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A Critical Analysis of the Writings of Amos Rapoport

Author(s): Russ V. V. Bradley, Jr.

Source: Journal of Architectural Education (1947-1974), Vol. 24, No. 2/3 (Apr., 1970), pp.
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Association of Collegiate Schools of
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By Russ V. V. Bradley, Jr.

A Critical Analysis of the Writings of Amos Rapoport

Amos Rapoport, the Australian archi- can complete and change and to territories, completing it, changing it
tect formerly on the faculty at the which they may give their own mean- (Rapoport 1967d, 44)." These are
University of California at Berkeley ing (Rapoport 1968b, 305). things people will always do even
and recently Lecturer in Architecture Much of Rapoport's writing is against odds as he notes in the cases
at University College London, has informative, but three articles ("Com- of the CBS Building in New York
written a number of articles about plexity and Ambiguity in Environ- (Rapoport 1967d), but it has sadly
vernacular architecture and about the mental Design" with Robert Kantor been the role of architects to discourage
lessons contemporary architects might 1967c, "Whose Meaning in Architec- this process.
learn from it. The earliest articles do ture?" 1967d, and "The Personal Rapoport believes that a completely
little more than describe villages and Element in Housing: an Argument designed environment like the CBS
buildings as he finds them in Iran for Open-ended Design" 1968b) try Building creates an instability easily
(Rapoport 1964), in California (Rapo- to establish rigorous, scientific bases for
upset by the disarray of living within
port and Sanoff 1965) and in the his attitude, particularly with regard it. This instability is in direct proportion
Amazon (Rapoport 1967e). In recent to the need for visual complexity and the to the tightness of the organization
years, however, he has developed an necessity for significant user participa-and causes an apparently composed
attitude about vernacular architecture tion in the environment in order for it todesign to exist on the verge of being
and its relationship to contemporary become meaningful. Upon studying "messed up," he quotes Florence Knoll
urban problems that, if valid, could be these articles carefully and checking as saying. People want and even need,
useful for designers. his sources in professional and psycho- he says, to live in what she derisively
In his articles, Rapoport describes logical literature, I find that Rapoport'scalls a "kewpie doll atmosphere"
two mutually exclusive traditions in reading of these works is inaccurate; (Rapoport 1967d, 44).
architecture. The architect belongs to his assertions are not sound and his This urge, he continues, is not
the "grand design" tradition (Rapoport conclusions, therefore, not useful to simply to resist the oppression of a
1969a). He demands tight control architects. I propose in this paper, to resolved environment, but also an
over the environment and imposes the present Rapoport's position as statedexplicit demand to be included in that
detached, fashionable, intellectual in these articles and then to discuss in environment as a participant rather
values of the "high culture" which is more detail the substance and signifi-than as a bystander or consumer. In
unresponsive to people. Architects, cance of each major point. the ideal one-to-one relationship of
he says, usually design isolated mon- Meaning, Rapoport states, as it hasinhabitant to environment in vernacular
uments in vast, controlled spaces. At been presented to us in architectural architecture, the buildings respond
present, they are working in a history, has tended to be the rigid in a very direct and immediate way
technological idiom that creates and single meaning of the architect, orto each changing need, desire and even
repetitious, boring universal space. of a powerful client/patron through the whim. Some of these aspects of folk
On the other hand, he claims, folk architect, and rarely has considered architecture must remain if environ-
architecture (the vernacular) grows the responses and feelings of the manyments are to continue to be livable.
directly out of the needs, means, users of the building or city (Rapoport In his own words:
materials, traditions, culture and natural
1967d). As a result, architects have "... unless people can change the
order of the users. The resulting designed "complete closed forms" in environment, it remains alien . . . they
unselfconscious forms melt into a rich, an effort to gain total control over and need to feel they have had a hand in
continuous fabric of vital overlapping reinforce the meaning they wished to shaping their own environment
uses, chance juxtapositions, and variedimpart (Rapoport 1967d, 45). Yet, he (Rapoport 1967, 45)."
personal statements that contribute to says, this meaning, no matter how
a high visual density and complexity. strongly stated, is not the one that In his discussions of the process
Only if people can directly effect theircomes across to the users. They see by which people impart meanings to
architecture, as in the vernacular the building much as Kipling's blind their environment, Rapoport refers
tradition, can they achieve the visual men discerned the elephant-each repeatedly to two basic concepts or
richness that modern psychologists according to his own direct and limitedurges-the urge to territorialize and
have demonstrated is preferred by interaction with a piece of it. the need to personalize. The first
man. (Rapoport and Kantor 1967c). Meaning for Rapoport is an active concept, territorialization, he describes
Modern architects must build "open-force that requires interaction and as coming from ethology and he cites
ended" frameworks which people "implies taking possession, establishing several writers and psychologists as

