Outward appearances, inward beliefs? : identifying and responding to the cultural context in the architectural design process

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Wellington, Cynthia A.
Sinclair, Brian R.
Issue Date
Thesis (M. Arch.)
Department of Architecture
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This thesis has focused on the development of a design process to strengthen the human-environment relationship through emphasizing the identity of place. By exploring and researching a comjnunity's cultural context, some sense of societal identity can be uncovered. However, it is in identifying a culture's values and traditions through its folklore that architects can begin to comprehend the meanings behind the symbols, stories, myths, music and rituals present within a community.Secondary research into the cultural-architectural relationship revealed what was coined in the 1960's and 70's by such scholars as Ian McHarg, Amos Rapoport, Christopher Alexander, and John Zeisel as "man-environment relationships." This research spoke of timelessness and connections of architecture to anthropology, archaeology and sociology.The question that arose from this investigation was, "How does one find the identity or spirit of a p/ace?" Through its people? Through its relics? What is missing as an important piece of the puzzle in the connection? Merely looking at a context or culture does not provide one with the underlying meanings of symbols, gestures, rituals, building practices and social values. One needs to see, listen, comprehend and internalize the culture and context of a place if one is to understand the culture in which the building exists. The connection with folklore and folklore studies became an avenue to be researched in finding this missing piece of the puzzle.The research method used to identify folklore within a given parameter was of the participatory-observation approach. Living for six months in the community started to unveil traits, customs and actions only primary research can reveal. Music, art, stories, rituals, and myths are the means by which people cannot otherwise explain values, thoughts and messages. These instruments. of folklore are the segways into understanding the people of a place. The primary and secondary sources of research set the stage for the conceptual design development of a civic structure within the cultural context of the community. What evolved from this architectural design experience is a scenario for this process to be integrated into architectural curricula at the college level. In creating designers that value unique identities of "place," the building of unique places respective of cultural context foster identity and meaning in an ever-changing global society.Architects have the challenge of designing in areas of the world that possess a variety of differing cultural contexts. How architects respond through creating the built environment in the 21St century will have lasting affects upon the identity of those cultures and their communities.