Book Review: Responsive Environments / Environmental & Architectural Phenomenology Newsletter

Reviewed by David Seamon

Paul Murrain, one of the authors of this innovative workbook in urban design, was a keynote speaker at the 1990 Environmental Design Research Association meetings at the Universi­ty of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. In his talk, Murrain emphasized the need for environment-behavior researchers to incorporate social, econom­ic, and aesthetic demands in regard to urban design. Responsive Environments, which he wrote with colleagues at the Joint Center for Urban Design at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute, presents a practical effort to provide such a holistic vision for the city. The authors, all designers, seek to inte­grate behavioral, economic, social and aesthetic needs in regard to particular people in particular places.

To hold in sight and reconcile these many, often conflicting, dimensions of place, the authors provide a set of practical design guidelines that contribute to responsive environments‑-i.e., places that provide their users “with an essentially demo­cratic setting, enriching their opportunities by maximizing the degree of choice available to them” (p. 9).

The authors argue that, design-wise, a physical environment can affect this degree of choice in terms of seven qualities of the built and human environment: (1) permeability, (2) variety, (3) legibility, (4) robustness, (5) richness, (6) visual appropriateness, and (7) personalization. To each of these seven qualities, the authors devote a chapter comprised of two parts: First, a discussion of how, through the physical environment, the particular quality contributes to choice; and, second, a set of field work and design-conception sheets that de­scribe practical ways for designers to support the quality through environmental design.

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