Full Site | Text Only Site

On the Relation Between
Culture and Environment
Amos Rapoport


In this article I synthesize in a highly condensed form a body of work on culture-environment relations. This work has been published over a large period of time and in a variety of places and publications. This synthesis both reveals and makes explicit many connections only implicit so far. These connections can also be stated more concisely, thus making it more usable. Since it refers to my own work, it is written in essay form with references to a list of further readings (which is also a complete bibliography of my work specifically on this topic).1

I address this topic within the broader context of environment-behavior relations (EBR). In this way the role of culture can be seen in light of other aspects of this set of relationships. It is, therefore, not claimed that culture is the only relevant consideration although it is claimed that it is a central and inescapable one.

Major emphasis is placed on clarifying the concepts used and making the concepts and the relationships among them more operational. This is essential in order to make it possible to use these concepts in both analysis and design. A major goal here is to make the topic more concrete, specific and manageable since at the moment it is rather vague. It is like the weather: Everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it-mainly because they do not know how. At the same time the discussion is kept general to make it applicable to all cultures, all types of environments, all types of problems and so on. Examples will be found in the further readings.

Over the past few years culture-environment relations have been among the most active and lively areas of environment-behavior studies (EBS). Not only has this topic been prominent at meetings of the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA), but there are two series of conferences devoted specifically to this topic. This is also the case in other fields where the role and effects of culture, previously unrecognized, neglected, or minimized, have become influential. This is the case in areas as diverse as developmental disorders, sport, employment, development policies, language development, medicine and medical practice, and psychology (with cross-cultural psychology as a major field). One also finds the concept of culture and cultural approaches being applied to institutions, as in the use of "corporate culture" in office studies, and to professions (including architecture).

The reasons for these developments have to do with the inescapable and central role that culture plays in all aspects of human behavior, cognition, affect, preference, and meaning (although how central it is, the extent and strength of that influence, are empirical questions).

At its most basic, the centrality of culture involves an apparent paradox. On the one hand the possession of culture is typically seen as the defining attribute of humans, defining the species (Homo Sapiens Sapiens). As a defining attribute culture is an inescapable aspect of any human phenomenon, including how people shape environments, use them and interact with them. At the same time the possession of culture divides the single biological species into groups that are so different and varied that they can be seen as "pseudo-species." This variability of groups is also a very important attribute of humans and also central to understanding EBR and design properly conceived. These groups are defined by culture.

Note that this involves different user groups which are highly variable in their wants (and to a lesser extent needs). It also involves the meanings they give to environmental elements, their preferences and notions of environmental quality, images, ideals, and schemata. In addition, it applies to users as a whole, as opposed to designers who constitute a very specific, highly idiosyncratic group; they often do not share any of the above characteristics with most users. This also has major implications for design.

It is important to note that the nature of relevant groups is a rather under-researched topic. I have argued that children, the elderly, the urban poor in the third world, the handicapped, single parents and other "special user groups" encountered in literature may not be useful or appropriate. In some way "culture" is more relevant, cross-cutting the characteristics of such groups.

Culture and EBS
I approach the more specific reasons why the role of culture is inescapable from the perspective of EBS-as I do all aspects of environmental analysis and design -- because I regard this emergent discipline as the only valid starting point.

I have long argued that all specific problems and questions in EBS can be understood in terms of what I call the three basic questions of EBR (which thus define the field):

1. What are the characteristics of people, as members of the species, as individuals and as members of various groups ranging from families to societies that shape the environment and, in design, should shape the environment so that it is congruent with these characteristics and supportive of them?

2. In what ways do which attributes of environments affect what groups of people in which ways, under what sets of circumstances, why and how?

3. Given this two-way interaction of people and environments, they must be linked in some ways: What are the mechanisms that link them?

These are all researchable questions, and answers to them must be based on research. In turn, this research-based knowledge is the only valid basis for design, although this is not a topic I will discuss here.2 Here I argue that in all three of these basic questions, culture plays a major role.

In the first question, these characteristics are partly evolutionary and bio-social, partly psychological, and partly cultural. Culture itself evolved with humans and thus plays a role even at that level, including insights into how human environments evolved from hominid (and even animal) ones. As already mentioned, cross-cultural psychology is a major, rapidly growing field so that even psychological characteristics are influenced by culture to varying extents. Thus affective responses, evaluation, preference, and meaning tend to be much more culturally variable than cognition which, in turn, is more influenced by culture than is perception. Nothing needs to be said here about the role of cultural variables themselves.