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reception room that welcomes
support for his assertion including reacts with it. That translates into
Robert Sommer, R. Ardrey, nauts
E. back
T. from the moon. Consis- "creative participatiotn" in Rapoport's
Hall and A. E. Parr (Rapoport 1968b,
tently, Rapoport believes, architects' words (Rapoport 1968b, 301). Learn-
300). values are very different from the ing to live in an ugly and unsuitable
values of the public. environment is presumably con-
If it is becoming necessary to use
The Importance of Personalization scious/passive surrender, while a
repeated elements and even plans to third and insidious, if unlikely,
The central idea in most of meet the housing demand, then it is possibility would be unconscious/
Rapoport's writing is the importance
mandatory that they be right. Right passive brainwashing. In a situation
of personalization. Under theformost
Rapoport does not mean that there where elements of conflict are subject
adverse circumstances, this isneed
an ideal space arrangement for a to change, a serious mismatch between
makes itself known whether in house
given family size or economic class, but environment and inhabitant should
paint in Johannesburg or in rather
window implies generalized arrange - be resolved by active participation.
decoration in dormitories in ments
suitable for pluralistic and An important by-product of open-
(Rapoport 1967d, 45). Personalization
changing needs. Predictably, the term ended design claimed by Rapoport is
he chooses is "loose fit" (Rapoport
is particularly important in housing a general visual variety created by
where real cultural values are1968b, 301). He wants architecture
directly all of the individual efforts of the
that is and
expressed in terms of style, form adaptable at the outset-able inhabitants. Such a variety could not
organization. The shapes and to beuses
pushed, pulled, rearranged, be reproduced by a single architect
of space have evolved out of messed-up,
ideas of given meaning. Until no matter how imaginative (Rapoport
recently, architects have not confronted 1968b, 301). In fact, he intimates,
family structure, child rearing,
education and so on. Within athis issue for several reasons. First,
generic it is artificial variety that renders
house form, people have had the adequate
"people" have never been the client, many housing projects vulgar and
freedom to make personal statements.
and second, no one really understands gives rise to complaints of prestige
Now, however, says Rapoport, wein a way that can be directly distinctions and favoritism. That
user needs
translated into form and space
are faced with a new relationship variety is important in environment
between the individual and definition
housing(Rapoport 1968b, 301). is one of his major tenets.
design. Design is no longer done Rapoport
by wants the design to be It is not just variety, however, but
the people over time, but rather for even when the architect also "complexity" and "ambiguity"
is designing for a single client. A
"generalized categories of people that interest Rapoport. In his use of
(Rapoport 1968b, 300)." Most designer can never know all the uses
recently, the word, ambiguity does not mean
the result has been large scale housing
and meanings the client wants to give vague and uncertain in accordance
projects. Whereas, even thea building at that moment, he says, not with the first meaning in Webster's
monotonous speculatively builtto mention
tract how he will change in New International Dictionary, Second
house allows freedom of personal
the future. If the architect will design Edition, but "arising from language
expression and alteration with a"with
loose fit enabling all changes admitting of more than one interpre-
cultural context, the project does not. the accidental and
including tation . . . duplexity of meaning."
Rather, the inhabitants are subjected
unpredictable ones . . . people will see Similarly, complexity is defined as
to a tyranny previously reserved for
the potentialities in the environment "an assemblage of related things-an
their monuments, churches andand,
given a chance, will use the intricate combination (Rapoport with
buildings-the tyranny of the architect.
environment by expressing those Kantor 1967c, 210)."
While speculative builders are
potentialities (Rapoport 1968b, 301)." The relationship between the two
dependent upon their reading of the concepts, he claims, is direct, with
market and current tastes, theRapoport
architectagrees with some distinc- ambiguity increasing in direct pro-
tions made
is free to impose his own values whileby de Lauwe who describesportion to complexity. Ambiguity,
ignoring, if indeed he has ever sought
the conflict between man and designer moreover, necessarily implies a
to understand, the desires of theof conscious or unconscious
in terms certain degree of complexity. The
people (Rapoport 1968b, 300). His or passive. The desirable
and active role that ambiguity and complexity
values can be unbending as in of the conflict is con-
the CBS play in our visual experience is one
building or oddly anachronistic as where the inhabitant of enrichment. Basing his theories
in the Early American NASA understands what has been designed on his understanding of modern

