Friday, February 26, 2010

English for the Students of Architecture Unit1

Section One: Reading Comprehension


People have been planning and building for a long time. But was it architecture? Until fairly recently, it was common to distinguish between architecture and 'mere buildings', but this is becoming more difficult. Certainly the origins of architecture predate the first architect, who is traditionally taken to have been the designer of a stepped pyramid in Egypt. Even if one includes the specialist builders of certain chiefs' houses and ritual buildings, most of what was built was not designed by professionals but was rather an expression of the same architectural impulse that prompts high-style design. Thus, in dealing with the origins of architecture or an understanding of what architecture is, we must be concerned with the folk or popular tradition-the buildings called 'primitive' or 'vernacular' that have always comprised the bulk of the built environment and that are essential for any valid generalizations, and certainly critical for a discussion of origins.
All such environments, as well as all human artifacts, are designed, in the sense that they embody human decisions and choices and specific ways of doing things. A person clearing a forest, putting up a roadside stand, or laying out a camp is as much a designer as an architect-such activities change the face of the earth and create built environments.
All environments result from choices made from among all possible alternatives. The specific choices tend to be lawful, reflecting the culture of the people concerned. In fact, one way of looking at culture is in terms of the most common choices made. It is the lawfulness of decisions that makes places-and buildings-recognizably different from one another; lawfulness also leads to specific ways of dressing, behaving, eating, and so on. It affects the way people interact, the way they structure space and time. These consistent choices result in style-whether of built environments or of life.
In making these choices, certain values, norms, criteria, and assumptions are called upon. These are often embodied in ideal schemata. Environments,

in some way, reflect and encode these schemata and the order they typify. The order expressed through the process of choice, the image to be encoded and given form, is some vision of an ideal environment that built environments express, however imperfectly. Such environments are conceptualized as settings for the kind of people whom a particular culture sees as being normative, and for the kind of lifestyle that is regarded as significant and typical of the group and that distinguishes it from other groups. In fact, what we call culture can be seen in three major ways (the first two of which are included above): as a way of life that typifies a group; as a system of symbols, meanings, and cognitive schemata; and as a set of adaptive strategies for survival, related to ecology and resources.
Thus, culture concerns a group of people who have a set of values and beliefs and a world view that embody an ideal. These rules also led to systematic and consistent choices. With our earlier statement that architecture is a result primarily of sociocltural factors, and with our definition of design to include most purposeful changes to the physical environment, architecture can be thought of as any construction that deliberately changes the physical environment according to some ordering schema. The difference between buildings and settlements is one of scale. As Aida Van Eyck once said, "A building is a small city; a city is a large building."
To answer the question of why people build environments, we need to understand how the human mind works. Schemata represent one product of what seems a basic process of the human mind, to give the world meaning, to humanize it by imposing order on it-a cognitive order often achieved through classifying and naming, or differentiating. The world is chaotic and disorderly; the human mind classifies, differentiates, and orders. We could say that the order is thought before it is built. Settlements, buildings, and landscapes are part of this activity, which, as we have already seen, goes back a long way. When Neanderthals buried their dead with flowers they were trying to impose an order reconciling life and death. The cave paintings of Europe mark complex ordering systems and define caves as sacred spaces, different from other spaces such as dwelling caves that were not painted. Symbolic notational systems, in this case of lunar observations, are found remarkably early and clearly represent attempts to impose an order on time and natural phenomena.

People think environments before they build them. Thought orders space, time, activity, status, roles, and behavior. But giving physical expression to ideas is valuable. Encoding ideas makes them useful mnemonics; ideas help behavior by reminding people of how to act, how to behave, and what is expected of them. It is important to stress that all built environments buildings, settlements, and landscapes-are one way of ordering the world by making ordering systems visible. The essential step, therefore, is the ordering or organizing of the environment

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