Searching for Urban-Cultural Cues


Here we see two different urban morphologies. First one, part of Seul (Asia) and second one part of El Monte (California, USA). For experienced researchers, urban morphologies as seen in aerial pictures can tell a lot about density, urban tissue, rugosity, zoning, heights, materials, landscape, etc. But this is not enough to understand if these morphological characteristics are universal or cultural, belonging to an ethnic group. All fixed and non fixed elements related to the five senses should be analyzed, to apply our best criteria in the urban design of a given area.
Amos Rapoport, in his book “The Meaning of the Built Environment. A Nonverbal Communication Approach” (1982, Sage publications, California) explains that as one moves into the domain of non fixed-semi fixed and fixed elements, the cultural variability and specificity tends to increase. An important issue is to discover urban and cultural cues that communicate particular meanings. Cultural cues include nonverbal behaviors, from intuitive ones (adaptors), to exact verbal translations with precise meanings known to all (symbolic gestures or emblems). In 1977, Rapoport listed some potential cues, and of course there are even more.


The landscape shows that this is a low income neighborhood. Picture by Myriam Mahiques
 
A simple cue of the family’s religiosity in the picture above the heater. Picture by Myriam Mahiques
 
A neighborhood of mobile homes in Huntington Beach and the corresponding sign outside tell us about the informal life in the beach. Picture by Myriam Mahiques
 
PHYSICAL ELEMENTS:
Vision: Shape, size, scale, height, color, materials, textures, details, decorations, graffiti, furniture, furnishings, etc.
Spaces: quality, size, shape, enclosing elements, paving, barriers, and links, etc.
Light and shade, light levels, light quality.
Greenery, presence of planting, controlled versus natural, type of planting, arrangement.
Age – new versus old.
Type of order, order versus disorder.
Perceived density.
Level of maintenance.
Topography –natural or human- made.
Location- prominence, centrality versus periphery, hills, or valleys, exposed or hidden, etc.
Sound: Sound quality –dead versus reverberant, noisy versus quiet, human made sounds (industry, traffic, music, talk, laughter, etc) versus natural sounds (wind, trees, birds, water, etc); temporal changes in sound.
Smells: human-made versus natural, such as industry, traffic, etc. versus plants, flowers, the sea, etc; “pleasant” versus “ unpleasant”, foods and type of foods, etc.


Taco trucks are part of the urban landscape in Los Angeles neighborhoods. People is tempted with the smell. Internet download
 
SOCIAL ELEMENTS:
People: languages spoken, behavior, their dress, physical type, occupation, age, and sex, etc.
Activities and Uses: intensity; type –such as industry, clubs, restaurants, residential, religious, fairs, markets, shops, recreation; separated and uniform versus mixed; cars, pedestrians, or other travel modes; cooking, eating, sleeping, playing, etc.
Objects: signs, advertisements, foods, décor, fences, plants and gardens, possessions, etc.
Temporal differences of various kinds.


A scientific analysis could be done after discovering the habitat cues. Picture and plots analysis by Myriam Mahiques
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