1984 volume 11(2) pages 173 – 192
doi:10.1068/b110173

Cite as:
Purcell A T, 1984, "The organisation of the experience of the built environment" Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 11(2) 173 – 192

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The organisation of the experience of the built environment

A T Purcell

Received 29 September 1983; in revised form 24 March 1984

Abstract. Two experiments are reported which examine hypotheses concerning architecture as a nonverbal language and the relationship between a nonverbal language and models of the organisation of our experience in cognitive psychology. The class of building studied was the church. In the first experiment subjects were asked to record their first experience after a 0.5 second exposure to thirteen examples of churches and subsequently, when shown the slides again, to record the activity which they thought occurred in the building. Very little evidence was found for a coherent set of experiences resulting from exposure to the buildings, and what structure was apparent was related to physical attributes of the building or the activities that occurred in them and not to the types of experience that would be expected to be related to churches. In contrast, considerable structure was apparent in the activities attributed to the buildings and this was not confined to recognising all the buildings as churches.

In a second experiment Rosch's model of category formation through overlap of attributes of examples with the attributes of a prototype was investigated with an expanded series of churches from the first experiment (twenty-eight versus the thirteen in the first experiment) through ratings of goodness of examples and interest. Ratings of interest were included because of the importance this concept holds in theories of aesthetics and to determine whether other types of categories than goodness-of-example-based categories also existed. Clear evidence was obtained of a prototypical structure for both sets of ratings.

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