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AMOS RAPOPORT

The Meaning of
the Built Environment
A NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION APPROACH.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amos Rapoport is Distinguished Professor in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has taught at the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney in
Australia, at the University of California, Berkeley, and at University College, London, and has held
visiting appointments in Israel, Turkey, Great Britain, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, and elsewhere. He
has also lectured by invitation and been a Visiting Fellow in many countries.

Professor Rapoport is one of the founders of the new field of Environment Behavior Studies. His work has
focused mainly on the role of cultural variables, cross-cultural studies, and theory development and
synthesis. In addition to the present book, he is the author of House Form and Culture (originally
published in 1969 and translated into five languages), Human Aspects of Urban Form (19771, and History
and Precedent in Environmental Design (1990). In addition, he has published over two hundred papers,
chapters, and essays, many of them invited, and is the editor or coeditor of four books.

He has been the editor in chief of Urban Ecology and associate editor of Environment and Behavior, and
he has been on the editorial boards of many professional journals. In 1980 the Environmental Design
Research Association honored him with its Distinguished Career Award. Professor Rapoport has been
the recipient of a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Graham Foundation
Fellowship. During the academic year 1982-83 he was a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge
University, of which he is now a Life Member. He has also been a member of the program committee
(1987-1988) and the jury (1989) for the International City Design competition.
PREFACE
After long neglect, the subject of meaning in the built environment began to receive
considerable attention when this book was completed in 1980. This interest has continued, and
indeed grown, since then. It is a subject that has concerned me on and off for a number of
years. In this book I use my own work and much other material to show how a particular set of
ideas and a particular point of view can provide a framework that makes sense of a highly
varied set of materials.

I approach the problem from the perspective of environment-behavior studies (EBS), which I
see as a new discipline, at once humanistic and scientific, concerned with developing an
explanatory theory of environment-behavior relations (ERR). As usual, I emphasize the role ol
cultural variables and use examples from diverse cultures and periods, as well as a variety of
environments and sources, to allow for more valid generalizations than are possible if one
considers only the high-style tradition, only the recent past, only the Western cultural tradition,
and only the formal research literature. At the same time, I emphasize the contemporary United
States because it also seerrls important to consider the usefulness of this approach to the
present. Although I have added new material, much has also been left out because details and
examples can be multiplied endlessly. The attempt is to provide a framework for thinking about
the topic and also both to illustreite and to recreate some of the reasoning and working
processes as an example of a particular way of approaching problems. This involve: working
with small pieces of information and evidence from varied fields and disciplines that use
different approaches. How these intersect and become mutually relevant is important-both
generally (Koestler, 1964) and in EBS more specifically. The test of any valid approach or model
is, in the first instance, precisely its ability to relate and bring together previously unrelated
findings and facts. Since many were added in October 1989 (in the Epilogue), the approach
seems to be working as intended. Since both the number and the diversity of studies that a
particular approach can subsume is important, a large number of references were added in the
Epilogue, although this review of the literature also is neither systematic nor complete. This has
implications for how to read this book. It can be read as a narrative, describing the argument in
concise form, and any section can be expanded by following the references-or all the references
could be followed to elaborate and expand the argument, revealing its full complexity. Since the
new references have not been integrated with the old, both sets of references need to be used.

Frequently it is the unforeseen and not always intuitively obvious relationships that are
important, in the environment itself (see, for example, Rapoport, 1968a, 1977) and in the
development of new fields. They are frequently at the intersection of two or more previously
unrelated disciplines-from social psychology and biochemistry to molecular biology,
sociobiology, and EBS. I approach the topic from the latter tradition, recent as it is, and
emphasize that it is significant more for how one thinks and what one considers than for specific
information. I suggest that the way of thinking described in this book is of interest in this
connection. It is also of interest because it is relatively direct and simple, unlike other
approaches to meaning. It is also applicable to a wide range of environments (preliterate,
vernacular, popular, and high-style) and topics (landscapes, urban forms, buildings, furnishings,
clothing-even social behavior and the body itself). It is also applicable cross-culturally and, when
data are available, historically. We may well be dealing with a process that is pancultural but in
which the specifics are related to particular cultures, periods, and contexts. It also seems, as the
Epilogue suggests, that mechanisms are being discovered that may explain how the processes
that are postulated work.
As the dates of some of my earlier articles suggest, the ideas discussed in this book have been
developing for some time. The specific formulation and basic argument, however, were first
stated very much in the form in which they appear here in an invited lecture at the Department
of Architecture of the University of Washington in Seattle in November 1975. I further developed
this at a number of presentations at various universities between 1976 and 1978, began the
manuscript in mid-1978, and worked on it in my spare time until completion of the final draft in
March 1980. The School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-
Milwaukee helped with the typing. Some minor revisions and bibliographic additions were made
in mid-1982. In October 1989, in addition to preparing the Epilogue and the references for it, I
corrected a number of typographical errors and updated a few entries in the original
bibliography.
1
THE IMPORTANCE OF MEANING

In what ways and on what basis do people react to environments?


This is clearly an aspect of one of the three basic questions of man-
environment studies, that which addresses the nature of the mecha-
nisms that link people and environments (see Rapoport, 1977: 1-4).
This book as a whole will discuss the nature of one such mechanism
and suggest a specific approach useful in that analysis Within the
framework of that approach a number of specific methods can be
used. One can use observation of behavior; one can use interviews,
questionnaires, and other instruments; one can analyze historical and
crosscultural examples and trace patterns, regularities, and con-
stanc~es; and so forth. One can also analyze written and pictorial
material that has not been produced consciously to evaluate environ-
ments but in an unstructured, unself-conscious manner for other pur-
poses. These may include, among many others, travel tlescriptions,
novels, stories, songs, newspaper reports, illustrations, sets for film or
television, and advertisements. Such material tends to show how
people see environments, how they feel about them, what they like or
dislike about them, and which attitudes seem to be self-evident (see
Rapoport, 1969b, 1977).
One of my earliest published articles is an example of this type of
analysis, and makes a useful starting point for the argument. This is
because it fits into the model even though it clearly was not intended to
do so. Using it as a starting point reinforces one important princ:iple-
that rnodels of environment-behavior interaction must not only allow
findings to be cumulative and allow us to make predictions (at least
eventually); they must also make sense of a large variety of findings