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psychology, Rapoport is promoting amount (Munsinger and Kessen 1964). the ability to make things vague and
a concept of "optimal perceptual rate Similarly, Rapoport and Kantor cite ambiguous in order to widen focus
,Rapoport and Kantor 1967c, 211)." Berlyne's (1958) work with a tachis- and get to conceptual images. He
toscope which indicated to them that bases this contention on work by
A Perceptual Opulence because subjects lingered longer over Barron (Rapoport and Kantor 1967c
the more complex images, they preferred and Ehrenzweig 1965).
What has gone wrong with buildings complexity (Berlyne 1958). For each person there is an
and cities today, he feels, is a same- With infants, Berlyne also claims optimal perceptual rate, believes
ness and readability that leads to to have found a preference for complex Rapoport, which always lies between
lowered rates of perceptual input. (checkerboard) patterns from the boredom and confusion. Moreover,
What we need rather is a "perceptual very earliest days, as did Fantz, there is a determinable average rate,
opulence" that rests somewhere be- Rapoport reports (Berlyne 1960). "a consensual point" among adults
tween "sensory deprivation (monotony)Thus, since empirical psychological (Rapoport and Kantor 1967c, 214).
and sensory satiation (chaos) (Rap- studies have proven that meagre This rate, in a given society, comes to
oport and Kantor 1967c, 211)." The environments are unpleasant and be the same (on an average) and will
ideal in between enables one "to dangerous, and complex environments always generally increase because
explore, to unfold gradually, to see,are preferred both at the outset and people, by nature, tend to respond to
to give meaning to the environment increasingly with experience, continues "pacer" stimuli that contain something
(Rapoport and Kantor, 1967c, 211)."Rapoport, the next step is to see if of the familiar, but more of novelty and
Rapoport in association with "an enriched environment (can) and uncertainty (Rapoport and Kantor
Stanford psychologist Robert improve the perceiver's brain in 1967c, 215).
Kantor discusses some empirical quantifiable chemical and anatomical His proof of man's need and pref-
work in psychology that support thisdegrees. (Rapoport and Kantor 1967c, erence for complexity and ambiguity
contention (Rapoport and Kantor 213)." completed, Rapoport goes on to discuss
1967c). Sensory deprivation studies The authors found the support they the statements of current designers on
indicate to them that there is indeed wanted in a series of rat experiments this issue. The most obvious and
a dangerous lower limit for visual at Berkeley by Krech, Rosenzweig and eloquent of the designers who have
intake. They cite a McGill University Bennett (1960, 1962). Working with written on the subject are the two he
study where subjects lay motionless, essentially two groups of rats from chooses to quote-Robert Venturi
blindfolded in a silent room for several "enriched" and "impoverished" visual and Aldo Van Eyck. From Venturi's
days. The subjects reported wild and environments, they concluded, accord- gentle manifesto:
anxious visual hallucinations and ing to Rapoport, that: "The rats in "I like complexity and contradiction
claimed that their visual senses reacted in architecture-not the incoherence
the enriched environment improved
over the other two groups in brain or arbitrariness of incompetent archi-
more violently to deprivation than
their hearing, smell or touch (Scott weight and message capacity, in tecture, and not the precious
intricacies of picturesqueness. I speak
et al. 1959). problem solving and in learning."
of wider and solider matter: a kind of
Another experiment with students (Rapoport and Kantor 1967c, 213).
Rapoport's argument continues complexity and contradiction based
by Munsinger and Kessen (1964)
on the need to consider the richness of
concluded that adults consistently with allusions to work by Victor and
Rock (1964) that shows that the experience within the limitations of the
prefer variability and uncertainty in
visual sense dominates over the other medium . . . contradictory relationships
their visual and auditory stimulation.
senses when there is conflict. From express tension and give vitality. A
Specifically they claimed that: (1)
that conclusion Rapoport and Kantor valid architecture evokes many levels
every person has a preference for a
determine only to deal with visual of meaning: its space and its elements
certain degree of environmental
become readable and workable in
ambiguity; (2) the preferred degree perception. From there they leap to
Robert White's (1959) insistence several ways at once ... I like forms
of ambiguity is that with which the
that man is experimental and explora- that are impure rather than 'pure',
person can cope because it relates to
comprising rather than 'clean', distorted
his previous experience; and (3) tory by nature and is driven by his
curiosity to seek changing and complex rather thn 'straightforward', ambiguous
through training a person finds ways
environments. Creative personalities rather than 'articulated'..." (Venturi,
to cope with greater ambiguity and
in the arts and sciences wilfully develop 1966).
thus learns to prefer the greater

