Should Architecture Mean Anything? 2005

Boğaç, C. (2005). ‘Should Architecture Mean Anything? Explorations into Approaches to Study Environmental Meaning in Architecture’, Proceedings of Research Institute for the Built and Human Environment (BuHu),5th International Postgraduate Research Conference In The Built And Human Environment, 11th – 15th April 2005, The University of Salford, UK, 2005, pp.312-320.


The way in which a way of life is translated into an architectural frame is often considered to be one of the main issues in environmental design. Any building belongs to an environment and forms part of a larger context; the environmental aspect of architecture however, is still ‘blank’. Architecture should be more than a play of forms. An architect’s task should be to plan or produce a meaningful environment. In designing environments, the major issue is to find valuable approaches to scientific studies. The problem of ‘meaning’ in architecture is hardly understood and there is much research to be done. In this paper, the origins of human-environment studies are presented in order to identify the importance of studying ‘meaning’ in architecture. In this way, previous studies on environmental meaning, semiotic and environmental meaning approaches are analyzed by contrasting them with a third approach: ‘ecological’. The main focus is to concentrate on theories that have potential to develop an ecological approach. For this purpose, two different concepts, ‘affordance’ and ‘existentialism’ will be discussed in order to develop a model in which to study the ecological approach, and in turn, work towards drawing a conclusion for further research and application into environmental problem-solving. The analysis revealed that the semiotic approach has focused too much on the role of signs in communication, that is, in the transmission of secondhand experience. The Environmental Psychology approach, on the other hand, has accentuated individual differences in environmental cognition at the expense of discovering common traits in the ecological niche of the human special. The ecological approach is a far more difficult subject of study, but also a more enthralling one. It indicates direct experience of the organism and environment conformity process on the basis of ‘theory of affordance’. However, the theory of affordance alone does not answer the question of how people become sensitive to existence meanings in the environment. At that point, theory of ‘existential meaning’ opens a new perspective to develop ecological approach. With this theory, it can easily be seen how meaning is inherent.

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