A Framework for Understanding Sense of Place in an Urban Design Context

Ming Hu, Roger Chen
2018 Urban Science  
Creating a sense of place and community is a guiding principle in designing livable and high-quality built environments. This paper presents a framework for understanding the relationship between design and people's perceptions about a place, within an urban design context. While a large volume of literature on sense of place (SOP) already exists, the proposed framework and its application in the design field present a unique opportunity to add new knowledge to this interdisciplinary topic.
more » ... research will investigate the empirical relationship between architecture/urban design and people's perceptions about a place and their contributions to SOP. Urban designers and architects play important and determining roles in defining the physical qualities and the characteristics of a place. However, it has always been challenging to quantify the relationship between a physical environment and a person's emotional experience. Three urban sites were analyzed to illustrate this framework, and four physical characteristics and four perceptual qualities were cross-investigated and analyzed. This proposed framework will help architects and urban designers to gain a better understanding of SOP and placemaking techniques, eventually helping to improve urban design quality. belief that SOP is an innate faculty possessed by everyone, which connects us to the world. It is essential to our environmental experience and is, in fact, a skill that can be learned and applied to understand changes in environmental knowledge and practice [5, 6] . The geographical view of SOP is broader, and the research objectives are typically less idealistic and are well connected to other disciplines, such as psychology, architecture, sociology, and even economics. One particular subset of geography-behavioral geography-examines human behavior in order to understand individuals' perceptions of their surrounding areas. This subfield has been particularly successful in studying people's experiences and lives by introducing a phenomenological approach. Later on, it was broadly used in the architectural design field [7, 8] , which largely contributed to forming research on SOP. In the social sciences sphere, the study of SOP has focused on how one understands a place and his or her existence in that certain place. An individual's feelings about a place are closely interwoven with different the dimensions of community sentiment, such as community satisfaction, attachment, and identity [9] . When compared to a space that is more properly conceived as abstract geometries, "place" is defined by a unique collection of qualities and characteristics that are registered with a particular geographic location, material form, and group of people [10, 11] . Therefore, each place has its own unique set of indicators-physical, visual, social, and economic-that define SOP [12] . In our proposed framework, we adopt this fundamental idea that SOP is to be investigated from physical, visual, and social angles. There are a variety of SOP studies, from anthropological, psychological, and philosophical perspectives as well. From the beginning, those studies have been more interested in determining the history of conceptualizations of places and spaces since the quality of a place is shaped by the qualities of its occupants and reflect those qualities in its own constitution as a series of events [13, 14] . The most interesting development has been in the field of psychology: a theory of perception of ecology was developed based on the inextricable links between the visual perception of an organism and the environment in which it interacts. This theory has been extended and applied to decipher the relation between space and place, environment, and perception [15, 16] . The existing knowledge gap exists in translating the academic research to architecture and urban design practice. Urban designers and architects play important and determining roles in defining the physical qualities and characteristics of a place. In fact, SOP is a guiding principle in designing the built environment for sustainability and livability. Scholars, such as Christopher Alexander and Sebastien Marot, also identified the important role that landscape plays in placemaking, since social meanings and cultural heritage could exist in a natural place [17, 18] . Constructing and making a place is dynamic, and the effectiveness of the place depends on human perceptions of the space, social interactions, economies, cultures, and histories [19] . The physical environment provides cues in people's perceptions about a place, and perceptions of the place are ever-changing due to the time and context, which could make or unmake the place. There is limited understanding of how people perceive the design features. Currently, architects and designers concentrate on the physical environment when crafting a sense of place; understanding the influence of and the interaction between perception and placemaking could be a huge benefit to creating both effective and meaningful places. The research questions authors aim to answer are: (1) whether there are correlation between physical environment characteristics and perceptual qualities of a place, and (2) whether the perceptual qualities contribute to a sense of place. Current Research of SOP in Urban Design Field The literature that has been produced by architects and urban designers has been very active in creating the measurement of urban-design quality for SOP, but most of those methods are qualitative. Norberg-Schulz believed that SOP could be best described as a three-dimensional spatial organization: "Space denotes the three-dimensional organization of the elements which make up a place, and character denotes the general atmosphere which is the most comprehensive property of any place . . . " [20] Influential urban planner/designer Kevin Lynch developed a qualitative framework to
doi:10.3390/urbansci2020034 fatcat:hxcvehacs5asxhvgq2nd6hrsb4