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Some of the wonderfully ambivalent, of many different people, will result would stay (usually three to four
poetic paradoxes Van Eyck is wont to in a degree of diversity, and hence days). Two batteries of tests were
utter are cited by Rapoport as support complexity and interest, not possible given to them, before, during and after
for his position. Among them is this through conscious design. (Rapoport isolation. In addition, they were sub-
quote: and Kantor 1967c, 217)." jected to propaganda during isolation.
"Architecture should be conceived as a Twenty-seven control subjects, who
configuration of intermediary places This statement is presented by were not isolated, were given the same
clearly defined . . . it implies a break
Rapoport and Kantor as a conclusion tests and propaganda material.
away from the contemporary concept
to their discussion of the experimental The results indicate that the experi-
(call it sickness) of spatial continuity proofs of the need for "perceptual mental subjects performed worse than
and the tendency to erase every artic- opulence" and of the literary support the controls both during and after the
ulation between spaces, i.e., between for the need for "ambiguity" in archi- isolation period on some tests and
inside and outside, between one space tectural environments. It presents a that they were more susceptible to
clear attitude toward the role of
and another (between one reality and propaganda, though both groups showed
architects, but one which is not sub-
another). Instead the transition must be a significant change in attitude (Scott
articulated by means of defined in- stantiated by the authors. They et al 1959)."
between places which induce simultane- suggest that the impossibility of
ous awareness of what is significant on knowing the nature, variety and Rapoport and Kantor fairly describe
either side. An inbetween space in interrelatedness of the uses of a space the mechanics of the experiment in
this sense provides the common ground prevents the architect from making which the subjects wore translucent
where conflicting polarities can again
all of the right design decisions. What goggles, cardboard cuffs and gloves
they propose and the lessons learned and lay in a silent room with blank
become twin phenomena" (Van Eyck
from vernacular architecture in this walls, but they ignore the point that
regard, will be discussed in the final the sensory deprivation was total and
Having decided that both Van Eyck section of this paper. not merely visual and that much of
and Venturi are saying the same Before proceeding with that discus- the emphasis was on the propaganda
thing he is, Rapoport concludes that sion, however, Rapoport's use and aspect.
"by ambiguity, we can avoid both understanding of work in empirical The experiment shows, as most of
monotony and chaos ... Homogeneity psychology and his understanding of us might easily surmise, that depri-
leads to monotony because there is no the cited writers on art and architecture vation of all the senses is indeed
direction . . . Hence we get contrived should be checked. His arguments unsettling, but there is no discussion
differences ('googie architecture')" spring from this base. If he has
of the relative importance of the various
(Rapoport and Kantor 1967, 217). interpreted the psychological studies senses or whether deprivation of any
True architectural variety would avoid correctly, then his point of view must one of them alone would be as effective.
our tendency to create ever more be taken seriously. This section will Possibly, the other senses would
hysterical googie forms. Of course, demonstrate that he has misinterpreted compensate. Moreover, it must be
and this has been the target all along, the studies he cites.
remembered that students who volun-
the best way to create true variety is by teer for such experiments should not
"open-ended" design that allows the References to Empirical Psychology be termed average in their acuity and
inhabitant to complete the building. sensitivity. They are unusual in their
Only such active participation allows In the first experiments referred to
desire for stimulation and information
the observer to understand the environ- by Rapoport and Kantor (1967c),
and many not represent a fair cross-
ment and results in heightened interest are the McGill University sensory section of an urban population. The
and perception. deprivation studies of the 1940's and
larger issue of individuality, particularly
"At some level the need for ambiguity 1950's. While there is little discrepancy
with regard to people with unusual
in the environment suggests that it is in the factual reporting, the context is visual sensitivities will be discussed
left out. Their condensation of the
impossible to design (my italics) the later in this paper.
total environment. It suggests that the conducting of the experiment agrees
substantially with this summary: In citing the selective orienting
environment must be open-ended,
response studies by Berlyne (1960),
unfinished to a degree so that the "Twenty-nine male subjects were Rapoport and Kantor introduce their
necessary completions, the expression placed in isolation for as long as they own emphasis by claiming that Berlyne


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interpreted the infants' greater likeli-
hood of first fixation on more complex
images as "preference" (Rapoport
and Kantor 1967c, 213). I can find
no statement by Berlyne that it should
be interpreted as preference. Fantz,
as cited by Berlyne in the same chapter
does claim to have found a preference
in infants as well as in chimpanzees for
chessboard patterns over solid colors.
Rapoport and Kantor are correct in
this citation, but a further reading of
Berlyne would expose his belief that
it is the amount of contour that
stimulates the "on- and off-receptors"
of the retina (Berlyne 1960, 99) that
causes fixation in an infant. He says
that other experiments indicate that
this does not apply to adults who are
more effected by incongruity, irregu-
larity and heterogeneity than amount
of contour. Another experiment
discussed in the same chapter indicated
to Berlyne the possibility that:
"orienting responses tend not so much
to be attracted to complex parts of the
stimulus field as to shun features with
low information content and that they
distribute themselves more or less
evenly among features where infor-
mation content exceeds a certain
threshold (Berlyne 1960, 102)."

