Aesthetic Experience of Built Environment

Document Type : Research Paper


1 PhD of Urban Design, Faculty of Architecture & Urban Planning, Shahid Beheshti University

2 Master of Urban Design, Faculty of Architecture & Urban Planning, Shahid Beheshti University


Throughout human evolution history, beauty has always been one of the necessary integral components of human need. As Greer (2010) said, “one of the prehistoric human’s responses to the animal life around them was to etch and paint these animals on the walls of their caves. Turning them into art and rendering them beautiful was a natural response - a way to help make sense of a hostile and confusing world”. Likewise, people of old civilizations such as Babylon and Egypt used disciplined arrangements in their settlements structures. And they used concepts such as symmetry, order, harmony and etc. to express beauty in their living environment. This historical effort has been followed till today, which one of the main concerns of environmental design practitioners and theorists, especially in urban design, is creating and designing beautiful urban environments and places for people. In the storyline described, dispute about concept of beauty and its origin has been an ongoing discussion that dates back at least to 2.500 years ago. This storyline also could be seen as a single movement from certainty to doubt which according to Powers (2010) “reflects the growing complexity of the world surrounds us”. Though this evolutionary path has a repetitive oscillation between two polarities of subjectivity and objectivity. So that, according to Reber et al. (2004) in the former one, which is a rather rational understanding of beauty, aesthetic theorists, dating back at least to Plato, saw beauty as a property of an object that produces a pleasurable experience in any suitable perceiver. This special point of view tries to boil down the essence into formulae and models for further application. While in the latter one, which is a romantic understanding of beauty, theorists, dating back at least to the Sophists, proposed that beauty is based on personal experience and insight. So it can be defined only ‘in the eye of the beholder’. In this point of view, anything could be beautiful if it only pleases human senses and therefore, beauty is not that much open to explanation or proof. Most modern philosophical analyses, however, reject the objective versus subjective distinction and define beauty as a sense which emerges from patterns in the way people and objects relate. Despite frequent use of the concept and different definitions it has, the entity of it, still seems ambiguous. And at least in Iran, there is not a clear understanding of aesthetic experience in knowledge of environmental design. Regarding the importance of beauty in human health and significant role of aesthetic experience on bringing structural changes in the brain, this article, seeks to define aesthetic experience of human. For better understanding of aesthetic experience and its role in the process of perception, we adopt three different perspectives, including biological, cognitive and psychological perspectives. Consequently, we propose that aesthetic experience is caused by a multitude of senses, and beauty is grounded in the processing experiences of the perceiver that emerge from the interaction of stimulus properties and perceivers' cognitive and affective processes.