Scholarly article on topic 'Space and place concepts analysis based on semiology approach in residential architecture'

Space and place concepts analysis based on semiology approach in residential architecture Academic research paper on "Civil engineering"

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HBRC Journal
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Abstract of research paper on Civil engineering, author of scientific article — Mojtaba Parsaee, Mohammad Parva, Bagher Karimi

Abstract Space and place are among the fundamental concepts in architecture about which many discussions have been held and the complexity and importance of these concepts were focused on. This research has introduced an approach to better cognition of the architectural concepts based on theory and method of semiology in linguistics. Hence, at first the research investigates the concepts of space and place and explains their characteristics in architecture. Then, it reviews the semiology theory and explores its concepts and ideas. After obtaining the principles of theory and also the method of semiology, they are redefined in an architectural system based on an adaptive method. Finally, the research offers a conceptual model which is called the semiology approach by considering the architectural system as a system of signs. The approach can be used to decode the content of meanings and forms and analyses of the architectural mechanism in order to obtain its meanings and concepts. In this way and based on this approach, the residential architecture of the traditional city of Bushehr – Iran was analyzed as a case of study and its concepts were extracted. The results of this research demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach in structure detection and identification of an architectural system. Besides, this approach has the capability to be used in processes of sustainable development and also be a basis for deconstruction of architectural texts. The research methods of this study are qualitative based on comparative and descriptive analyses.

Academic research paper on topic "Space and place concepts analysis based on semiology approach in residential architecture"

HBRC Journal (2014) xxx, xxx-xxx

Housing and Building National Research Center HBRC Journal

Space and place concepts analysis based on semiology approach in residential architecture The case study of traditional city of Bushehr, Iran

Mojtaba Parsaee a,% Mohammad Parva a, Bagher Karimi b

a Shiraz Branch Islamic Azad University (Department of Art and Architecture), Shiraz, Iran b Bushehr Branch Islamic Azad University (Department of Art and Architecture), Bushehr, Iran

Received 4 March 2014; revised 5 July 2014; accepted 23 July 2014







Abstract Space and place are among the fundamental concepts in architecture about which many discussions have been held and the complexity and importance of these concepts were focused on. This research has introduced an approach to better cognition of the architectural concepts based on theory and method of semiology in linguistics. Hence, at first the research investigates the concepts of space and place and explains their characteristics in architecture. Then, it reviews the semiology theory and explores its concepts and ideas. After obtaining the principles of theory and also the method of semiology, they are redefined in an architectural system based on an adaptive method. Finally, the research offers a conceptual model which is called the semiology approach by considering the architectural system as a system of signs. The approach can be used to decode the content of meanings and forms and analyses of the architectural mechanism in order to obtain its meanings and concepts. In this way and based on this approach, the residential architecture of the traditional city of Bushehr - Iran was analyzed as a case of study and its concepts were extracted. The results of this research demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach in structure detection and identification of an architectural system. Besides, this approach has the capability to be used in processes of sustainable development and also be a basis for deconstruction of architectural texts. The research methods of this study are qualitative based on comparative and descriptive analyses. © 2014 Production and hosting by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of Housing and Building National Research


* Corresponding author. Tel.: +98 917 115 6195.

E-mail addresses: (M. Parsaee), uni.parva@ (M. Parva), (B. Karimi).

Peer review under responsibility of Housing and Building National

Research Center.


Space and place are among the most discussed concepts in architecture. Particularly, these concepts were noticed more in the modern architecture than it was in the past by architects and attempts have been made to present a new image of it. Moreover, the perception of fundamental concepts and basic characteristics of these two elements would have been useful

1687-4048 © 2014 Production and hosting by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of Housing and Building National Research Center.

Table 1 Space and place characteristics.

Space Place

• Space can and should be perceived through the capabilities (potentially) of movement or lack of such capabilities and how that movement took action, flow or stoppage [12] • Mere space has two features: ''Spatium'' and ''Extensio'' [3] • Space is created by a specific set of natural and artificial things whose architecture is involved in its creation [5] • Everything which has no space is not architecture. Every building creates two spaces at the same time: interior space and exterior space. Interior space is the essence and basis of architecture [6] • Architectural space can be perceived objectively and feel directly and it can identify by its defining elements [4] • The relation between inside and outside, which is the first aspect of objective space, shows that spaces have various levels of extension and surrounding [10] • Giedion agreed that the architecture can be perceived by two main aspects: organizing of space and built form [9] • Space can be identified by its limitation elements and its character followed by the condition and the order established among these elements. These elements include: floor, ceiling, wall, material and surface, openings [4] • In the phenomenology approach, space has distinctly definable elements which include: dialectic of inside and outside, central-ity, surrounding, territory and range [1] • Spaces obtain their pure existence from the place and not from 'mere space'. Spaces, which we come across among them, have been formed by the place. The purity of these places is hidden in things like buildings [3] • If space gives the possibility of movement, place creates pause [8] • The Unity of gestalt, form and space are the characteristics of places and where the living occurs [26] • The place does not need to be occupied or determined by a particular object. Even the environmental conflicts are enough to determine a place [4] • The place can be considered as a result of the interaction of three components: human behavior, concepts and physical characteristics [1] • Paolo Portoghesi did sometimes define it as the ''system of places'' [9] • The place is a combination of memory, sensory experiences and narratives [7] • The place can be realized as the synthesis of space organization and built form and its meaning is indicated by architectural language or tradition [9] • The most important role among the factors which give character to a place is opposition to the environment. It means topologies, form, and material and color opposition [4]