He does not attempt to define that

threshhold, but in the light of the
simple experimental images illustrated
in his discussion (Berlyne 1960, 100),
it could be relatively low and include
even the most drab urban environment.
The Munsinger and Kessen (1964)
report does, in fact, arrive at the three
already cited conclusions listed by
Rapoport and Kantor. The grand con-
clusion extracted from that report that
"adults consistently prefer variability
and uncertainty in their visual and
auditory stimulation" is again mislead-
ing, however (Rapoport and Kantor
1967c, 213). First, they omit the
important qualifying thought "inter-
mediate (my italics) amount of cognitive
uncertainty" (Munsinger and Kessen
1964). Second, the experimenters note
some quite significant differences
between people particularly when the
art students participated. Rapoport
might explain their different perform-
ance as a result of their increased train-
ing and experience, hence, increased
preference for complexity.
That people can be trained or made
aware is not the only issue, however.


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What is important is the possibility, not sented by Berlyne in this quote: Rapoport concludes from these direct
considered by Rapoport, that people "...'an intermediate degree of
and quite scientific results that the rat
are basically different. Artists may complexity (unity in diversity) makes
brains were "improved" by environ-
prefer complexity because of their for maximum appeal, the exact degree mental stimulation. His emphasis on
training or, alternatively, they may be depending on personality traits (Berlynethe purely visual aspects of the ex-
artists because of a special sensitivity 1958, 295)."
perimental environment cannot be
for visual issues. This problem will supported when the experimenters
be discussed in a later section of this In his analysis of the Krech, Rosen-
describe the environment entirely in
paper in relation to the writing of zweig and Bennett (1960, 1962) ex-terms of toys, maze-experience and
Anton Ehrenzweig. periments on rat brain weight and sociability. The Krech experiment
There is one sentence in the Berlyne message capacity, Rapoport has againmay have had too many variables to be
(1958) article on visual complexity misinterpreted the data and drawn conclusive at all, but if we were to grant
cited by Rapoport and Kantor that unsupported conclusions. While it is its validity within its humble claims, it
would support their argument and true that they found a significant would be difficult to extrapolate the
apparently serves as the source of their increase in brain weight, it was the conclusions to apply to humans in
misleading extrapolations: "environmentally impoverished" rats urban or even house environments.
".... they reveal a tendency to fixate a
who had the larger brains! (Krech, The question Rapoport puts before
part of the environment that is a
Rosenzweig and Bennett 1960.) architects and planners is one of total
relatively rich source of information in
There is no mention of message deprivation versus controlled develop-
preference to one that is a relatively
capacity in the reports unless it is in- ment. We are concerned with issues
herent in the discussion of chemical of visual, tactile, auditory variety in
poor one (Berlyne 1958, 294)."
change. This change and some state- space in which people are free to
The experiment deals with "perceptualments about the abilities of some rats move. It might be possible that under
curiosity" and shows that subjects to solve maze problems were the only Skinnerian conditions of control,
seated before a tachistoscope "showed subjects discussed. Krech, Rosen- imposed variety and training will in-
a greater mean fixation time for the zweig and Bennett ran this group of crease one's ability to cope with more
'more complex' figure than for the 'less experiments with essentially two groups variety and training, but that is not the
complex' figure (Berlyne 1958, 295)."of controlled littermate rats (there was question. As an appropriate and oddly
Complexity was broken down in distincta third 'normal" control group which prophetic epilogue to this discussion
tests into irregularity of shape, amount is not relevant to the discussion). One of their work, one of the experimenters
of material, heterogeneity of elements, group of ECT (environmental com- made this remark in a later article
irregularity of arrangement, and plexity and training) rats was allowed footnoted by Rapoport and Kantor:
incongruity. to live in small groups of ten in relatively
"I hope you will neither reject this
Berlyne's conclusions relate to per- large and open cages and was allowed
research as irrelevant to your own nor,
ceptual curiosity and reaffirm an to have "toys" and daily maze experi-
intuitive belief that we are more likely ence. The other IC (isolation control) on the other hand, apply it uncritically
to work on human behavior and
to look, at least initially, at new and rats were isolated in small metal boxes
development (Rosenzweig 1966, 321)."
interesting images than simple, familiarand handled only for cage cleaning.
ones. Berlyne does not claim that this Upon decapitation an analysis of Having so far established to his
is by preference (intelligent choice chlorinesterase was performed with satisfaction that 1) deprivation is un-
implied) except to note that subjects the following results: "The ratio of pleasant and harmful, 2) enriched
voluntarily lingered over the more cortical to sub-cortical ChE in the environments are gratifying and
complex images when no specific tasksECT group was lower than it was in didactic and 3) that complex environ-
were required of them. The experi- the IC group." In other words, they ments lead to chemical and volumeric
ment does not attempt to explain the conclude, "this experiment has demon- improvement of the brain, Rapoport
lingering fixation as an indication of strated a measurable and consistent gets into even shakier ground when
enjoyment, compulsion to resolve change in the patterning of ChE in rat he tries to deal with concepts as well as
incongruities, or simply an initial fasci-brains as a function of environmental experimental data. Robert White's
nation of curiosity. Upon resolution stimulation (Krech, Rosenzweig and (1959) "Competence" paper does
of the ambiguity, the subject would Bennett 1960, 518)." support Rapoport's contentions that
perhaps return to the familiar and In a second experiment, they match "... stimulation and contact are sought
simple image. In Berlyne's words: ECT and IC rats in problem solving ..., (that) men are persistent in
"A further hypothesis-that complex
in a maze after a period of starvation. choosing environments which provide
or novel stimuli attract observing Both groups did equally well at finding changing and interesting feedback. . .
responses and other investigatory
the food at first, but upon increasing (and that) healthy behavior is ex-
behavior because incomplete perception
maze complexity and solution reversals, ploratory, varying and venturesome
the ECT rats "learned" much faster. in nature (Rapoport and Kantor
of them arouses a drive which contin-
ued examination of them reduces At the end of many tests, the rats were1967c, 215)."
is therefore admissable and deserving becoming more equal again, presumably The emphasis Rapoport misses is the
of consideration (Berlyne 1968, 295)." as a result of experience, and upon importance of the act of being explora-
decapitation, their brains were almost tory. The Held and Hein (1963) cat
Another important qualification is pre-equal in chemical patterning. experiments have established for most


