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Title: Ecology, culture and cognition : a text book on the principles of environmental design
Author: Ujam, Faozi A. R.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3540 7888
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1987
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[This] study aims to explore the notion that human achievements, i.e., cultural, technological, architectural, etc., are an outcome of the interaction between ecology, culture and cognitive structure. Such interaction is thought to set out a condition of stability, compatibility and fitness which characterises various vernacular cultures. These notions ought to be investigated and hence utilised in design ideas and design processes. To illustrate the various aspects of this interaction, the thesis has adopted a holistic view which incorporates many elements that underly the environmental phenomena; its structure, its laws of evolution and its adaptive processes. The following is a brief summary of each chapter of the thesis. Chapter One: In any design research it is more important to arrive at appropriate identification of a problem before being preoccupied with 'assumptions' to solve that problem on the basis of its 'external' appearance. Each environment has a specific structure which accommodates in a certain pattern its various components such as the social boundaries of interaction, the particular physical structure, building patterns, behaviour, mode of thought, economic system and so on. It is only by tracing the history of development of each of these components within this structure that a solution can be fitting and relevant. The chapter reviews some problems and controversies raised by adopting a misfit technology and its implication on various cultures as well as on Architecture. Chapter Two: This chapter suggests a general theoretical framework which rejects the harmful and unifying effects of those 'fragmented' approaches within design disciplines. In fact they came as an outcome of the passion for misfit technologies, the non - environmental views of culture and ideologies normally associated with them. It is hence the interplay of the three elements of Ecology, Culture and Cognition that result in architectural quality most fit to its context. The objectives of such a framework are: the protection of the natural ecosystems and their manifestations in design; the establishment of a self - sustaining way of life; and finally, setting policies that give priority to bettering the ecological qualities as a basis for improving other aspects. Chapter Three: In this chapter a broadening perspective is introduced to define ecology according to its concerns for the conditions and interactions that determine the distribution and abundance of organism in a certain setting. The perspective includes culture as well as the other biological and physical factors on the basis of considering culture as a manifestation of man's adaptation to that setting. It is very important to consider the role of ecology in differentiating various societies; their cultures and architectural forms. Chapter Four: The second element, culture, according to the school of cultural- ecology, is made up of the modes of thought, the ideologies, energy systems, artifacts, the organisation of social relations, norms and beliefs and the total range of customary behaviour, all of which have been influenced by the physical setting. The concept of 'cultural core', introduced by J. Steward, is adopted for its importance in distinguishing cultural features in terms of their physical belonging. It helps, hence, to advocate solutions more fitting to their 'authentic context' in the face of the bustling, overlapping and usually more abstract cultural features of the external phase (secondary features). Chapter Five: Knowledge is the central element in design, and cognition has been defined as the activity of knowing: the acquisition, organisation, and use of knowledge. The human cognitive structure selects and interprets environmental information in the construction of its own knowledge, rather than passively copying the information. The mind does this to make the environment 'then' fit in with its own existing mental framework. Chapter Six: Because man and nature form two elements in one system, man has accumulated a profound knowledge of the various elements in nature including natural materials. This knowledge is x embeded so deeply in his psychological structure that his innate disposition towards natural elements has been extended to include all interactional modes, subsystems and visual structures which they initiate. The concept of schemata was introduced within cognitive psychology to explain some controversial issues in the field of accepting, restoring and processing information. Schema is defined generally as a data structure for representing the generic concepts stored in memory. There are schemata representing our knowledge about events, actions, objects, etc. They also contain the network of interrelations between these concepts. It has been suggested that the source of this knowledge which schema represents comes from one of two resources; 1) immediate information of the physical objects, 2) the innate and stored knowledge in the human mind. Both resources, however, can provide information to what the study calls experiential schemata. The important contribution the study offers is the concept of the cosmocognitive schemata. They are the schemata that represent the point where both organism and the universe meet and represent, man's extension in space and time. With these schemata we can explain many phenomena in which people of totally different cultures, different experiential schemata, respond and react similarly. In other words, the various authentic capacities of objects, their various properties and potential dispositions towards interactions are all taking precedence in the organism's neural system. The concluding notion of this important chapter is that man has been vividly and maybe unself- consciously utilising the 'cosmocognitive' knowledge in the adaptational processes, blended with activities of the experiential knowledge, in the elaboration of the various architectural forms and patterns. Therefore, it is suggested that it is extremely important to establish a theory of environmental quality based on cognitive knowledge. Chapter Seven and Chapter Eight: In these two chapters, the study introduces the most influential factors which define the ecological setting in general. These factors are considered as being the permanent constructs of human cognitive knowledge and hence have to be well studied before making any decision concerning the nature of the design solution proposed to any society. Chapter Nine: It is suggested that the influence of ecology and nature on human beings takes place and is utilised over long processes of adaptation. The mechanism and other elements of these processes are explicitly demonstrated through a model that the study elaborates. The main idea this model presents is that man, during the emergence of his settlement, initially responds to nature and the physical properties of that setting. He first develops prototypical patterns to embody their impact, according to which he then develops his social and behavioural patterns. Out of the interaction of these components and their various elements, and by reference to his experiential and innate knowledge, he then establishes his traditional culture of which architectural phenomena is the most conspicuous feature. Chapter Ten: Beyond the aesthetic values of architecture: decorative form and ornaments, and beyond the persistance of architectural pattern and activity types lie empirical, structural, functional and practical principles. The basic aim of arriving at a concrete understanding of what underlies the aesthetic characteristics is that once such an understanding becomes possible, designers would be able to manipulate their design ideas following the same principles of authenticity and purposefulness rather than attempting further implication or inventing more fantasies. The title implies that material's authentic properties, architectural and structural elements and activities have cognitive values which are represented in certain characteristics. And it is these values that a designer whould, in fact, search for, if satisfying people's real preferences is one of his interests. Chapter Eleven: The outcome of the interaction between ecological /cultural variables and cognitive structure consists of several components. These have to be carefully matched in setting design criteria within any context: They can be referred to in any judgement over the fitness and appropriateness of any design idea in hand.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Architecture and urban design