in architectural processes and creating the architectural products. In fact, if the purpose of architecture is creating a space or a place for dwelling and living (as Heidegger and Nor-berg-Schulzhad said), then the questions are: what do space and place mean exactly? How could these concepts be created in architecture? Nowadays, identity and sense of belonging are among the fundamental issues in architecture and urban design, especially in cities and regions with a historical background, it has become very important. These are such topics which have been related directly to space and place concepts, thus, highlighting the necessity of discussion about these concepts. There are a lot of different methods for recognizing and analyzing these concepts in architecture. So, this article has attempted to present an approach based on semiology knowledge. Then, the capability of the semiology approach in analyzing the concepts of space and place in architecture has been investigated and its abilities and characteristics have been achieved.

Space and place concepts in architecture

Although we use the word 'space' very commonly in our daily life, the concept of space is quite complicated and makes it difficult to define [1]. However, attempts to offer a definition for space are assigned to Plato and Aristotle [2]. Heidegger [3] did not consider space as something which stands in front of the humans, rather than in his view, space is neither an external nor an inner experience. Space is not something predetermined and fixed; In fact, it is the personal location which defines the space [4]. Moreover, the perception of space is only possible in the presence of the perceptible objects therefore space is the relation among objects [5]. Space, based on its English lexical concepts, can be classified into three types of geographical space, living space and (interior or central) architectural space [4]. Bruno Zevi [6] considered space as the basis of architecture which architecture obtains its characteristics based on it. Table 1 presents the characteristics of space and place in architecture.

Table 2 Semiology scholars point of view and theoretical framework.


Semiology perspective

Theoretical framework

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914)

Ferdinand de



Charles W. Morris (1901-1979)

Roland Barthes (1915-1980)

Umberto Eco (1932)

Semiology is a science that studies the objective and subjective phenomena as it appears in the face, mind or consciousness [15] Logic in its broad meaning [12]

The knowledge of all cultural phenomena studies [16]

Ultimate and extensive knowledge [16]

A science studying signs in context of social life and it is the part of social psychology and subset of general psychology [12] Linguistics is part of seismology and the language is a system of signs expressing the beliefs [16] Semiology has limitations (unlike Peirce) and its uses are only in the contractual communication system [16] The science which is placed among the other science and on the other hand is a tool used by the other science [15]

A tool to unite all science [15]

Three different aspects of semiology [15]: o Syntax aspect o Semantics aspect o Pragmatic aspect

Recognizing the semiology system through rules, principles and methods of linguistics [15]

The semantic Implication system cannot be recognized without linguistics [15]

The sign is a thing that is based on social beliefs and a group of humans have accepted to use it as a sign of something [15] Anything which is replaced by another thing [32]

The sign says something instead of something else for someone [15] Trihedral nature of singes [17] The sign is an act or effect which is made by coordination between representation, the object and its interpretation.

The inner-relation among them is called "relations logic'' [15] Every sign has three parts (see Fig. 2) [17]: o Sign

o Sign in relation to its object o Sign as it interpreted the object representation

Three constituents of a sign can be presented as a

semiology triangle [27] (Fig. 3 [28])

The sign is like two sides of coin in which one side is

the signified (concept) and the other side is the signifier (image) [29] (Fig. 4 [28])

The relation between signifier and signified is called Implication [30]

The signifier and signified are two sign components which

is meant by the sign and are not independent of it [31]

Fiske by considering the signified as a subjective thing believed that

the Implication means the connection between the signified and

the external reality (referent) (Fig. 5) [30]

The signs have an optional nature which is meant by their usage

in each time situation in the existing linguistic system [29]

The signifier and signified combination is basically optional and

there is no natural and unavoidable relation between signifier and signified [31]

In each communication action, signs have one of these five aspects: 1. Identifier/2. Determiner/3. Exponent/4. Imperative/5. Forming or logical. Every predicate is made by the combination of these elements [15] The sign is a sign just because it is recognized as the sign of the other thing by an interpreter