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psychologists the critical relationship the usefulness of establishing criteria with the information load related to
between the perceived world and active, for "optimal perceptual rate" for a that integration.
physical participation in it. There are pluralistic society in an urban environ- The finding that apparently interests
a great many complicated interrelation- ment. Rapoport and Kantor are intent Rapoport is that the curves of integra-
ships in a city environment that can upon establishing such a criteria, tion (vertical scale) versus information
stimulate exploratory behavior and however. load both peak at the same point for
a great many levels of interaction with One of the most serious misrep- both the "abstracts" (whose level of
them. White is clearly talking about resentations of empirical psychologicalintegration is consistently higher) and
an environment of much greater scope experiments is their reading of Streufertfor the "concretes." At no point does
than the visual or even strictly and Schroeder (1965). At no point do the report indicate that the information
perceptual. they come close to claiming to have was at all visual not to mention pre-
White also has some remarks about found a "consensual point of visual dominantly visual. The conclusion was
the levels of motivation which might preference among humans as opposed only that levels of integration are low
be desirable: to a random scatter among individualswhen the flow of information is meagre
(Rapoport and Kantor 1967c, 214)."
"Strong motivation reinforces learning and low again when the flow is too
in a narrow sphere, whereas moderate Their experiment deals with informa- fast. As for Rapoport's allegation that
motivation is more conducive to an tion and not visual perception alone. they discovered the ideal rate of infor-
mnation was "ten bits of information
exploratory and experimental attitude "It may well be that structural
which leads to competent interactions characteristics and (informational)
per unit time (Rapoport and Kantor
in general (White 1959)." load conditions would have somewhat
1967b, 215)" it is only fair to the ex-
different effects on perceptual (my
perimenters to explain that a bit is an
This thought introduces the ambivalent italics) complexity. In other words, agressor move and that the unit of
situation which exists. Man also seeks time was one half hour.
differentiation and integration involved
peace amid stimulation. Just as he Rapoport and Kantor report the con-
in performance, may or may not be
seeks novelty and new experience when clusions of Dember and Earl (1957)
highly correlated with differentiation
he is bored, he "craves that utterly un- correctly. It is not clear, however,
and integration involved in perception whether their conclusions about man's
stimulated condition once sketched as
... Data concerned with the effects of
the epitome of neural bliss" when he is tendency to follow "pacer stimuli"
environmental complexity or information
over-stimulated (White 1959). Leuba, under rigid experimental conditions
load on perception characteristics, as
as quoted in White's article, put it well as data concerned with the inter-
have direct application in the random-
this way: ness of urban life. They themselves
action of conceptual structure and
"There is an optimal level of stimulation, have difficulty in pinning down the
environmental complexity as they
subject to variation at different times, notion of complexity:
might effect perceptual characteristics
and learning is associated with move- would be of great value in further testing "We have deliberately avoided defining
ment toward this optimal level, down- the relationship of conceptual structure complexity as an attribute, but rather
ward when stimulation is too high and to environmental and behavioral have made it a dimensionless measure
upward when it is too low (Leuba variables (Streufert and Schroeder of a stimulus on any attribute. This
in White 1959)." 1965, 136)." enables us to take what seems the
reasonable view that a stimulus may
On the surface, this may seem to be Their experiment involved 236 male have a (lifferent measure of complexity
a restatement of "optimal perceptual college students who were initially on each of its attributes; analogously,
rate" as promoted by Rapoport and tested and classed as "abstracts" or
an individual may have a complexity
Kantor. To the extent that they both "concretes." They were matched in value on each attribute (Dember and
propose an intermediate state of stimu- teams by classification in a tactical game Earl 1957, 95-96)."
lation as desirable, as opposed to against "aggressor" experimenters.
deprivations or satiation, both are The games were controlled by the Rapoport and Kantor understand this
obvious and trivial. Leuba, however, difficulty and, as a result, assert that
aggressor's moves which are the infor-
is specifically talking about the process mation load to be handled. The main there is a "conmmon relevant phycho-
of learning. He also introduces the force of the experiment had to do with logical factor .... that seems to be an
concept of variation over time for each the levels of integration involved in open-ended or indeterminate quality
individual which further complicates performance (problem solving) and to the stinmli, which can be covered


