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A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space
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A structured approach to cultural studies of architectural space

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  • 1. A STRUCTURED APPROACH TO CULTURAL STUDIES OF ARCHITECTURALSPACEMustafa PultarFaculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Bilkent UniversityAbstractThis paper examines the areas and nature of cultural studies of architectural space and presents aconceptual structure for thinking about, delineating and discussing such studies. Following abrief examination of the concept of architectural space as used in the study, the main argument ofthe paper is presented in four sections:1. Discussion of the components of culture as they are related to space. Essentially, thesecomponents may be identified as technology (interpreted as a collective notion consisting oftechnics, techniques and an accumulated body of problem solutions), knowledge and valuesystems. A spectrum is proposed over which these cultural components may be spread.2. Discussion of the life-cycle of architectural space as a process of human problem solving. Thisprocess comprises the stages of problem definition, design, construction and use, and is closelyrelated with ecological and cultural factors.3. Presentation of a graphical schema for the identification of areas of cultural study. Thisschema is structured as the Cartesian product of the dimensions of life-cycle stages and culturalcomponents. Several areas are illustrated by examples.4. Discussion of the nature of study in these areas as differentiated by the subject matter, the typeof space studied, the bases used in the formation of cultural groups and the cultural processinvolved. Several works are referred to as examples.Keywords: Culture, cultural studies, architectural space, theory.IntroductionCultural studies of space are found in many disciplines, where they serve a central function inexplanations. Despite this importance, Aiello and Thompson claim, for example, that "only asmall proportion of ... research [on the description and comparison of differences in thestructuring and use of space] has examined spatial behavior within a cultural context" (1980,107-108). Furthermore, there appears to be no well-established, coherent and systematicstructure for a discussing the areas, scope and nature of issues related to the cultural studies ofspace.This paper attempts to address the problem in a limited context by proposing such a structure,utilizing two fundamental concepts: a spectrum of cultural sudies and the life-cycle ofarchitectural space. Although the model proposed appears to be founded on the conception of aprofessional, industrialized building process, some reflection will reveal how it can, in reality, beapplied to many different instances of the analysis of spatial problems.
  • 2. Some of the concepts introduced in this paper are ones which have varied uses and definitions.Accordingly, introductory sections of the paper are devoted to discussions of these concepts, andseek to define specific contexts in which these concepts will be used.Architectural SpaceSpace is a concept that is central to many different areas of study and has varied meanings,ranging from totally abstract notions such as mathematical space, to physical ones such asastronomical space, to more earthly ones such as the expanse that surrounds us, to behavioralnotions such as territorial space and personal space. "This great variety of possible types ofspace ... makes any definition of space [in planning and design] difficult. Intuitively, however,space is the three-dimensional extension of the world around us, the intervals, distances andrelationships between people and people, people and things, and things and things" (Rapoport1980, 11). Although they are thought to have bearing on and are influenced by space to someextent (Rapoport 1980, 26-27), people to people relations have a scope that extends muchbeyond the interests of this paper. However, the relations between people and things shall beincluded insofar as they define and affect the use of space as outlined below.Our main concern in this paper shall be with architectural space, as defined by Baykan and Pultar(forthcoming) in a set-theoretic fashion to mean subsets of the three-dimensional extension of theworld around us such that it is entered by man, includes definite material elements, especially abase, that allow one to perceive its boundaries and is perceived as a whole, serves humanfunctions of habitation, shelter or circulation, and is intentionally built or appropriated by man toserve such functions. According to this definition, not only well defined spaces such as halls androoms, but also arrangements of furniture so as to define a spatial expanse, allowing it to beperceived as a whole, should be considered as an architectural space, too. The notion ofarchitectural space should also be understood to include structures of space, i.e., sets of spaces sointerrelated to each other that the functions they serve extend through these spaces (Baykan andPultar, forthcoming). Thus, just as rooms and halls in buildings may be individually consideredarchitectural spaces, so can buildings as structures of spaces. An important characteristic of architectural space is mans involvement in its generation and hispartaking of life in it. In this sense, architectural space is diachronic in addition to its spatiallyexpansive nature. This diachronic aspect aspect will be indicated by our use of the term life-cycleof architectural space.Hereafter in this paper, the term space will be used to mean architectural space.Components of Culture"Culture" is used in a variety of meanings which are often related, albeit loosely. Disregardinguses of the word for such notions as cultivation (of crops), development of intellectual faculties(as in a cultured man) or acquaintance with and taste in the arts (as in centers or ministers ofculture), there remain those understandings which may be considered relevant within the context
