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The Perception and Importance of Time in Architecture.

Bishop, Reid. (1982) The Perception and Importance of Time in Architecture. Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey (United Kingdom)..

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Abstract

Time has been the subject of much philosophical speculation ever since the Greeks, but in its perceived applicability to either daily life or academic discourse, it has always been considered somehow subservient to the simpler, more obvious spatial referents of human existence. The challenge posed to long-serving traditional notions of historical and clock time by Darwin and Einstein have caused a major theoretical shift in thinking about time, though the full consequences of Evolutionary and Relativity Theory have yet to filter down to the average person, whose conception of time is still essentially Newtonian and unfettered by the vast expanses of time introduced by Darwin. As artists, novelists and film-makers experiment ever more freely with the evocation of subjective time, and as scientists envisage the very real possibility of rendering both the past and future more directly accessible, it is possible to predict an increasingly conspicuous role for time in our lives. While academic disciplines ranging from archaeology to zoology have gradually incorporated aspects of time and temporal analysis into their theoretical and methodological formulations, psychology has been singularly slow in coming to terms with time as either a methodological or substantive consideration. Though a considerable body of research devoted to psychological time has accumulated since the end of the last century, it is largely inconsistent, fragmentary and overly preoccupied with a quasi-Newtonian, atomistic approach to what is a highly complex, encompassing dimension of human experience. More recent thinking has gone some way toward restoring the multi-dimensionality of psychological time, and current notions of temporal perspective/ orientation incorporate a range of facets of temporal experience previously left undifferentiated. The advent and startling growth of Environmental Psychology over the past two decades has, by virtue of the pressing need to address itself to the relationship between Man and his ever-changing urban environment, served to integrate a variety of disciplines dedicated to clarifying the historical and temporal links with our environment. Coincidentally or not, architecture has, in its current reaction against the excesses of Modernism, found a renewed interest in the temporal language of buildings. There is now a growing feeling that the preoccupation with architectural and urban space needs to be tempered with a keener awareness of the role time can play in designing and building a more visually and emotionally satisfying environment. The research reviewed here is part of this effort to help redress the balance between architectural space and time, between our awareness and understanding of both the spatial and temporal coordinates of our physical surroundings. Attention is primarily, and initially, focused on the ability of people to locate buildings in historical time, both individually and within the context of a town as a whole. A pilot study with university students followed by a survey of 420 residents of Guildford reveals a pervasive tendency to under-estimate the age of buildings built before 1850 by an average of just over 100 years, (with the students variously over and under-estimating buildings built between 1850 and 1940 and marginally overestimating those dating from the post-war years). A more in-depth follow-up study of 60 residents suggests that much of this bias towards under-estimating the age of older buildings is accounted for by the influence of moderate-to-extremely abbreviated time scales, in whose absence the margin of error shrinks to a less significant 50 years. On the other hand, a variety of buildings in the mock-Tudor style of the early twentieth century are almost invariably overaged by an average of just under c. 200 years, with marked consequences for the perception of a town's more general age. The discovery of such discrepancies is of limited value unless one can arrive at a clearer understanding of the effect such temporal confusion and ambiguity has on more evaluative, attitudinal aspects of environmental experience. How do the perceived and real age of buildings mediate between our feelings about buildings? Data from the survey and selected interviews with Guildford residents indicate that there is no simple correlation between a building's age and aesthetic preference. Furthermore, analysis of semantic differentials suggest that most people possess a very elastic tolerance of building age. Based on a detailed examination of knowledge, and 'mis-knowledge', of a selection of buildings in Guildford, along with attitudes to the town's history generally, a case is made to support the argument that our relationship to the architectural past thrives on an essentially 'mythical', willful distortion of 'real' history in order to accommodate preferred historical imagery. Finally, the recent surge of interest in the conservation of old buildings has been freely interpreted as signalling an exclusive preference for the old and a blanket rejection of anything in the modern idiom. As attitudes to conservation embody a range of feelings about the relative importance of age as an architectural variable, the findings summarised above are put to a more pragmatic test. Data from a sample of 75 Guildford residents measuring preferred general and specific criteria for conservation (as well as a number of other issues central and peripheral to the subject) suggests that there exists a profound ambivalence about the value of keeping old buildings simply because they are old, and that age is no longer of primary importance when it comes to assessing the conservation value of local buildings.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Divisions : Theses
Authors : Bishop, Reid.
Date : 1982
Additional Information : Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Surrey (United Kingdom), 1982.
Depositing User : EPrints Services
Date Deposited : 24 Apr 2020 15:27
Last Modified : 24 Apr 2020 15:27
URI: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/id/eprint/854907

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