A Report On Architectural Determinism Anthropology Essay

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OED: "The philosophical doctrine that human action is not free but necessarily determined by motives which are regarded as external forces acting upon the will."

Often determinism is related to the 'will of God' or to 'fate'. For the psychological theories of behaviourism it is related to the environment surrounding an organism.

Watson, Skinner and behaviorism - Watson developed this school of thought, the premise of which is that

"scientific psychology should study only observable behavior and abandon the study of consciousness entirely. (Weiten, p. 6,7)

The study of consciousness, since it is not observable, is more speculative and less scientific than the study of observable behaviour.

" . . .the time has come when psychology must discard all reference to consciousness . . . Its sole task is the prediction and control of behaviour; and introspection can form no part of its method." (Watson, quoted in Koestler, 1967:19)

Furthering that concept, Watson stated that in the debate between nature and nurture, behaviour is determined more by the environment and experience (nurture) than it is by genetic inheritance (nature). From that theoretical base behaviourists looked to relate overt behaviours (responses) to observable events in the environment (stimuli). Using animals for such studies worked more effectively than using human subjects since their environments could be better controlled and therefore there would be fewer variables affecting their behaviour.

Skinner furthered behaviourism with the principle:

"Organisms tend to repeat responses that lead to positive outcomes, and they tend not to repeat responses that lead to neutral or negative outcomes." (Weiten, p.10)

Given that principle, Skinner went on to show that he could exert remarkable control over the behaviour of animals by manipulating the outcomes of their responses. This was done through conditioning.

CONDITIONING (Weiten, p. 150-181)

This is a form of learning. Learning is a durable change in behaviour or knowledge as a result of experience.


1. you cringe at the sound of a dentist's drill

2. you ride a bicycle

3. a seal juggles a ball on its nose.

Classical conditioning - a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus.

Pavlov's dog - (see Weiten, 1997:152) A tone began as a neutral stimulus - that is, merely a sound. It became a positive stimulus when it was associated with the possibility of food. The presence of the food followed by salivation was an unconditioned association. It did not have to be learned. Salivation at the sound of the tone was a conditioned association. It had to be learned. This is known as classical conditioning.

Does it apply to human behaviour?

1. Phobias - eg. a fear of bridges created from a repeated childhood experience. (Weiten, 1997:154)

2. Advertising - a product always seen in association with enjoyable surroundings or beautiful people.

3. Placeboes - physiological responses.

There are other kinds of conditioning than classical (where the stimulus precedes the response). In some forms of conditioning the stimulus follows the response. Behaviour, in other words, is conditioned by the expectation of reward after. B.F. Skinner called this operant conditioning.

"Organisms tend to repeat those responses that are followed by favourable consequences."

The Skinner Box - (Weiten, 1997:161)

"Although it is convenient to equate reinforcement with reward and the experience of pleasure, strict behaviorists object to this practice, because the experience of pleasure is an unobservable event that takes place within an organism." (Weiten, 1997:164) Skinner will only say that the response is strengthened and this is measurable by the rate of responding.

Anyone who raises a child uses operant conditioning. See Weiten pg. 165

If we agree with Watson and Skinner that " . . . 'mind' and 'ideas' are non-existent entities, 'invented for the sole purpose of providing spurious explanations" (Koestler, 1967:21) then the only motivation for our actions will come from some form of conditioning. In other words, our behaviour is determined by external forces. Is one of those external forces architecture?


(Jon Lang, Creating Architectural Theory, pp. 100-108)

This concept of conditioning -stimulus-response (SR) of classical - has been extended by some to include the built environment. There are four basic positions

1. Free-will approach

Suggests that the environment has no impact on behaviour.

2. Possibilistic approach

Perceives the environment to be the afforder of human behaviour but nothing more. A set of opportunities upon which action may or may not be taken. Eg. a cup is on the table. I choose to fill it up with water or not. It does not make me thirsty.