The role of culture in the second question follows from group variability. Different groups are affected differently by the same attributes of environments. At the same time that different aspects of environments become salient to different groups, their preferences vary on the basis of their different evaluations of environmental quality based on differing values, ideals, images and schemata. Their choices also vary-and choice, or habitat selection, is the major effect of environments on people. The meanings which groups express through built environments (seen broadly as cultural landscapes), how they express them and how they decode such meanings also vary. Thus the variety of environments and their characteristics, and changes to them, are also a result of cultural variables.

In terms of the third question, a number of the mechanisms that link people and environments-perception, cognition, preference, affect, meaning, supportiveness, and congruence-are influenced by culture to varying extents (as already pointed out).

It follows that culture plays a role in all three of the basic questions of EBS. To reiterate: The extent, importance and strength of such influence and the specifics are empirical questions, i.e. to be answered through research; they are not matters of a priori decisions, guesswork, opinion or wishful thinking.

There are, of course, other formulations of EBS. I will briefly discuss one (by Gary Moore, Paul Tuttle and Sandra Howell3) and show that in it also, culture plays an inescapable role.

On this view, EBS can best be understood in terms of three components: settings and places, user groups, and socio-behavioral phenomena. Without arguing the case in detail, one can suggest that settings and "places"4 are culturally defined. What we call regions, cities, suburbs, dwellings, rooms of various kinds (e.g. living rooms, family rooms, dens, kitchens, bathrooms, studies, offices, seminar rooms), parks, streets and the many building types and their parts and so on and on, as well as the settings of which they are composed, are all culturally defined. User groups are at least partly a function of culture on the basis of my argument earlier. Finally, how people behave and their social structures are all culturally highly variable and can be seen as specific expressions of culture. Thus culture plays a role in socio-behavioral phenomena.

I think it is safe to suggest that culture will be found to be inescapable in any other conceptualization of EBS.

What is meant by "culture"?
It is usual to find the term "culture" used without further explanation or clarification. I have also been using it so far as though it were a self-evident concept which needs no explicit discussion or clarification of its nature, i.e. a definition of what it means. But in fact that is highly necessary and I will do so before I turn to ways of making it operational so that it can be used in analysis or design.

The term is recent and was first used in its current anthropological sense in 1871 (by Tylor) who defined it as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."5 This usage is very different to its more common meaning (still found) where it refers to high culture as opposed to other products of human life and where it is seen as analogous to "civilization," whereas in the present sense all human groups possess culture.

Anthropologists agree about the centrality of "culture" in defining humanity but tend to disagree about definitions. In 1952, two prominent American anthropologists, Kroeber and Kluckhohn, reviewed numerous definitions of culture.6

There have been many more definitions and conceptualizations of culture since then. Various classifications have been proposed for grouping these various definitions (Kroeber and Kluckhohn propose six classes). Using a different set of categories it can be argued that for purposes of EBS it is useful to think that all definitions fall into one of three general views of culture. One defines it as a way of life typical of a group; the second as a system of meanings, symbols, and schemata transmitted through symbolic codes; the third as a set of adaptive strategies for survival related to ecology and resources. These are complementary rather than conflicting. Thus particular cultures began as a group's adaptive strategies within their ecological setting. These become encoded in cognitive schemata, symbols, and some vision of an ideal, which are passed on to new generations. These, in turn, lead to particular ways of living and behaving, including designed environments as settings for the kind of people a particular group sees as normative, and the particular lifestyle which is significant and typical, distinguishing this group from others.

Recently there has been a tendency of a variety of fields to suggest that in making inferences about unobservable entities (which "culture" most certainly is, being a definitional concept subsuming the myriad things people do) it may be more useful to ask what they do rather than what they are (and then how they do these things). One can apply this approach to "culture", asking what culture does rather than what it is. Once again, at least three answers can be found.

The first is that culture may be regarded as the distinctive means whereby cultures maintain their identity, i.e. its purpose is precisely to create the "pseudo-species" mentioned earlier. A second answer is that culture acts as a control mechanism, it carries information that directs how behavior and artifacts are to be created. It has been compared metaphorically to both a blueprint and to DNA, and described as a design for living. A third answer is that a major role of culture is to act as a structure or framework that gives meaning to particulars. 7 Again, these types of answers are complementary rather than conflicting. In fact, all six of the approaches to culture reviewed above can be shown to be complementary.

