Sociology of architecture or architectural sociology is a sub-field of sociology that focuses on societal functioning and relations based on their built environment and architecture. Using systematic and analytic methods, it puts into perspective the concepts of spatial relations, architecture’s influence on relations, behaviours of humans. Historically, sociologists have used different approaches to the study a few of which are highlighted in this article. Understanding the past, present and future of architecture and society is the significance of the subject.
Our everyday lives involve interaction with the built environment around us and they help in establishing relations, perspectives and opinions among humans. The infrastructural spaces are important in defining identities and, sometimes, become the historical heritage of any society. When we imagine a rural society, we visualize a type of architecture that is associated with rural communities, similarly with every urban society. Each of these societies have a unique touch to their architecture which changes with regions and generations, influencing the members and the structure of societies and, therefore, understanding the importance and the role of architecture, the physical environment in the relations of society and vice versa, is imperative. The sociology of architecture or architectural sociology is one such subject that studies the above relations through a close lens. It offers architectural disciplines the perspectives necessary for the construction of a physical environment that facilitates the smooth functioning of society.
Sociology of Architecture: Definition and Scope
The systematic study of social conduct and patterns in connection to spatial and built environments is known as architectural sociology or sociology of architecture. The study of habitats spanning across the magnitude range, from the scale of megacities to comparatively smaller built structures, has been included in the study area of this subject. The sociology of architecture posits that artificially built surroundings and social interactions have a direct correlation that is reciprocal in nature. The man-made infrastructural habitat is viewed as a culturally prominent concept from the perspective of architectural sociology, and to analyse this relationship and understanding of architecture and society, analytical techniques are used by the field.
The ‘Fried egg model’ of the sociology of architecture provides a framework of relationships between the social context (society) and architecture with the help of the concepts of space and materiality (Muller & Reichmann, 2015). The objective, overall, is to observe and analyse the relations between architecture and society.
Therefore, the main area of study in the sociology of architecture is the interrelation between society and architecture. It can be divided as follows: – a) the relation of man-made environments to society; (b) spatial relationships; (c) influence of physical environments on behaviour; (d) influence of artifacts on behaviour. (Korllos, 1980)
The relation of man-made environments to society: This area is considered to be a part of classical architectural sociology that studies the development of human civilizations based on infrastructural growth and its relevance to the relations and working of social relations. It emphasizes the built world as a significant factor in determining societal order and dynamics. For example, a factory is a man-made architectural environment that regulates the relations between workers and the owners.
Spatial relationships: Elaborating on the idea of shared environments, this area of societal and architectural study focuses on social institutions which range from a house to a school community to local society. The different settings have a bearing on the behaviour and interactions of members as they each determine the type of relations that exist in that particular structure. The relations observed in a religious place differ from the relations observed at a restaurant, both being determined by the architecture in which the interactions take place respectively.
The influence of physical environments on behaviour: The sociology of architecture investigates the role of architecture in influencing the behaviour of societal participants, such as the influence of a school building on a child’s behaviour and, similarly, the influence of park architecture on a child’s behaviour. It allows for experimentation that results in possible solutions for the smooth functioning of society. But it is to be noted that social interaction has an influence on building such architectures.
Influence of artifacts on behaviour: Modern society has been through evolution over many generations. History and culture have an important influence on society, and architectural monuments and artefacts associated with culture have a profound meaning and impact on human minds. Architectural sociology studies the influence of such cultural buildings and objects on behaviour. This also includes studying architectural elements such as sculptures, patterns and paintings used in many constructed settings and their influence on the behaviour of humans. A student in a classroom with animated designs could behave differently than a student in a classroom with plain features.