3. Probabilistic approach

Assumes that human behaviour is not entirely capricious. The environment does affect behaviour but there are many variables.

"Given an individual A with attributes a, b, c, set in an Environment E with characteristics d, e, f, and with the Motivation for action M it is probable that A will perform Behavior B."

4. Deterministic approach

Implies a simple cause-effect relationship between the environment and behaviour. For some this meant better architecture could make better people.

Environmental determinism - it is nurture within the setting of our geographical, social and cultural environments, rather than nature, our heredity, that shapes our values and behavior.

Physical determinism - the nature of the geographic environment determines people's behavior. There is, for example a relation between culture and climate.

Architectural determinism - changes in the landscaped and architectural elements of the environment will result in changes in behavior, particularly social behavior.

There are many architects who thought architectural determinism was valid.

"During the nineteenth century, with the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the large-scale migration of rural workers to the city, many social critics became aware of the strong correlation between the unpleasant conditions in which people lived and their social and psychological conditions. It is easy to conclude that changing the built environment would change not only the living conditions but also the lifestyle and aesthetic values of the people concerned. The whole social and philanthropic movement of the latter part of the nineteenth century, which culminated in the garden cities movement led by Ebenezer Howard (1902) and the settlement-house schemes, was imbued with the spirit of architectural deterministic beliefs." (Lang, 1987:101)


In 1836, Pugin published his book Contrasts. In it he puts forward a case for returning to the Gothic style of architecture. For him, Gothic architecture represented the revealed truth of the Catholic church. Further, he believed that, "since Gothic architecture is divinely ordained it is not marked by human imperfections but is an inescapable reality." (David Watkin, Architecture and Morality, 1977:19) He saw architecture as an instrument for the attainment of social policy employed to achieve supposedly 'moral' ends.

It is here that we can see the beginnings of the relationship between architecture and truth, and so too the relationship between that truth and the improvement of the human condition. If architecture can be 'true' then it can also tell a lie. This belief runs through The Arts and Crafts movement in England and can be readily seen in the beliefs of such disparate architects as Wright and Corb.


Architecture or Revolution

Revolution can be avoided. He stated that 'the house machine is healthy (and morally so too)' (see p. 13, Towards a New Architecture)

Decoration (and with it the Renaissance and the Baroque) was seen as immoral. Hence he looked for pure forms. The cone, the sphere, the cylinder. These forms would move architecture beyond style. For much the same reason he found the rationality of the engineer more to his liking (p.19)

Watkin points out that Corb's stand in Vers une Architecture is:

'what is simple, supposedly functional, and materialistic in aim, light in colour, and immediately apprehensible in form, enjoys advantages in terms of health and morality over other different or more complex solutions. This it must be imposed on society as soon as possible if we are to avoid revolution." (p.40)

Bruno Taut picked up this theme in his book Modern Architecture (1929) (see Watkin p 40)

The same notion held true for CIAM in the 1930s and 40s. "the public housing movements in many countries were based on a series of assumptions regarding the impact of architecture and urban designs on human behavior." The CIAM conferences all "exhibited a belief that through architectural and urban design all kinds of social pathologies could be eliminated." (Lang, 1987:102)

This carried through into the work by Oscar Newman and his book, Defensible Space, as well.

"The physical environments we have been building in our cities for the past twenty-five years actually prevent such amity and discourage the natural pursuit of a collective action."

The response to that perceived problem is to change the physical environment. This changed environment can then change behavior


KOESTLER, Arthur. The Ghost in the Machine. London: Pan Books, 1967.

LANG, Jon. Creating Architectural Theory. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1987.

Le CORBUSIER. Vers une Architecture. Trans. By Frederick Etchells, Towards a New Architecture. New York: Praeger Publ., 1960.

WATKIN, David. Morality and Architecture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977.

WEITEN, Wayne. Psychology: Themes and Variations (Briefer Version 3rd Edition). Pacific Grove, CA, Brooks/Cole Publ. Co., 1997.