Different types of definitions and conceptualizations are useful for particular types of questions and problems, of different degrees of generality, at different scales, and consequently for different disciplines and fields. Even within EBS (and, by extension, environmental design) various formulations may be found to be useful for different types of questions and problems. There is, however, another way of addressing the issue of the role of culture in EBS and of dealing with the question of why, despite so much talk about culture, it has not been used very much. Various reasons for this can be given, but I will discuss one here, suggesting that to become useful, "culture" must be made more operational.

Operationalizing the Concept of Culture
I suggest that as it stands the concept of culture is not very useful in EBS - in fact it is essentially unusable. There are two reasons for this.

The first concerns the nature of statements about the relation between culture and environments. These tend to assume implicitly that culture and designed environments are equivalent units, in the sense that they are equal in "scale." That is not the case. Culture is a vast domain, built form (however broadly defined) is a small part of it and also a subset of it. The latter is, as it were, embedded in the former. This makes the nature of the relationships between them, and the nature of the translation process of one into the other, rather difficult to grasp. Without resolving either the nature of the relationship or the translation process, it is essential that this difficulty be borne in mind.

The second reason concerns the impossibility of using the concept "culture" in trying to understand environments and how they are used, or to design environments for culture. It can be suggested that "culture" is both too abstract and too global (or general) to be useful. It is often useful to clarify excessively broad and abstract concepts by "dismantling" them and then studying the components and the ways in which they interrelate with each other and with other variables (e.g. components of built environments). Over the years I have developed two complementary ways of responding to the twin problems of excessive abstractness and excessive generality.

The first addresses the view that "culture" is too abstract. It begins with the frequent reference to "socio-cultural" variables, and takes the position that "social" and "cultural" are distinct and different. "Cultural" refers to ideational variables, the blueprint for the social variables which are then seen as referring to more concrete manifestations or expressions of culture. Important among these are the actual potentially observable social expressions of culture such as family and kinship structures, social networks, roles, statuses, social institutions, and the like. This can be diagrammed as follows:

While it is virtually impossible to link culture to built environments, it is feasible to relate them to family and kinship structures, clans or notices, religions or recreational institutions, sex and other roles, social networks, or status hierarchies.

It should also be emphasized that "culture" is a theoretical construct, it exists by definition and is a conceptual summary shorthand (and proposed explanation) for particular conjunctions of a great variety of human phenomena. No one has even seen or ever will see or observe culture, only its effects, expressions, or products. One is thus making inferences about an unobservable entity; that presents no insurmountable problems if the nature of that entity is borne in mind.

The discussion immediately above leads to the second problem-that "culture" is too broad or global. There is a second way of dismantling this concept which I have used and advocated since the 1970's. This begins with the observation that it is not possible to link culture and environments at that level of generality. To be asked to analyze the relation between culture and environment, or to "design for culture" is to be given an impossible task. Greater specificity does not help: To design housing for culture is indeed more specific but neither easier nor more feasible. To consider housing for a particular culture is still more specific but still impossible. Part of the problem stems from the terms "environment" and "housing" both being unusable without further definition, clarification, and "dismantling." Part, however, has to do with the excessive generality of the term "culture."

The response mentioned above depends on the notion that it may be possible to show that particular parts of the environment are congruent with, or supportive of, particular "lower-level" components or expressions of culture. While social variables are useful, as already discussed, I have used a particular sequence of increasing specificity going from culture through world views and values to lifestyles and activities.

World views, the way members of a particular culture "see" the world has some utility. The concept is still abstract and not easy to use. Values are more specific and can be useful. The study of environmental preference and choice is explicitly based on values, as is much of micro-economics. The concept of lifestyle has proven particularly useful for the study of a great variety of environment-behavior interactions, and for the design of environments. Lifestyle itself has been defined in many different ways, and these definitions have been reviewed by W. Michelson and P. Reed (in an unpublished report). This review leads to an operational definition: Lifestyle is the result of choices about how to allocate resources. This definition I have found most useful, have used since the 1970's, and have refined and suggested how it can be represented graphically in the form of profiles.8

Lifestyle leads to activities and activity systems, the specifics of which begin to explain the diversity of environments and hence their links with culture. Together, lifestyle and activities are extremely useful in analyzing and designing environments. Lifestyle groups are extremely useful since most other criteria for group membership such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, caste, occupation, tribe, and ideology, historically used to define groups, can be expressed in terms of lifestyle (which is increasingly used in marketing, advertising, consumer research and housing design by developers). Activity systems are the most concrete and planners and designers are relatively familiar with using activity analysis.