  • 3. of this study. These refer to all things created by man as distinct from natural things, as well asthe shared ideals and the common way of life of a group of people. Rapoport, stressing theplurality of definitions and uses of the concept of culture, suggests that "... all definitions fall intoone of three views ... [the first] as a way of life typical of a group, the second as a system ofsymbols, meanings, and cognitive schemata transmitted through symbolic codes, the third as aset of adaptive strategies for survival related to ecology and resources. Increasingly, these threeviews are seen not as being in conflict but rather as complementary" (1980, 9). Thus, it is thetotality of "ways of life, symbols, meanings, cognitive schemata, and adaptive strategies" thatforms culture. With this approach, culture should be understood as a human essence by whichhuman groups may be differentiated, be they tribes, religious communities, companies,professions or others.In order to establish an operational basis for dealing with the nature of cultural studies of space,it is necessary to attempt to separate culture into its constituent components. One way of doingthis may be to view cultural components as comprising technology, knowledge and valuesystems.Ways of life and adaptive strategies are composed of solutions that have been found to beeffective in dealing with various problems of life. These solutions may appear, among others, inthe form of processes of production, rules of conduct, techniques of doing, and various tools andimplements. Together, these constitute what we conveniently refer to as technology. Technologyconsists of two different components: know-how knowledge and technics. This integration oftwo essentially different elements is its peculiar characteristic.Know-how knowledge comprises,on the one hand, an accumulated body of solutions to problems, ranging from rules of socialconduct to effective use of resources, and on the other, techniques for doing things in an effectivemanner. Technics, the latter component, comprises all artifacts created by man for the purpose ofsolving problems. Typically, it contains tools, implements, machines, apparati, containers, etc.; itis also referred to as material culture.Symbols and cognitive schemata form the essence of mans knowledge. Knowledge is formedthrough the use of cognitive schemata and is transmitted among people and generations throughthe use of symbols. Part of this knowledge (know-how knowledge) has been introduced above asfalling under the scope of technology. Two other types of knowledge used in solving problemsare instances of know-that knowledge: information (factual and historic knowledge andhypothetico-theoretical knowledge. Obviously, these are components of culture.What drive man into action regarding problems are conceptions of desirable situations asdescribed by value judgements. Value judgements are central in the conception, formulation andsolution of mans problems. Value systems, which are formed by value judgements ininteraction, are discussed by the author elsewhere (Pultar, forthcoming).In conclusion to this brief discussion, we may assert that culture can be broken down into threefundamental components: technology, knowledge and value systems. A graphical representationof a spectrum describing this breakdown is shown in Figure 1.
  • 4. We note that although an attempt has been made to separate the components into distinctcategories, this has not been possible; there are obvious overlaps in knowledge and beliefs. Thus,one should consider this spread not as a categorization but rather an alignment of culturalcomponents along a spectrum. At the upper end are material elements such as technics and asone proceeds down this spectrum, these change into techniques, which vary from acquaintancewith the bodily use of technics, through familiarity with conventions to technical knowledge,which is an accumulated body of effective solutions. With this component, the spectrum beginsto cover to beliefs, which can be classified into two general types: knowledge and valuejudgements. The former is belief in the truth of various statements. If these statements concernthe effectiveness of modes of action, the knowledge is technical. If the statements aredescriptions of facts, the knowledge is information. If they are related to hypotheses and, byextension, to theories, the knowledge is hypothetico-theoretical.The latter type of belief concerns the inherent goodness and worth that lies in certain choices.These may vary from belief in goodness by habit, to goodness dictated by authority or goodnessjustified by empirical evidence. Such beliefs in interaction with each other form value systems.The spectrum of cultural components seen in Figure 1 constitutes one dimension of a schema ofcultural studies of space, as described later.Life-cycle of SpaceIn a manner similar to that of a majority of human activities, the