Examining the built environment

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)


The long trajectory of humanity encompasses a transition from living in the out-of-doors to living indoors—across much of the globe and for much of the time. Indeed, today the majority of people live in urbanized settlements, and are surrounded by the built environment.

Built environment” refers to human-made constructions that, at least loosely, may be called buildings, plus all sorts of architecture and engineered structures, even if the planning for them is not formalized on paper or via a CAD program. The built environment also includes roads, sidewalks, open plazas, landscaped parks, irrigation canals, sewage treatment plants. It includes houses and sheds, barns and shopping centers, tipis and golf courses, monumental edifices like the Capitol in downtown Atlanta, and semi-subterranean structures like the earth lodge at Ocmulgee National Monument.

A culture’s built environment reflects technology and building materials that may be readily available or imported from far away. The built environment may be elaborately decorated or quite plain. It may be durable or survive only a short time.

The built environment codes a wide variety of information. Buildings may have decorations or designs that indicate cultural affiliations, belief systems, and relative wealth or poverty. Their scale and setting also are informative. Consider adornments like a Christian cross, elaborate carvings, and painted murals, all of which may communicate considerable information—if you can interpret them and understand the cultural signals they encode.

So, the building above—where is it? Just looking at it, what do you know about it? And, how do you know those things? Start with simple description—color, size, etc.—and then shift to the more complicated….

Have you finished pondering? Read more about this building here.