On architectural determinism

Tracing environmental determinism: an architectural and psychological history

Architectural determinism or the belief that certain forms in the built environment lead to prescribed social behavior and sentiments was one of the most important socio-political premises of architectural modernism. This idea was derived from the acknowledgement that architectural decor, far from constituting a neutral space pervaded by objects and people, also „fills and determines us“. Determinism had long been the driving belief behind design initiatives to generate social progress and create egality, or on the contrary, to control behavior, restrict the uses of space and thus assure security; even if its solutions were often based on vague concepts of the relationship between social conditions and the built environment. The proposed research aims at highlighting a paradigmatic section of modern and recent architectural and planning ideologies that has been surprisingly rarely addressed. By combining research of the history of architectural ideas and manifestos with testimonies and critiques of built structures as well as empirical studies on psychological effects of buildings and urban constellations, the project’s ambition is to confront different concepts of the built environment’s impact on behavior and sentiments and to investigate the curious perseverance of determinism and its transformation.