how to associate research with practical objectives. There can be no doubt that success is programmed: 'Built Form and Culture' research has a future! Between the first and second conference the number of participants nearly doubled! "VERS UNE ARCHITECTURE ANTHROPOLOGIQUE"!, "towards an anthropologically based architecture" is how Le Corbusier would describe it, speaking in his well-known programmatic language. And, "'NEO-MODERNISM' began in Kansas" is a comment that will doubtlessly be heard in the near future.

To Notes
To Figures
Back to homepage