life-cycle of space consists afour stage process: problem formulation, problem solution, implementation and use. This processis cyclic; most spaces reach the end of their useful life due to some reason or other and, thereby,lead to a repetition of the cycle in the form of renovation, remodeling, re-adaptation of use or thegeneration of new spaces. The duration of this repetition is variable and often indeterminate.In formalized, professional generation of space, the stage of problem formulation comprises theplanning and programming stage. Here, a misfit is recognized between the present state of aspace and some ideal conditions that are deemed to be desirable for that space. The former factorcan be described in terms of state descriptors which range from simple quantitative variablessuch as size or qualitative behavioral descriptors such as spaciousness to complex compositedescriptors such as quality. The latter factor expresses what kind or level of the state variablesare acceptable or ideal. Whereas the description of the state variables requires the use ofknowledge in some form or other, the ideal conditions are obviously bound to value judgements.The next stage, that of problem solution, corresponds to the stage of the design of the space. Inthis stage decisions are made as to how the projected state of the space should be so that themisfit between the state descriptors and the desirable conditions shall no longer exist. Here, thedesigns outcome will reflect the designers interpretation (re-formulation) of the problem, as wellas his own understanding of the desirable conditions that he deems are fit to the situation.The period of the actual construction of the space is where a major transformation of materials,energy, finance and manpower takes place, based on the decisions made in design. This is the
  • 5. stage of solution implementation. Being a stage which is characterized by an intenseconcentration of economic resources, construction will necessarily reflect the interests of theparties concerned with it. What are now considered to be desirable are likely to be quite differentthan those of the problem initiators (clients, owners) or the designer.The stage of use is the longest stage of the life-cyle of a space. However, very often the user,who shall be involved longest in the life-cycle has very little to say about its formation until heoccupies the space. It may even be the case that he remains unknown until much later.These four stages of the life-cycle of space take place in a medium that is directly influenced byecological and cultural factors. Rapoport argues that "... sociocultural variables are primary, withecological ones, such as climate, materials and ways of making a livelihood [being] secondary,constraining or modifying ... " (1980, 21). These primary cultural factors are the beliefs thatowners, users or professionals of space hold as to what is desirable and acceptable. Thus, thelife-cycle of space is intimatey bound to the cultural components.The life-cycle of space is shown diagrammatically in Figure 2. Even though the process is anopen-ended one, it is cyclic and only one representation of that cycle has been shown in thefigure as representative.This cycle forms the second dimension of the schema of cultural studies of space.Areas of Cultural Studies of SpaceCultural studies of space spread both over the spectrum shown in Figure 1 and over the differentphases of the life-cycle shown in Figure 2. A convenient manner for describing the extent overwhich such studies spread is to consider the Cartesian product of the two dimensions. Thisproduct can be represented by a graphical image as shown in Figure 3.The schema in Figure 3 allows one to delimit areas of cultural studies by identifyinga. the cultural component that forms the basic aspect of the study, andb. the phase along the life-cycle of space that the study is concerned with.Some randomly chosen examples are also shown shaded in Figure 3. Area A, for example,concerns the value systems used in the design of space; these might involve the formation,acceptance and application of technical value judgements as codified in building regulations, orthe perceptual value judgements (e.g. style-related judgements) that are in fashion at a particulartime and place (Pultar, forthcoming). In area B, cultural studies might be related to the technicsutilized in the daily use of the space, such as furniture, maintenance or heating equipment,draperies, etc. An area such as C might concern the gathering of social and economic data for theprogramming of space, and might involve the use of such techniques as surveys and interviews,reliance on previously collected statistical data.It is possible, of course, to extend studies over larger areas to include, in area D for example, thetechnology of construction which would comprise the technics, techniques and the technical