The historical presence of the sociology of architecture
The development of society has been linked to the settlement of the population in designated areas, resulting in the establishment of group territories and, eventually, communal ownership being transformed into private ownership and individual territories. The hierarchies, conflicts, cooperation all were based on ownership. As the population grew, architecture assumed prominence to establish one’s position in society and, therefore, establishing relations with other members based on their constructed environment. Architectural beauty has flourished in Greek and Roman city-states, and even in the east, Indian and Chinese civilizations had architectural designs that served functions in addition to their aesthetic value. Each political regime wanted to leave a mark through architectural excellence and creating divisions in their territories based on differences in man-made surroundings for efficient administration. Each architectural building had value and beauty that drew people in, and regulations and practices could be enforced more efficiently, as well as helping to boost people’s morale through gatherings.
Over the years, many thinkers have spoken about the material world and its influence on the functioning of society. Emile Durkheim’s work in examining the built environment of Australian and Native American civilizations delineated the significance of such structures in the formation of social ties, awareness, and belief.
In his examination of structures as able of wielding power rather than as tools of understanding or normative of social interactions, Michel Foucault gave a limited yet extremely valuable solution to the problem of physical structures influencing beliefs.
Pierre Bourdieu was another sociologist who sought to understand how space both supports and instructs the human mind and social structure. He conducted an anthropological evaluation of interactions between the constructed environment and social behaviours and sought a much more elaborate conceptualization of the method through which such correspondences emerged and maintained in the interests of participants along with society as a whole. For such a purpose, Bourdieu proposed the concept of the habitus, which is a collection of individually held inclinations that structure a person’s ideas and behaviour.
Marx is associated with the idea of historical materialism. Henri Lefebvre researched the function of the built environment in developing and maintaining society both through history and logic in order to build a Marxist perspective suitable for the evolving character of capitalism. He contended that through creating structures via design and everyday activity, people pertain to economic and ideological norms, since such constructs vary with time, as will the essential character of the human-created surroundings.
Significance of Architectural Sociology
Architecture has performed as a reflection of society in the past, showing the ideals, triumphs, and downfalls of civilizations. One may gain knowledge about the lifestyle of a region and time by studying the architectural buildings, structures, and installations that form the core of a region. Shelter is one of society’s most fundamental requirements, and it evolves in architecture based on the circumstances. However, architecture also plays a significant part in maintaining culture and affecting societal functions in general. The sociology of architecture is significant in studying this mutual relationship. Architecture has become a part of our heritage and, therefore, humans construct collective and individual identities in relation to architecture (Jones, 2011). Architectural spaces sometimes function as symbols of societal values and ideologies, uniting society at times of distress. The sociology of architecture acts significantly in understanding such influences on one’s identity. In terms of the future of architecture and its influence on society, it is considered that technology is going to have a significant influence, but it is critical that we continue to explore and comprehend human interactions with the constructed surroundings. Architectural sociology thus plays an important role in understanding the past societies, the present interactions and behaviours, and the future of architecture in societal functions.
The presence of architecture in society is ancient but analysing them in relation is a relatively new idea which aids in resolving social issues and constructing identities. Sociology of architecture is a field of study that offers unique insights into society through the lens of architecture. It systemically analyses the impact that society and architecture have on each other. With the constructed world spreading rapidly across the globe, it is important to understand its place in society and how it impacts the latter’s activity.
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Korllos, T. (1980). Sociology of architecture: An emerging perspective. Ekistics, 47(285), 470-475. Retrieved June 14, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43619763
Lipstadt, H. (2005). Sociology: Bourdieu’s Bequest. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 64(4), 433-436. doi:10.2307/25068198
Ankerl, G. (1981). Experimental sociology of architecture: A guide to theory, research and literature. Mouton Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110903058
Muller, A. & Reichmann, W. (2015). Architecture, Materiality and Society: Connecting Sociology of Architecture with Science and Technology Studies. Palgrave Macmillan. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9781137461131
Jones, P. (2011). The sociology of architecture. Liverpool University Press. https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/podzim2015/SOC593/um/Jones_2011_The_Sociology_of_Architecture_book_130920.pdf