The two types of dismantling can be combined into a single diagram, the size of arrows suggesting the relative feasibility and ease of using the various components for both analyzing and designing environments.

What Is "Environment"?
I have been using the term "environment" as though it also was unproblematic and needed no discussion or clarification. Yet, as in the case of "culture" and many other overly vague and broad terms, it is essential to try to dismantle such terms, to define them operationally and to conceptualize them in ways that are useful for the problem at hand-in this case, for dealing with environment-behavior relations generally, and culture-environment relations in particular. Among a number of ways of conceptualizing the term "environment" I will discuss three complementary (rather than conflicting) conceptualizations which I find useful. These are:

(i). The environment as cultural landscape.

(ii). The environment as the organization of space, time, meaning and communication.

(iii). The environment as a system of settings within which systems of activities take place.

(i). The environment as cultural landscape.
The designed environment now includes the whole earth because I take design to mean any modification by humans of the face of the earth. This is a much broader definition of design than is common, but it is an essential one. Designed environments include such human modifications as the planting or clearing of forests, the diversion of rivers and clearing of fields in certain patterns, the placement of roads and dams, of pubs and cities; roadside stands and second hand car lots are as much designed environments as glamorous office blocks and cultural centers; suburbs, nomadic camps or villages, and roadside strips are as much an act of design as architects' or planners' activities of dreaming up ideal cities or creating high-style buildings. For one thing such apparently mundane activities are by far the most important in their impact on the earth. The way neighborhoods, cities, regions and whole countries look depends, in the final analysis, on the design activity of many individuals and groups both in the past and present.

What all this activity has in common is that it represents a choice out of all the possible alternatives. The specific nature of the choices made tends to be lawful, to reflect the culture of the people concerned. In fact, one way of looking at culture is in terms of the most common choices made. Systematic choices lead to style, and make different places different. This consistent system of choices also decides how people dress and behave, what they eat and their table manners while eating. It decides the way they interact and structure space, whether they stand close or far apart, whether they touch or not, how loudly they talk and what gestures they use.

These recognizably different places comprise cultural landscapes. It is important to note that people do not live just in buildings, but move from buildings to settings in other buildings, to outdoor settings, both built and "natural." The result is that they use the cultural landscape that is the subject matter of the study of EBR, and of environmental design. The term comes from geography, and refers to any part of the surface of the earth that has been modified by human (i.e. cultural) action. But by now the whole earth has been transformed by such action, including the most remote and "natural" looking rainforests and deserts. At issue is the extent to which they have been modified, ranging from those least modified (which we call "natural") to settlements which have been most modified.

The study of cultural landscapes raises a series of most interesting and profound issues, only one of which can be explored here.9 It is related to the fact that cultural landscapes are rarely "designed" in the common meaning of this term (although parts of them may be). This draws attention to one of their most interesting and intriguing attributes: The fact that although not "designed" they have an unmistakable and easily identifiable character. If one knows the "code," a single view may suffice to identify such a landscape. This raises the question of how such landscapes come to be and are recognizable, how the many independent decisions of innumerable people over long periods of time come to "add up".

An obvious answer is that somehow the decisions taken and the choices made (and, to reiterate, design is a process of choosing among alternatives) are consistent, systematic and orderly. In effect, they produce a style which is best defined as the outcome of systematic choices made over time. The fact that cultural landscapes "add up" to recognizable wholes in spite of the apparently uncoordinated activity of many actors over long periods of time implies that the people involved must share schemata. We have already seen that one definition of culture is precisely in terms of shared schemata, so that groups differ in terms of their schemata and the ideals that they embody. Such schemata can refer to ideal landscape which may be symbolic, cosmological or non-empirical. Schemata, in turn, are translated into form by people who apply systems of rules that try to re-create, however imperfectly, the ideal landscapes embodied in schemata. Such systems of rules can be formal or informal, unwritten or written and provide the frameworks within which the apparently independent decisions "add up." The decisions and choices are made by following rule systems, which can be seen as specific aspects of the habitual behavior resulting from culture and also as being related to the definition of culture as a framework for assembling particulars, or a set of instructions, or a design for living.