  • 6. solutions used in construction. Such extension, however, would bring along with it a loss offocus and depth in the study.Nature of Cultural Studies of SpaceA cultural study, the area of which is delineated on the schema in Figure 3, may be differentiatedfurther when its nature or its approach is taken into account. Here, we may bring distinctionsbased ona. the subject matter of the study,b. the nature of the space studied,c. the nature of the group studied, andd. the nature of the cultural process studied.An area such as E in Figure 3 related to information used in construction empasizes the fact thatone needs caution when dealing with cultural studies. Such information might be related to thecost of materials in a particular site at a particular time. Although very important for effectiveimplementation, that information, in itself, would hardly be considered a cultural study.However, how that information is collected, stored and processed by firms is one. Thus, in mostcultural studies of space it is not the subject matter of the particular area but rather how it relatesto the life-cycle that is important. This distinction is readily apparent in studies of knowledge butmight not be so in other areas. A study of value judgements is not so readily separable from astudy of how they are used in or influence the life-cycle of space. Alternatively, an historicalstudy of the development of a particular technique (e.g. Bras and Crawford, 1995) or a material(e.g. Simpson, 1995) may be considered cultural studies whereas studies of these techniques assubject matter may not.An obvious distinction in the nature of cultural studies is related to the type of the space studied.Many cultural studies of space are limited to particular types of space or make comparativestudies of different spaces (e.g. Erman, 1997).Culture is often associated with particular groups, so much so that groups which share a commonculture are sometimes referred to as cultures themselves. This association of culture with variousgroups allows us to distinguish several types of studies on the basis of the group with which theyare concerned. It is possible to identify these groups in two ways:a. On the basis of the clustering in the schema of cultural studies. A study of the culture ofdesigners, architects (e.g. Symes, 1990) or construction workers, for example, would concernsuch groups.b. On other bases such as geographic location, race, nationality (e.g. Nalbantoğlu, 1993).As is the case in differention with respect to types of space, identification of groups on either ofthe bases above allows one to make comparative studies of the cultural areas of these groups; thiscross-cultural approach is a very common one in cultural studies (e.g. Stea and Turan, 1993).A further distinction regarding the nature of cultural studies might be based on the culturalprocess involved in the study. We might distinguish studies concerned with the following
  • 7. processes:a. Enculturation, especially education (e.g. Brady, 1996).b. Acculturation, specifically culture transfer such as technology transfer.c. Cultural persistence or change (e.g. Meeson and Welch, 1993)d. Accumulation and documentation of culture in written form or in material culture. (e.g.Glassie, 1975 or Lawrence, 1987)ConclusionThe analysis presented in this paper has the purpose of providing a structure for identifying thearea and nature of cultural studies of space by suggesting dimensions that may be used in theanalysis. Some aspects of these dimensions have been examined in connection with space-relatedissues. The use of the structure proposed may lead one to identifyinga. areas of study which have reamined untouched, andb. the scope within which such studies should be examined and criticised.ReferencesAiello, John R. and Donna E. Thompson, 1980. "Personal Space, Crowding and Spatial Behaviorin a Cultural Context" in Altman, Rapoport and Wohlwill, 1980. 107-178.Altman, Irwin, Amos Rapoport and Joachim F. Wohlwill (eds.), 1980. Human Behavior andEnvironment. New York: Plenum.Baykan, Can and Mustafa Pultar, forthcoming. "Structure of Space-activity Relations in Houses"Proceedings. International Conference on Spatial Analysis in Environment-Behaviour Studies,Eindhoven, November 29 - December 3, 1995.Brady, Darlene A., 1996. "The Education of an Architect: Continuity and Change" Journal ofArchitectural Education 50: 32-49.Bras, Robert G. and Bert E. Crawford, 1995. "Resonant Cavities in the History of ArchitecturalAcoustics" Technology and Culture 35: 571-574.Erman, Tahire, 1997. "Squatter (gecekondu) Housing versus Apartment Housing: Turkish Ruralto Urban Migrant Residents Perspectives" Habitat International 21: 91-106.Glassie, Henry, 1975. Folk Housing in Middle Virginia. Knoxville: University of TennesseePress.Lawrence, Roderick J., 1987. Housing, Dwellings and Homes: Design Theory, Research andPractice. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.
  • 8. Meeson, R.A. and C.M. Welch, 1993. "Earthfast Posts: The Persistence of Alternative BuildingTechniques." Vernacular Architecture 24: 1-17.Nalbantoğlu, Gülsüm B., 1993. "Between Civilization and Culture: Appropriation of TraditionalDwelling Forms in Early Republican Turkey" Journal of Architectural Education 47: 66-74.Pultar, Mustafa, forthcoming. "A Conceptual framework for Values in the Built Environment"IAPS 14 Book of Proceedings. Proceedings of the IAPS 14 Conference, Stockholm, July 31 -August 3, 1996.Rapoport, Amos, 1980. "Cross-Cultural Aspects of Environmental Design" in Altman, Rapoportand Wohlwill, 1980. 7-46.Simpson, Pamela H., 1994. "Ornamental Sheet Metal in the United States, 1870-1930" Journalof Architectural Planning and Research 11: 294-310.Symes, Martin S., 1990. "The Culture of British Architects: 1968-1988" Culture, Space, History.Proceedings of IAPS 11. Eds. H. Pamir, V. İmamoğlu and N. Teymur. Ankara: METU Facultyof Architecture and Şevki Vanlı Foundation for Architecture, 5: 77-84.Stea, David and Mete Turan, 1993. Placemaking: Production of Built Environment in TwoCultures. Aldershot, Hants.: Avebury.FiguresFigure 1
  • 9. Figure 2Figure 3

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