Developing a Conceptual Model of Legibility Relying on Mental Imagination

Document Type : Research Article


School of Architecture, University college of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Iran


Problem statement: The concept of legibility that has been added to the range of qualitative concepts of human-made environments after Lynch’s seminal work, has been always associative of the five-aspect elements he introduced from the physical landscape of the city. This physical aspect-oriented perspective has directed the focus of research on the image that is formed in the mind from the environment rather than the one that observes has shaped in their minds from the physical components. The present study, therefore, raises this question: What are the components of observers’ mental image of the physical environment?
Research Objective: This study aims to understand the concept of legibility and to provide a conceptual model of component communication.
Research Method: The research was conducted based on qualitative content analysis, in which, first, the documents and opinions of experts were investigated. Next, the study examined different aspects influencing the mental image creation and then, with logical reasoning, presented a conceptual model for a more comprehensive study of the concept of legibility.
Conclusion: The results show that the perception of the environment in the observer’s mind, in addition to spatial components, includes both human and temporal components. They can be subcategorized into three groups. The first regards spatial mental image including the components of identity, and structure. The second is temporal mental image comprising of individual, collective experience and social events. And the last regards emotional mental image including sense of place and community as well as physical, historical and emotional assessments. Accordingly, the concept of legibility is not a physical characteristic of the physical environment. It is a multidimensional subjective concept, and its measurement is based solely on the physical characteristics of the physical environment, so that it relies exclusively on the spatial layers of the mental imagery. For a more comprehensive assessment of perceived legibility, other temporal and emotional layers in the mental image should also be considered.


• Appleyard, D. (1969). Why buildings are known. Environment and behavior, 1(2), 131-156.
• Rahimi, L., Rafieian, M. & Bagheri, M. (2014). Arzyabi-ye tasir-e meghyas-e makani bar delbastegi-ye sakenin be makan dar mahallat-e markazi (share-e Tabriz) [Evaluation the Impacts of Spatial Scale on the Residents’ Attachment to Place in Central Neighborhoods (Tabriz City)], Journal of Architecture and Urban Planning, 9(18), 43-58.
• Rapaport, A. (2013). The meaning of the constructed environment. (F. Habib, Trans.). Tehran: Municipal Information Technology Organization Publications.
• Tayyebi, A. & Zekavat, K. (2017). The mental image of domestic tourists from urban spaces of Isfahan with a grounded theory approach. Soffeh, 27 (77), 63–78.
• Falahat, M. S. & Shahidi, S. (2015). The Role of Mass - Space Concept in Explaining the Architectural Place, Bagh-e Nazar, 12 (35), 27-38.
• Kermona, M. & Tizdel, S. (2015). Reading the urban design concepts, (K. Zekavat, & F. Farshad, Trans.). Tehran: Azarakhsh.
• Gehl, J. (2018). Living in the buildings inter-spaces. (Sh. Shasti, Trans.). Tehran: University Jihad Publications Organization.
• Lynch, K. (1995). The Image of the city. (M. Mozayyeni, Trans.). Tehran: University of Tehran Publications.
• Lynch, K. (2014). A Theory of city form. (S. H. Bahraini, Trans.). Tehran: University of Tehran Publications.
• Nasar, J. (2014). The Evaluative Image of the city. (M. Asadi Mahal Chaali, Trans.). Tehran, Armanshahr Publications.
• Garling, T. & Book, A. & Lindberg, E. (1984). Cognitive mapping of large-scale environments. Environment and Behavior, 1(16), 3-34.
• Hauge, C. (2005). Planning and Place Identity, Routledge: Oxfordshire.
• Kaplan, S. & Kaplan, R. (1989). The visual environment: Public participation in design and planning. Journal of Social Issues, 45(1), 59–86.
• Najafi, M. & Shariff, M. (2011). The Concept of Place and Sense of Place in Architectural Studies. International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 5(8), 1054-1060.
• Ramadier, T. & Moser, G. (1998). Social legibility, the cognitive map, and urban behavior. Environmental Psychology, 18(3), 307-319.
• Siew-Wai Lim, W. (2000). Memories and urban places, City, Taylor & Francis Journals, 4(2), 270-277.
• Tolman, E. C. (1948). Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men. Psychological Review, 55(4),189–2081.
• Tribe, M. (1974). Stadtgestaltung Theoric Und Praxis, Bertelsmann.
• Yaski, O., Portugali, J. & Eilam, D. (2012). Travelling in the dark: the legibility of a regular and predictable structure of the environment extends beyond its borders. Behavioral Brain Research, 229(1),74-81.