A Reflection on Environmental Quality and Meaning


1 Ph.D Candidate, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran.

2 Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran


Improving environmental quality is interwoven with enhancing its meaning. Semantic factors are applied to evaluate quality and the indicators of the two concepts of quality and meaning overlap. However, theorists’ viewpoints toward these two concepts are diverse so that some consider meaning as a quality indicator, while others refer to quality merely as the outcome of the presentational aspect of meaning. This has led to an ambiguity in determining the relationship between the aspects of these two concepts and, as a result, made it difficult to consent to what is implied as meaning or quality. The current study aims at clarifying the differences and the common points of the aspects and factors of the two concepts of meaning and quality, and determining their relationship, so that an agreement could be reached on these two fundamental concepts in both architecture hypothesis and criticism. Applying logical reasoning, this research defines a coherent general framework based on human-environment interaction, in which the position of each of the two concepts of meaning and quality is explained. Also, cognitive aspects of the environment, using the method of content analysis and literature coding, are categorized as the basis for matching and comparing the aspects of the two concepts. These two frameworks would function as the basis for search of and response to the ambiguities in the relationship between these two which, ultimately, would lead to the statement. In human-environment interaction, meaning undergoes perception and cognition, while quality is judged and evaluated. What is evaluated as the quality is the presentation and the final result of the cognition of the threefold aspects of the meaning, including functional, social and responsive. If the responsive meaning of an environment bears a positive affective load, the environment is considered to possess a good quality.


• Amerigo, M. & Aragones, J. I. (1997). A Theoretical and Methodological Approach to the Study of Residential Satisfaction. Environmental Psychology, (17): 47-57.
• Bechtel, R. B. (1976). The Perception of Environmental Quality. In Perceiving Environmental Quality: Research and Applications, by Craik, K. H. & Zube, E.H. New York: Plenum Press.
• Bonaiuto, M., Fornara, F. & Bonnes, M. (2003). Indexes of Perceived Residential Environment Quality and Neighbourhood Attachment in Urban Environments: a confirmation study on the city of Rome. Landscape and Urban Planning, (65): 41–52.
• Carmona, M. (2001). Housing Design Quality : Through Policy, Guidance, and Review. London: Taylor & Francis Routledge.
• Clapham, D. (2011). The Embodied Use of the Material Home: an Affordance Approach. Housing, Theory and Society, 28 (4): 360-376.
• Coolen, H. (2006). The Meaning of Dwellings: an Ecological Perspective. Housing, Theory and Society, 23 (4): 185-201.
• Cousins, M. (2009). Design Quality in New Housing: Learning from the Netherlands. Abingdon, Oxon : Taylor & Francis.
• Gann, D. M., Salter, A. J. & Whyte, J. K. (2003). Design Quality Indicatoras: a tool for thinking. Building Research &Information, 5 (31): 318–333.
• Gifford, R. (1987). Environmental Psychology: Principles and Practice. Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.
• Gifford, R., Hine, D. W., Muller-Clemm, W. & Shaw, K. T. (2002). Why Architects and Laypersons Judge Buildings Differently: Cognitive Properties and Physical Bases. Architectural and Planning Research, 19 (2): 131-148.
• Golkar, K. (2000). Moalefeha- ye sazande- ye keyfiat- e tarahi-ye shahri [The components of the quality of urban design]. Soffeh, (32): 38-56.
• Groat, L. (1982). Meaning in Post-Modern Architecture: An Examination Using the Multiple Sorting Task. Environmental Psychology, (2): 3-22.
• Groat, L. & Wang, D. (2013). Architectural Research Methods (2nd ed.). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
• Harré, R. (2002). Material Objects in Social Worlds. Theory, Culture & Society, 19 (5/6): 23-33.
• Hershberger, R. G. (1970). Architecture and Meaning. Aesthetic Education, 4 (4): 37-55.
• Hershberger, R. & Cass, R. (1974). Predicting the meaning of architecture. In Designing for human behavior: Architecture and the behavioral sciences. Edited by Lang, J., Burnette, C., Moleski, W. & Vachon, D. Pennsylvania: Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross.
• Hillier, B. & Leaman, A. (1976). Architecture as a discipline. Architectural Research, 5 (1): 28-32.
• Jung, C. G. (1946). Psychological Types. Translated from German by H. G Baynes. London: T. and A. Constable LTD.
• Jung, C. G. (1946). Man and his symbols. Translated from by A. Saremi. Tehran: Amirkabir.
• Keles, R. (2012). The quality life and the environment. Procedia- Social and Behavioral Sciences, (35): 23-32.
• Kopek, D. (2006). Environmental Psychology for Design. NewYork: Fairchild Publications, Inc.
• Küller, R. (1973). Beyond semantic measurement. Architectural Psychology. Proceedings of the Lund Conference. Sweden: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross.
• Manzo, L. C. (2005). For Better or Worse: Exploring Multiple Dimensions of Place Meaning. Environmental Psychology, (25): 67-86.
• Marans, R. W. (2003). Understanding Environmental Quality Through Quality of Life Studies: the 2001 DAS and its use of subjective and objective indicators. Landscape and Urban Planning, (65): 73-83.
• Marans, R. W. & Spreckelmeyer, K. F. (1982). Measuring Overall Architectural Quality: A component of building evaluation. Environment and Behavior, 14 (6): 652-670.
• Neisser, U. (1976). Cognition and reality: Principles and implications of cognitive psychology. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and company.
• Nelson, C. (2006). Managing Quality in Architecture: A Handbook for Creators of the Built Environment. Oxford : Architectural Press .
• Ogden, C. K. & Richards, I. A. (1994). The meaning of meaning. London: Routledge/ Thoemmes Press.
• Osgood, C. E., Suci, G. J. & Tannenbaum, P. H. (1957). The Measurement of Meaning. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
• Pena, W. M. & Parshall, S. A. (2001). Problem Seeking: an architectural programming primer. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
• Rapoport, A. (1982). The Meaning of the Built Environment: A Nonverbal Communication Approach. Arizona: Sage Publications .
• Rönn, M. (2011). Architectural Quality in Competitions: A dialogue based assessment of design proposals. FORMakademisk, 4 (1): 100-115.
• Sixsmith, J. (1986). The Meaning of Home: An Exploratory Environmental Experience. Environmental Psychology, (6): 281-298.
• Van der Voordt, T. J. M. (2009). Quality of design and usability: a vetruvian twin. Ambiente Construido, Porto.Alegre, 9 (2): 17-29.
• Van kamp, I., Leidelmeijer, K., Marsman, G. & De Hollander, A. (2003). Urban environmental quality and human well-being: Towards a conceptual framework and demarcation of concepts; a litrature study. Landscape and Urban planning, (65):5-18.