The text and its effective forces are creating meaning together [15] The sign is accepted by the interpreter due to the contract (that is) based on social beliefs and is pre-accepted [15]

The Implication stages which are defined in relation to the signifier and signified [30]:

o Stage one: explicit (Implication) meaning o Stage two: implicit (Implication) meaning o Stage three: myth (combination of explicit Implication and implicit Implication)

The explicit Implication is referring to objective concepts of a sign (the what) [32] The explicit Implication represents the signifier and signified relation in sign and also the relation between the sign and its referent or external reality (general meaning or obvious meaning) [30]

The implicit is almost social, optional, unconscious and culture-specific [30] The general role of semiology is establishing the two theories [15]: o One is 'the theory of codes' that considers the 'semantic Implication' o The other one is 'the theory of sign production' that the main point is 'the connection'

This definition of semiology also includes our objective culture like buildings, furniture and product [32]

While space is an open and abstract area, place is not considered as a subjective and abstract concept [7], it rather is a location or a part of space which obtains its particular identity through the factors inside it [4] and has a meaning and value.

Place is the base of a direct connection with the world and the human life spot and it means beyond the position and origin [7]. Therefore, it is full of meaning, physical reality and human experiences and is considered as ''the center of sensible value''

Sign Sign in relation Sign as it interpreted to its object the object representation

Fig. 2 Sign, object and interpreted relation [17, p. 23].

[8]. Heidegger [3] discussed that the places make it possible for a space to exist hence be built, like a constructed place establishes and links the spaces. The mission of architecture is to activate the potential content of environment by converting

somewhere to a place, thus the final goal of architecture is creating and also protecting a place [9]. Table 1 indicates the characteristics of a place from the point of view of some scholars. In fact, place can be considered as the synthesis of space organization and the built form, and Paolo Portoghesi defined it as the ''system of places'' [9].

Identity and sense of place

Identity and sense of place or as Norberg-Schulz [10] said the spirit of a place, are two of the topics which are highly regarded in space issues. That means people need a sense of identity and belonging to a specific place or territory [11]. In fact, identifying a place is a social phenomenon and its identity is a particular combination of social relations [8]. Place is like a

Table 3 Semiology categorization and points.


Categorization and basic principals

The points

Charles Sanders Peirce

Charles W. Morris

(1) Icon: based on the similarity among sign and object [16] (the signs that are dependent to similar phenomena, in relation to feeling) [15] for example, the similarity between a picture and its owner

(2) Index: based on such internal or existence aspects, such as meaning unity between object and sign [16], for example smoke is the index of fire

• It has two types of indexical signs:

i. It has a direct and physical relation to the object (technically)

ii. It has no direct and physical relation to the object but it still relates to object interpretation (metaphorically)

(3) Symbols and public signs: the contract which reveals the relation between the interpretant and the object and the sign basis [16] (conventionalbased) [15] for example, put out the hat from head as a sign of respect • Categorizing the signs based on their specific function [15]:

(1) Scientific

(2) Esthetics

(3) Technological

David Crystal (1941)

(1) (2)

The signs can be categorized like this [33]: Auditory - verbal

Visual Tactility Olfaction Gustatory

> The icon is based on the formal similarity between signifier and signified or sign basis and its interpretant [15] The icon in the arts means the similarity between form and concepta (meaning)

> Iconic signs are two types [15]:

o Picture/Image (repeat the relation between object components and elements

o Metaphor (creating a kind of parallel between objects components and icon components)

> The index depends on the cause and effect relation between the signifier and signified [15]

> The symbol is a sign in true meaning [15]

> The symbolic signs give notice about object apart from any kind of formal similarity or the cause and effect relation or deductive relation with the object [15] The icon and index is the current relation of the signifier and signified but the symbol is the out of time relation [15]

• The artwork is a particular esthetics sign; it means an icon with its particular values [15]

• The iconic signs are signs which are in any way similar to their objects [15]

Categorizing the signs based on the human sensory system [33]

Functional Semiologist

Categorizing the signs in these types [16]:

Ferdinand de Saussure

(1) (2)

Natural indexes Icon Symbol Sign

• There is a relation of time and place between the signifier and signified in natural signs and no contracts have determined their relation [16]

• There are no essential relations of time and place or any contracts between the signifier and signified in the icon [16]

He regarded the symbolic aspect of signs by considering the contractual aspect of signs [16] The true sign is a sign which is the relation between its signifier and signified is optional and contractual [31]

• The true sign is the main topic of semiology and the two other signs (icon and index) are considered particularly and as secondary [31]

• The symbol represents the natural relation between the signifier and signified [15]

The form in Pierce point of view means the internal relations between components of a structure [15].