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purely conscious analysis seem accidental
and imponderable. It is never entirely
possible to anticipate with any pre-
cision the impact of changing illumina-
tion and perspective distortion playing
on the cavities and protrusions of a
building. The simpler and more geo-
metric architectural shapes become,
the more dramatic and incisive appear
their irregular distortions wrought
through changing light and viewing
angles (Ehrenzweig 1965, 36)."

Even more to the point is Ehren-

zweig's discussion of Alison and Peter
Smithson's criticism of neat precision
in design:
by the term ambiguity, and (that) there sometimes make his vision vague (and
is evidence to suggest that this factor here Rapoport directly contradicts his"They say that the business of living is
can be related to optimal perceptual rate definition of ambiguous) in order to messy; as it impinges on a too-neatly
(Rapoport and Kantor 1967b, 215)." get into his subconscious or in order to designed space, it will throw it into
If there is such evidence, it certainly see large scale interactions. confusion and ugliness. A well designed
has not been presented in this paper. Rapoport misses two vastly importantblock of popular flats ought to be
It appears that Rapoport was proceed- issues, however. The first is that enlivened, not disfigured, by the many
ing from a set of intuitively derived Ehrenzweig is talking about a rare patterned curtains that its future
hypotheses, probably stemming from ability and not at all about the way occupants will put in the windows. Any
his interest in vernacular architecture, most people function. "Space intuition really good building ought to be "open"
and that he scanned the literature for is therefore as rare in architecture in the sense in which a fertile motif
scientific support. What he found was as it is in geometry (Ehrenzweig is open, waiting to receive readily the
a broad base of primitive experiments 1965, 134)." not entirely predictable incidents of
that generally supported the direction The second and even more pertinent its practical use that will produce its
of his intuition, but which, upon some-difference is in their feelings about final appearance (Ehrenzweig 1965,
what closer inspection do not support the role of architects. Rapoport has 43-44)."
his conclusions. stated that "it is impossible to design
the total environment... (and that) At a casual reading, this seems to
References to Art and Design mirror the catch phrases promoted by
complexity and interest are not possible
through conscious design (RapoportRapoport-messy living, open-ended,
A good point of entry into a discus-and Kantor 1967c, 217)." Ehrenzweig unpredictable, practical use. This is not
sion of Rapoport's reading of writersbelieves that an architect is a creative at all the same, however. He spe-
on art and design is the problem of thepersonality who has that power to get cifically says "a well designed" flat.
creative personality-and specifically,into lower levels of consciousness and The creative mind can and should
the architect as creator. He opens Pan-that "his unconscious mind will have design for the reality, the clutter of life
dora's box when he alludes to Anton and make allowances for the unpre-
scanned and explored many other uses
Ehrenzweig's chapter to Gyorgy Kepes' and interpretations and automaticallydictable. Ehrenzweig believes the good
Education of Vision (Ehrenzweig provided for them in his final designartist/architect is the one best suited
1965). Rapoport intends to use Ehren- (Ehrenzweig 1965, 43)." The architect
to do this.
zweig to further his contention that as a creator has a vision and hence a Rapoport displays the same misun-
ambiguity and complication are positive,
duty to contribute his vision to those derstanding of language in choosing to
desirable qualities since one of the goals
who do not have it. quote Aldo van Eyck as an exponent of
of the creative person is to intentionally his own point of view. The whole in-
widen and unfocus his perception. A "Architectural space intuition must tent of van Eyck's writing is to define
creative person, they both agree, must scan complex interactions which to a what the architect should be doing,


