Each of us as individuals are a part of a larger social setting, which is addressed by the field of study we have come to know as sociology. One may often wonder as to what kind of an impact the physicality of the spaces we inhabit has on our sociological framework. After all, our day-to-day lives are heavily intertwined with spatial usage of various kinds from open to semi-open to closed. 

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Architectural sociology attempts to approach the two-way relationship between the architectural forms and the socio-cultural phenomena surrounding them. The purpose is to enhance the design of the built environment by using a sociological perspective.

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A sample from a sociological exploration of architecture in the context of health and social care_©Lynne Chapman

What is Architectural Sociology? 

Ronald Smith, who has served as the chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Valerie Bugni, who is a social researcher, both of whom have proven to be crucial to spreading the knowledge of this emerging field, define architectural sociology as the ‘application of social theory and methods to the architectural design process.’ 

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The field provides qualitative as well as quantitative means to assess the impact of designs on people on various levels. Architectural sociology draws from the existing areas of study of environmental psychology, ecological sociology, organisational ecology, organisational and community sociology. It employs survey research, Internet research, interviews, field observation, secondary data sources, and unobtrusive measurements, among other research methodologies. 

Moreover, sociology informs all the phases of the architectural design process. Broadly, the relationship between the society and environment can be divided as follows: a) the relationship between man-made environments and society; (b) spatial relationships; (c) influence of physical environments on behaviour; (d) influence of artefacts on behaviour.

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A sketch showing ideas of how learning and teaching can be reconceptualised in a classroom_©Simon Chadwick

Society and Man-made Environments

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This field is regarded to be a subset of classical architectural sociology, which analyses the emergence of human civilizations based on infrastructural development and its implications for social interactions and their functioning. It stresses that the built environment is a major determinant of social order and dynamism. 

An office or a workplace, for example, is usually a man-made architectural environment that governs the plethora of relationships between employees and owners. Different offices and workplaces have different social structures and different kinds of environments which may be both a result and/or a cause of the kind of social relationships in the workplace.

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What makes a great Urban Life?_©Sociology of Space

Spatial Relationships

This particular area of architectural sociology further expands on the concept of shared environments by focusing on social institutions ranging from a home to a school community to even just the local society. The various parameters have an impact on member behaviour and interactions since they individually define the sort of relationships that exist in that structure. 

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For example, the relationships witnessed in a religious setting differ from those found in a restaurant, both of which are influenced by the architecture in which the interactions occur. 

Physical Environments and Behaviour

Architectural sociology studies how architecture influences human and societal behaviour, such as the impact of a school building on a child’s behaviour or the impact of park design on a child’s behaviour. It allows for experimentation, which leads to viable answers for society’s smooth functioning. However, it should be emphasised that social contact has an impact on the formation of such structures as well.

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Research on Environment, Behaviour and Society as a confluence of many areas_©Gary T Moore

Influence of Artefacts

Over the course of many generations, modern civilization has evolved. History and culture have naturally had a significant impact on society. Moreover, culturally significant architectural outcomes and artefacts have consistently had a profound significance and impact on human minds. 

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Architectural sociology involves the study of how cultural buildings and artefacts impact people’s behaviour. This involves researching architectural features such as sculptures, patterns, and paintings seen in a variety of built environments, as well as their impact on human behaviour. A student or a group of students in an animated design classroom may act differently from those in a plain design classroom.

Architecture has evolved over millennia to provide an avenue for humans to construct collective as well as individual identities. Sometimes, it is the built spaces that play the roles of symbolising societal values. In many ways, once a space is built, it physically captures many abstract ideals with itself in the present and serves as a reminder for the future for what has been in the past. Hence, architectural sociology is important to understanding the past of society, the present behaviours and human interactions and the societal future of architecture. 

Even though architecture has been around us for a long time, studying it in conjunction with the understanding of society helps in resolving socially relevant issues and also aids in constructing new individual and collective identities. Thus, it is important that this process is further refined organically and helps in the betterment of society as a whole in the times to come.       

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References

  1. Beaman, J. (2002). Architectural Sociology. [online] www.asanet.org. Available at: https://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/savvy/footnotes/dec02/fn17.html  [Accessed 30 Sep. 2021].
  2. G. J., R. (2021). Sociology of Architecture or Architectural Sociology – Overview. [online] Sociology Group: Sociology and Other Social Sciences Blog. Available at: https://www.sociologygroup.com/architecture/  [Accessed 29 Sep. 2021].
Author

Divyang, a young architect, is curiously exploring the field of Architecture and Design. He is keen on pursuing research on the relationship between the built environment and general well-being. One can find him playing music, clicking pictures, and writing poetry, whenever he is not geeking out over cinema and other forms of art.

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