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Abstract
By : PETER KELLETT, HÜLYA TURGUT Y.

 
UNDERSTANDING AND RESEARCHING TRADITIONAL ENVIRONMENTS

During the 20th century, accelerating developments in construction, transportion and information technologies have made it possible to create environments almost anywhere on the planet which are no longer a product of locally available resources nor a response to local climatic conditions. Perhaps more critically still, the intimate interrelationship between built environments and the cultural values of those who build and inhabit them have been fractured. It is now possible to construct buildings and places which respond to the value systems of lifestyles and decision makers on different continents. We are all too familiar with these examples of universal design which reflect and privilege the values of so-called global culture at the expense of local cultures. Despite the massive increases in urban populations and parallel activities in construction, a very significant proportion of the extant built environment consists of buildings constructed in the past in accordance with the values of that time. What is undeniable is that the congruence between the inhabitants of such places and the environments themselves is diminishing, especially in urban areas. Many people desire and aspire to ‘modern’ contemporary lifestyles and environments which they believe are superior, frequently leading to a dissatisfaction with, and sometimes a rejection of, what are often classified as ‘traditional’ places. Values and places are in a continuous process of change, but it seems that values are able to change more easily and quickly than the solid constructions which embody and reflect them. These processes are complex and vary from place to place, although it appears there may be common processes and mechanisms at work. In some parts of the world the universalising processes of globalisation are more apparent and visible than in others. By definition the built environments of cities, settlements and dwellings are tangible objects which means that any changes in form, material or colour are immediately apparent. Changes in cultural values are less tangible and although they may be observable in behaviour patterns are nevertheless much more difficult to document and research. More critical is the interaction between these two realms - between the tangible and intangible, between the physical and social, between the visible and invisible and between cultural values and built form. This is the central territory of environment behaviour studies. The International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS) provides an international forum for environment- behaviour scholars from a range of (built) environment disciplines (architecture, urban design, planning, landscape etc) alongside colleagues from the social sciences – particularly environmental psychology. The Culture and Space in the Built Environment (CSBE) network within IAPS focuses on the cultural dimensions of built space and has been active in organising a series of themed conferences to facilitate engagement on issues of topical interest. In 2001 we decided to focus on traditional environments and organised a symposium in the wonderful historic city of Amasya in central Turkey. It was a joint symposium made possible with the support of the Governorship of Amasya, the Municipality of Amasya and the Faculty of Architecture at Istanbul Technical University. Here we spent a fascinating week exploring traditional environments at range of levels, scales and contexts with scholars from many countries. This special issue of Open House International is based on a selection of papers from the symposium complemented by several others. Here we focus on a number of key questions: What is a traditional environment? How do we define and conceptualise ‘tradition’ and what are the processes whereby places and activities cease to be regarded as traditional? What are the most effective ways of studying traditional environments? How are values embodied in the built environment and how significant is the built environment in transmitting cultural values? What criteria are appropriate when deciding what to preserve in traditional places? Can sensitive approaches to renewal and upgrading lead to a consolidation of valued traditions? The 12 papers in this volume are structured in the following way: theory, case studies, preservation projects and finally theoretical speculations about the future. We begin with theoretical discussions led by Amos Rapoport who offers a detailed analysis of the motivations behind attempts to preserve traditional environments and seeks to identify the principles and lessons which are present within these places. In the next paper, Paul Oliver seeks to place the debate in a broader geographical and environmental context and reminds us of the dangers of development projects which ignore traditional processes. From a rich theoretical base, the following four papers by Dayratne, Faqih, Turgut Yildiz and Hernandez Bonilla, explore aspects of changing traditional values in different parts of globe: Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico. In each situation detailed case studies are able to probe in depth the complexity of interactions between cultural 5 open house international Vol 31, No.4, December 2006 Peter Kellett & Hülya Turgut Yıldız values and built form. Concentrating at the community level in an Indonesian kampung, the paper by Kellett and Bishop examines how current economic imperatives to generate income in the home are reinforcing traditional networks and value systems. This is followed by two papers which explore renewal and development through community participation projects: Shehayeb and Abdelhafiz show how through the intensive participation of market traders it was possible to upgrade a traditional market within the sensitive historic fabric of Fatimid Cairo. Wang and Shieh similarly offer a detailed account of the processes and the lessons to be learnt through community participation, this time of a temple square in Taiwan. Social and economic development at the regional scale is examined by Khosla in his paper on development projects in Ladakh in the Himalayas; then Quidsi focuses on the lessons to be learnt from the long term upgrading project of the old city of Aleppo in Syria. This collection of essays ends with Ilter’s speculative piece on the future of tradition in the cyberspaces of the twenty first century.

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