The last two decades of architectural studies have been marked by a renewal of interest in human behaviour and how it is related to the environments we inhabit. This interest has stemmed from the recognition that much contemporary architecture, in its pursuit of economic technological efficiency, pays little or no attention to its human context. As part of the attempt to re-establish this context, designers and scholars alike have seen the need to increase our understanding of the nature of the relationship between man and his spatial environment.
The aim of this thesis is to examine the aspect of this relationship which emerges from the premise that the formal 'rules' of culture are one of the means used by man in the process of interpreting his spatial environment. Based on a field study in the Gilbert Islands in the western Pacific, this research outlines the specific nature of the cultural rules used by the Gilbertese in this process, and examines how the process has changed over time.
The thesis is divided into four sections. The Introduction outlines the argument for this type of study in more detail, and explains the theoretical framework developed to relate man, culture, and built form. Also included are the research methodologies used, and a brief physical description of the study area.
In the second section, Part One, four distinct units of traditional Gilbertese settlement pattern are identified - the home, the clan hamlet, the meeting house, and the island as a whole. Each is analysed as a physical environment, the arrangement and use of which were developed by the Gilbertese in accordance with certain relevant cultural practices. Taken as a whole Part One gives an overall outline of the important traditional relationships between built form and culture.
In the third section, Part Two, the impact of Western occupation and influence upon the traditional pattern of relationships is examined. Through an analysis of the manner in which the Gilbertese manipulated those relationships in response to such influences, it became possible to draw conclusions as to the workings of Gilbertese built form and culture, one against the other.
The eventual understanding of the built form/culture relationship, arrived at through the analyses conducted in Parts One and Two, is outlined in the final section, Concluding Remarks. The argument is again supported by notable examples cited earlier in the main text. The specific conclusions so drawn are then synthesised into a more general conclusion of interest to scholars and practitioners of architecture alike.
The thesis begins with the premise that culture would be a determining factor of much of the meaning which people read into their spatial environment. But, as evidence is collected and conclusions drawn, it is shown that such a view (suggesting that culture is used by people as a means of comprehending their architectural environment) cannot be sustained, and that the Gilbertese in fact use their architecture to explore and explain cultural ideas. So it is deduced that it is preferable to treat architecture as a means to a cultural end, thus avoiding the temptation, inherent in the initial premise, to attribute a falsely deterministic role to culture. Most importantly, it allows architecture to be seen as an active element in the cultural process rather than as a passive receptacle of cultural meaning.