Shaping architectural discourse by architecture students at Queen's University Belfast

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While design practices are generally seen as a major driver for shaping debates and trends in architecture and urbanism, architectural discourse is typically shaped by discussions in books, journal articles, short essays, and reviews of design trends or critiques of buildings or design competitions. In many cases however, critical essays may have the power to communicate ideas and concepts in a concise manner while books can still be seen by some academics or many practitioners as lacking the capacity to communicate the same ideas or concepts effectively. Whether or not one would agree with this view is a different issue. Yet, as a reaction to such a view it is possible to see book reviews playing the role of short essays or articles which enable readers to grasp the message a book author is trying to convey-yet in a short and quick way. In person-environment research—as part of contemporary architectural discourse—book reviews are important as they provide significant slices of larger arguments, but enable readers to classify, categorize, and relate those arguments to other discourses on theories of architecture and urbanism, and thereby comprehending the full spectrum of issues introduced through a specific period of time.

As part of a specialist subject (elective) on Socio- Behavioral and Cultural Factors in Architecture and Urban Design, which I teach to architecture students at Queen’s University Belfast, a book review assignment was delivered. The course aims at introducing students to cultural, social, and psychological issues in architectural and urban design, and their value to successful design practices. It provides an overview and analysis of the literature and major scholars, researchers, and practitioners. An integral component of the course is an intensive discussion of issues that pertain to ways in which information about socio-cultural factors and environment-behaviour knowledge can be applied to design projects. In more specific terms, the objectives of the course therefore encompass: 1) To increase students’ sensitivity to the built environment and to break any habits of taking the environment for granted; 2) To acquaint students with particular knowledge of a variety of environments including residential, work, learning, and urban environments. Since our societies are in a continuous process of transformation, we must engage in sound future design that would involve the systematic examination of the relationship between culture, behaviour, and the environment; 3) To enhance students’ understanding of the core concepts regarding human-environment relations and how these concepts vary by different cultures and sub-cultures, 4) To develop students critical thinking abilities about the role of the built form in fostering, enhancing, or inhibiting cultural behaviours and attitudes. In this article, I discuss the notion of reviews and book reviews, outline the assignment delivered to architecture students at Queen’s University Belfast, then present selected students’ reviews. While this article is simply a presentation of students’ work, the ultimate objective is to offer a package of ideas and concepts generated in the literature of person-environment interaction as viewed by the students. This is coupled with students’ articulations of and reflections on how the merits and demerits of those ideas and the way in which they relate to such ideas in their reviews. While this article does not reflect on students’ work and does not
have a conclusion, it calls for a database that is exclusively dedicated to reviewed books on person-environment interactions, which could be published online on the web of one of the societies or associations concerned with people-environment interactions including EDRA Environmental Design Research Association and IAPS- International Association of People-Environments Studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-173
Number of pages44
JournalArchnet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


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