Chapter 7. What Humans Make

Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.


The Built Environment

AS HUMANS, WE ARE the source of much of the environment we live in, including roads, buildings, and cities, as well as the social interactions and relationships we have, which influence our choices and behaviors every day. Architects and engineers refer to the human-made structures as the built environment. Although there are certainly big differences between the built environment and the natural one, our perception of context comes from the same cognitive capabilities, whether we’re surrounded by towering skyscrapers or giant redwoods. From the human point of view, the products of our culture are separate from nature, but from the planet’s point of view, our environments emerged from the activity of our species not unlike an ant hill or bee hive. “There is only one world, however diverse, and all animals live in it,” says J. J. Gibson.[151] No matter how much plastic and electricity we use, our built environment is still made of substances, surfaces, objects, and events.

Even though people have been building things for a long time, the study of how cognition works among these structures is fairly recent. One landmark work is the 1960 book by Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City (MIT Press), which presents a framework for analyzing the contours of urban environments and understanding them in human terms. It was the result of a five-year study ...

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