(ii).The environment as the organization of space, time, meaning and communication.
Design as here discussed is a process of organization of the four variables listed above. Architects have typically emphasized space to the exclusion of the other variables. Even "space," however, is a much more complex notion than many architects have assumed. Even physical space, the intervals, distances and separations among elements (both fixed features and semi-fixed features) concern not only those among objects and things, but between those and people (non-fixed features), and people and people. Moreover, it is quite easy to show that these are many different "types" of space in addition to physical space: human and non-human, sacred or religious space, abstract geometric space, symbolic space, behavioral space, perceived space, subjective space, experiential or sensory space (in all sensory modalities, not just vision), cognitive space, and social space - and most of these vary with culture. Each could be discussed in detail and numerous examples and references given. Moreover, this is not a complete list.10

Since design involves the organization of the environment, it involves the organization of space. However, it is not clear which type of space is involved, nor how one is transformed into another. It is essential to know that, because otherwise environments are not comprehensible. For example, if one seeks an organization based on abstract geometric space, then one based on social space or sacred space will be incomprehensible. Also, in given places reversals may occur with changes in schemata, values, lifestyles, etc. From this point of view, therefore, there are no chaotic or disorganized environments - only different orders which need to be understood. Environments seen as "chaotic" are those not understood, not liked, or inappropriate for a given observer or user.

Space organization alone, however, does not represent the environment. It is already clear that the environment is also, and very (or most) importantly the organization of meaning; elements (whether objects or people) are arranged in space; sizes, colors and materials used, and so on in order to communicate particular meanings. Users then react to, and interpret environments in terms of meanings - and those vary among different groups of users, between users and designers, i.e. they vary with culture.

The environment is also as much temporal as it is spatial. Different groups organize time differently, for example, arranging activities linearly or simultaneously. They also value time very differently, the result being different tempos and rhythms of activities. Individuals and groups are also separated in time as well as in space, and can achieve privacy through scheduling as well as through spatial organization (or by using physical elements, or through other mechanisms). Moreover the same space can become different settings, so that it is used differently at different times, has different rules and means different things at different times, with different people present. Environments are also avoided differently at different times, so that safety, accessibility, images, and mental maps, say of a given urban area, will be very different at different times.

Thus images, schemata, and meanings impose constraints on people's location in space and time, and their movements, so that the organization of space and time are intimately connected. Such constraints on movement are based on the meaning that given areas and times have, and, in turn effect communication. Thus the organization of meaning and communication are linked. Moreover, the organization of space and time both reflects and influences the organization of communication. Thus environments used by humans (and, in fact, by many if not all animals) involves the organization of time, meaning and communication as well as of space. The joint effect of all four can be captured by bearing in mind, asking and trying to answer the question: who does what, where, when, including/excluding whom (and why)?

I will leave it to the readers to relate these four variables to the various components and expressions of culture. They will find that the task is feasible and, with a little bit of practice, not too difficult.

(iii) The environment as a system of settings (within which systems of activities take place).
As I use it here the concept of "setting" is a combination of the idea of a behavior setting (as developed by Roger Barker and his students) and that of a role setting (as used by Erving Goffman). A setting comprises a milieu with an outgoing system of activities, where the milieu and the activities are linked by rules as to what is appropriate and hence permitted or prohibited. These rules, while always specific to setting and situation also vary for different groups, i.e. with culture. The physical attributes are cues that act as mnemonics, reminding people about the situation and hence about appropriate behavior, making effective co-action possible.11

Settings are not the same as neighborhoods, streets, buildings or even dorms. Any one of these may contain a number of settings, at larger scales very many. Therefore, in terms of settings, spatial organization is at least partially independent of the plans of settlements, buildings or rooms as defined by walls and the like. A single plan unit can comprise different settings at one time. Moreover, the same space can become different settings, or systems of settings, at different times. For example, a vacant piece of land may become a market, a political rally or a theatrical performance (each of which comprises multiple settings in itself), a soccer field, a playground and so on. In such cases people and objects are used to establish the setting boundaries, and to provide cues within the larger space defined by fixed-feature elements.