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not what he should leave for other folk architecture and many have found of 'framework.' . . . Frameworks could
people to do. His commitment is to in it more than mere formal and ro- then possibly be defined in terms of the
mantic inspiration. I believe he is correctrelative rate of change based on an
"clearly defined . . . defined in-between
places (Van Eyck 1968)." He does in thinking that there are observable analysis of past examples, primarily in
not want to give them nothing so they "constancies" which "represent certainthe vernacular tradition . .. framework,
can make something out of it but give deeply felt needs and desires (Rapoport whether in the house or city, must be
them something so they can do many 1967a, 176)." fixed by the designer (Rapoport 1968b,
things with it ("non-programatic Rapoport's new book, House Form 305)."
specificity"). He might agree with and Culture (1969b) is worthwhile
In the end, then, there is a definite
Rapoport about the present state of reading both for the sketches and attitude about the role of the architect.
the profession but certainly not the cataloging of many of the house types
ideal state. he has encountered in his extensive While it is one with which I personally
travels and for the emphasis upon the can find some general and intuitive
"The wonderful thing about architecture sympathy, it has not been rigorously
is that it's an art-just that. The terrible
predominant importance of cultural
values in the development of indigenous or even adequately defended. Had
thing about architects is that they are Rapoport based his theory upon obser-
not always artists. Worse, they are
house forms. I believe he is justified vation in the field alone and illustrated
semi-artists (tiny omnitects!) (Van
in continuing this investigation of the
Eyck 1968, 89)."
vernacular tradition and developing more richly with drawings than with
further his theory on the nature and misleading references, it might have
been a useful contribution to architec-
Of the writers cited by Rapoport, relationship of its formal determinants.
tural literature. As it is, his contribu-
Robert Venturi (1966) is perhaps theIt may very well be that there is a clear
tion has been impoverished and perhaps
most opposed to his views. Venturi lesson for architects, but for the present,
explicitly states that the archiect can his work has not convincingly estab- even rendered suspect by careless
and should design complexity and lished any greater understanding of scientisnm scholarship. It is almost a form of
almost as if he felt coin-
ambiguity into his buildings. His what that lesson might be.
pelled to justify and bolster observa-
"Manifesto" is a very personal state- There is a definite development in
tions and reasoning that might well
ment by an architect who accepts the Rapoport's specific personal conclu-
realities of his time as he sees them and sions, from the early articles when he have stood by themselves. Anton Ehren-
welcomes the challenge to affirm them merely describes indigenous buildings zweig could have been thinking of
in a very specific architectural state- in their immediate contexts, to the Rapoport when he wrote:
ment. On a symbolic, historical and per-present. Early in 1967, he could say: "Today's architects in search of
haps too intellectual level, his work is "The difficulties in applying these inspiration are casting around for new
multi-meaning, but it is certainly never intuitive insights, and relating laboratory sociological factors that would introduce
"open-ended." Moreover, Venturi findings to design, have not yet been
welcomed obstacles into their calcula-
sees in the very nature of architecture tackled (Rapoport and Kantor tions. So great is their need for the new
an element of complexity: 1967c, 220)." sociological functionalism that they are
often not content with serving existing
"... architecture is necessarily complex
In an article published a few months social order, but find themselves in the
and contradictory in its very inclusion
of the traditional Vitruvian elements of
later, he begins to see what architects role of social reformers, catering to
should do: non-existent social requirements
commodity, firmness and delight. And
"These vernacular environments have (Ehrenzweig 1965)."
today, the wants of program, structure,
mechanical equipment and expression, basically been open-ended, unfinished
even in single buildings in simple frameworks, which people could
contexts, are diverse and conflicting in complete physically, and change physic-
ways previously unimaginable (Venturi ally over time .. . If we give people
1966, 22)." an unfinished frame, they will complete
it, and in so doing introduce their own
Rapoport is certainly as entitled to meaning to it ... This framework can
his beliefs about architects and archi-
be at different scales-regional, metro-
tecture as Venturi, Van Eyck or Ehren- politan, urban, local, building, etc....
zweig. It is wrong, however, for him (Rapoport 1967d)."
to borrow their prestige when none of
them are saying at all the same thing. In the most recent articles, he has be-
come even more specific about the job
Conclusions architects should be doing:
There is certainly a quality about "Architects are better trained and far
many vernacular buildings and settle- more sophisticated than the public...
ments that appeals to most men-par-I would argue that the architects should
ticularly those men with developed act as pacers . . . The designer would
visual sensitivities like Amos Rapoport.give up some of his absolute control
Architects before Rapoport have studiedand concentrate his skills in the design


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