On the Symbiosis of People and Building: The Perfect Slum

Controversies continue to exist between architects and the public about what is a good building. High-style modern architecture is often disliked by the public. Moreover, in everyday life people blame the architect for everything they find impractical in a building. The non-operable window is emblematic of this controversy. The kernel of the problem lies in the lack of knowledge about how people relate to their buildings. This thesis investigates the relationship between people and their buildings, a topic that lies on the interface of architecture, psychology, and anthropology. In architecture, many have attempted to create buildings that feel alive, although much of what is built today feels alien to those who inhabit it. Environmental psychology has its focus on perception and meaning, whereas in anthropology, the habitat is often observed in a cultural perspective. This thesis aims at building theory that connects the insights of these disciplines. The importance of the topic lies in the increasing alienation of people from their buildings. Although many architects work on buildings that we can better relate to, alienation and disconnection continue to exist because, to mention one aspect, the built environment is made by more people than only architects. In the multidisciplinary world, improvement of the relationship of people and building would surely benefit from the introduction of a clear focal point and an adequate conceptual framework. From literature, insights were collected that explain the relationship in four perspectives: human aspects, properties of buildings, its relation to society, and abstract systems. Together they form a model that can serve as the focal point. Next, in order to identify what is changing in the relationship, the model was used as research tool in different contexts, ranging from vernacular to modern. Fieldwork research was conducted in traditional habitats, state-of-the-art modern buildings, and settings in between: primitive housing in urban slum or informal settlement. Detailed research methods for the survey of people's interaction with buildings were newly developed in the field and combined with existing sampling and coding techniques. Architects tools like sketches, scale models, and photography were used next to interviews and participatory observation. Results are presented in several reports ranging from slum dwellings to hi-tech. Besides architecture, they describe the practice of everyday life, logic and inconsistencies in building methods, and effects on the people-building relationship. From the findings, we concluded that what happened to the people-building relationship in the transition from vernacular to modern could be described in five trends. These trends explain the current disconnection as well as the difficulties we face in creating live buildings. Thus, together with the focal point, a conceptual framework is created holding the patterns typical of the people-building relationship. This knowledge can be used as both tool and theory by the profession. The research suggests that in order to create a strong people-building relationship, the whole process of building, dwelling, and daily operation must be focused on inclusion of the end-user. Today's technology and regulations favor exclusion and therefore contribute to a built environment that is not humanly sustainable.

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