Settings cannot be considered singly but are organized into systems within which systems of activities take place. They are organized and linked in varying and complex ways not only in space, in terms of their proximities, linkages and separations but also in time-in terms of their sequential ordering. They are also organized in terms of their centrality, the rules that apply and which cues communicate them, who is included or excluded and so on. All of these are culturally variable. It follows that the extent of any system and the settings of which it is composed in any given case, cannot be assumed a priori but need to be discovered. This applies not only to the dwelling in its larger setting, what I have called the house-settlement systems, but also to the dwelling itself which can be shown to be a system of settings within which given systems of activities occur. Unless this is taken into account, cross-cultural comparisons of dwellings are likely to be highly misleading. It also follows that what happens in one part of the system greatly influences what happens, or does not happen, elsewhere. This is because activities occur within the whole cultural landscape which can be understood as a system of settings.12

By conceptualizing environments in general, and specific environments (such as dwellings or neighborhoods) in these ways it becomes feasible and, in fact, not too difficult to relate them to the various components and expressions of culture as discussed earlier. This is not feasible if that is not done, either for environment or culture.

The variability of environments--on relating activity systems to environments
I have already referred to the variability of human groups (defined by their cultures). As one example, consider that today there are still approximately 6,000 languages in existence, with some small areas (like Papua-Niugini) having hundreds. Other aspects of culture expressed in human groups are also highly variable. One of these which I find increasingly to be most important is the variability of built environments. The question is why the relatively few things people do in, for example, dwellings (which all groups possess and which therefore provides a good example)13 requires so many different types and forms of dwellings, distributed in such different ways over the face of the earth, in such different types and forms of settlements and so on. The answer has to do with culture and, more specifically to the way I conceptualized it earlier.

The best way of beginning to answer the question of why environments such as dwellings and settlements should be so varied when what people do in them is so much less varied is to begin with the notion of activities. As is the case with "culture" and "environment" (and even "dwelling"), "activity" is not a self-evident concept and also needs to be clarified. This involves some measure of dismantling.

Recall that activities are expressions of lifestyle, values, and ultimately of culture. But, at a finer level of resolution, any activity can be seen as involving four components. These are:

The activity itself
How it is carried out
How it is associated with other activities and combined into activity systems
The meaning of the activity

It is important to note that variability with lifestyle and, ultimately, culture goes up as one moves from the activity itself, through a way of carrying it out, the systems of which it is part, and its meaning. As just one example consider cooking. All people cook, in fact Lévi-Strauss regards it as a major discriminant between the human and the non-human: Only humans transform raw food into cooked.14 How people cook (or otherwise transform food) is already extraordinarily varied. How cooking is associated with other activities varies even more. The meaning of cooking, its ritual or social significance is the most variable. This also involves a shift in emphasis from the manifest (instrumental) aspects of any activity to its latent aspects such as meaning. The specific cooking arrangements (including the design of what we call kitchens) responds to the latent aspects - hence its variability. This also applies to all other settings, and to other activities - working, shopping, and recreation.

It follows that because the variability of activities increases as one moves to their latent aspects, this begins to explain the extraordinary variety of built environments meant to accommodate, be congruent with, and supportive of, apparently many fewer activities: Links with specific cultures are more pronounced at the latent end. This also suggests that the distinction commonly made between "function" and "meaning" is misconceived. Meaning is not only an important aspect of function but it is often the most important function because it leads to the specific attributes of settings and environments. Thus, this type of analysis of activities (linked through lifestyle and values to culture) is critical both in analysis, i.e. in explaining why environments are the way they are, and in design, i.e. in suggesting how they should be so as to respond to users in terms of their culture. It helps to understand the different orders, differing notions of comfort and environmental quality, different standards and responses to climate and site, the use or non-use of available technology and so on. Such analysis can also begin to substitute users' interpretations of all of those for designers' interpretations.

Also, since one cannot look at single activities but must consider systems of activities, variability increases there also. Such systems vary among different groups in terms of the specifics of these systems, the order or sequence in which individual activities occur, the nature of these sequences, how activities are linked in space and time (where and when they occur, their proximities and separations), who is included or excluded and so on. Since systems of activities occur in systems of settings, as discussed earlier, and what happens in some settings depends on what happens in others, it is important to "distribute" activities among settings. The relationships between these two systems are highly variable also in terms of schemata, meanings, and the rules that apply in various settings. It is these that make certain uses "inappropriate" in certain settings and in addition to the problem of "inappropriate" orders discussed earlier, leads to the rejection of certain environments, to the extent that they may be labeled "slums" on that basis.

Lifestyle and environment
Activities follow directly from lifestyles which themselves reflect values. These are still very concrete and operational, but also more general than activities. This makes them a particularly useful aspect of culture in relation to environments (see Fig. 3).

I will, therefore, discuss just a few aspects of lifestyle in relation to built environments.

Recall that one of the definitions of culture was in terms of the way of life of a group and, in that sense lifestyles help define groups. The many variables that have been used to define groups cross-culturally and through history, such as age, sex, initiation, ethnicity, race, ideology, religion, caste, tribe, occupation, and class tend to become relevant regarding environments only when they lead to specific lifestyles. These also tend to be particularly useful today, when many of the above variables do not in themselves lead to specific environments and when, say in the U.S., one can belong to more than one of the traditional categories, it is the resultant lifestyle that is relevant. This also applies to the various "special user groups" used in EBS and design. Thus "lifestyle" alone needs to be considered in this connection. This has proved most useful in a variety of other fields, such as advertising, marketing, developer housing design and so on, as already mentioned.

Lifestyle itself, like culture, has been defined in many different ways. These definitions have been reviewed and an operational definition of lifestyle derived,15 which I have been using since the 1970's and which I find most useful. This defines lifestyle as the result of the choices people make about how to allocate resources (money, time, effort and so on). This can be further operationalized and expressed graphically as a profile that makes it easy to visualize and to handle.16

There is another set of reasons why lifestyle is so useful. The first has to do with the fact that a major effect of environments on people (the second of the three basic questions of EBS) is through choice, through habitat selection. In effect, people leave undesirable or unsuitable environments and move towards those positively evaluated (within certain constraints, of course)17. The two sets of choices will then tend to be congruent. People will make them congruent to obtain or achieve environments congruent with their lifestyles and supportive of them and this is further improved through modification.

The choice of environments also comprises a set of attributes or qualities which can also be represented as a profile of environmental quality, and the two profiles can be matched. This process is, once again, both feasible and not too difficult.18 That choice is also clearly modified by various constraints that determine how closely one can approach an ideal environmental quality profile.

Design itself can be visualized as a choice process - what, over the years, I have called the choice model of design. On this view choices are made about which courses of action are to be made among alternatives. In this process certain criteria are used to decide which possibilities to include or exclude. I have already discussed in connection with cultural landscapes the role of schemata, ideals and the like in this process and also the role of rules that lead to systematic choice. The process represented in this model is general and applies to vernacular, popular and high style design of products, buildings and cultural landscapes. What varies are the schemata and ideal, the criteria used, their order of application, who applies them (i.e. makes choices) and the time spans involved.19 Much more could be said about this model of design and how it relates to various aspects of culture. At this point I just wish to draw attention, once again, to the common theme of choice in both lifestyle and design, i.e. the making of environments compared to the choosing and their subsequent modification above. What I am emphasizing is the common theme of choice in lifestyle and these other aspects of environments that help in relating the two.

Social variables and environment
The third aspect or expression of culture which I suggested was particularly useful in relation to environments was social variables. It can be shown fairly easily that the types of variables listed - social networks, status, roles, institutions, kinship and family - are rather easily related to specific features and attributes of environments. For example, social networks can help define urban neighborhoods and even larger units, explain the use of urban space and settings and can also plan a most useful role in housing analysis and design.20 Status is easily related to location, space organization and access, size, colors, materials and the like.21 Institutions such as recreation, commerce, shopping and the like can be shown to vary among different groups and can easily be related to the settings which they require. There is currently a large and growing literature on the effect of changing sex roles and family structure on housing, neighborhoods and other types of environments. Changes in kinship structures play a major role in developing countries and can be directly linked to changes in a large variety of settings and environments. In other words, once again the point is made - whereas "culture" as such cannot be related to environments, social variables like other aspects of culture can relatively easily be related to various components of environments.

This article has argued both for the centrality of culture in environmental design and for the difficulty, if not impossibility of using it at that level of generality. I have outlined a particular approach to conceptualizing both "culture" and "environment," suggesting ways to make these terms operational and hence usable.

I will, therefore, leave at this point and suggest two things. First, if the argument makes sense, to follow up the various points in the (selected) list of further readings. Second, actually to try the suggested approach on various specific examples - either those in the readings or those relevant to, or of interest to, the readers. Only in these ways can this outline become more than what it is. But presenting it is the first, and essential, step.

Full Site | Text Only Site