Table 4 The Synchronic and Diachronic aspects/ The Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic relations.

Meaning Characteristics

Synchronic Diachronic Syntagmatic Paradigmatic • Studying the language system in specific situations and regardless of time [31] • A relation or contrast between two shapes that they put together at the same time [31] • Studying the language revolution during time [31] • Replacing one shape with another shape [31] • A unit adds with other units [16] • Based on combination and increasing orders[16] • The relation between the elements that can be put together in a sequence [31] • The different ways that connect the elements in a text [30] • A unit replaced with another unit [16] • Based on selection and succession [16] • The contrasts between the elements which can be replaced with each other [31] • The language is a shape not content and the value of each element is recognized by its place in the language system [16] • In the synchronic study method, the complete language situation is studying in a specific time (usually in present time) [15] • In the diachronic study method, a specific element of language is studying in the successive layers of time [15] • Neither signifier nor signified contains a fundamental core hence time cannot be affected [31] • The syntagmatic relations have been related to other signifiers, which are present in the text, in an inter-textual way [30] • The paradigmatic relations have been related to other signifiers, which are absent in the text, in an outer-textual way [30] • The syntagmatic relations are created from elements which come successively in a linear way to produce a message [16] • The paradigmatic relations are created from elements that can be replaced with elements of a message and the message still remains [16] • In semiology, the syntagmatic relations are the most important point in the set meaning determining factors [16]

Fig. 3 (A) The sign triangle based on Pierce theory [27, p. 83]. (B) The sign triangle offered by Pierce [28, pp. 29-30].

container which contains events, through which, and also during the time, the important and essential common experiences are created among people [11]. The structure of a place is not a fixed and eternal condition and usually places have been changed [10]. The identity of a place is always defined and redefined due to the ongoing evolution throughout the history [8]. Therefore, every place should have the capacity to receive 'different

Fig. 4 Signifed and signifier relation [28, pp. 14-15].


Signified Implication Extrenal reality (Referente)

Fig. 5 Sign, signified, signifier and implication relation [30, p. 192].

content' however in specified levels [10]. Fig. 1 illustrates the components that create the sense of place.

Semiology in architecture

Every building, as a part of an architectural culture, is appointed to visualize a mental image via its form [4]. Humans live in space and change its components into some meaningful signs for themselves or add some other signs to it from the outside; therefore, they have a continuous interactive relation with space [12]. All objects and activities are like a text which contains a system of signs, which can be analyzed from a new outlook [8]. Amos Rapoport stated place, time, meaning and relation as four basic elements which form man-made

Fig. 6 Left: the semiology triangle adopted from [13,27,33]. Right: the semiology triangle in architecture (designed by the authors).

Fig. 7 The analytical processes in the conceptual model (designed by the authors).

environments[12]. Meaning is formed based on communica-tional subscriptions [8] and the available divisions of meaning are either related to environment potential instrumental uses or emotional qualities received by an environment viewer or user [13]. Architectural semiology has extensively utilized the linguistic pattern in a way that it somehow has considered

Fig. 8 Tarmeh (Rashidi mansion), photo by authors. Left: outside view/Right: inside view.

architecture as a language. The social-semiology approach is an attempt to connect semiology to a particular context through social processes [8]. Hence, in this research, house (as a residential architecture) is analyzed as a cultural phenomenon. The house form is not only the result of physical forces or any other mere causal factors. It rather is the result of a set of social-cultural factors in large scale. So, it is the belief of people about the utopian life which determines the form of a house, and shape of spaces and their connections to a certain region with equal facilities, limitations and capacities [14].

Figure 9 Shenashir (Tabib mansion), photo by authors. Left: outside view/Right: inside view.

Table 5 The analysis of architectural spatial organization.


Spatial organization

Spaces sequence

Functional areas classification

Private and public zones

Circulation system Behavioral pattern


Spatial organization

The elements in the buildings • Entrance, Corridor (or Vestibule), Courtyard, Staircase, Room, Tarmeh (see Fig. 8), Shenashira

(see Fig. 9), Kitchen, Restroom, Bathroom,b, Water-storage, Pit place (Spring house), Store, Roof

• Fig. 10 display of these elements in one of the mansions (Rashidi mansion)

• In most of the buildings, the spaces are organized around the central courtyard by a central method. In some cases, the combination of central and linear organization is seen

• The spaces organization is based on the maximum use of wind-flow in the spaces while preserving the privacy (extrovert designing with privacy preservation)

• There is a semi-open space (like the Tarmeh or the Shenashir) between each open-space and closed-space

• The space syntax is illustrated in Fig. 11

• Services functions; such as restroom, bathroom, kitchen and water-storage with the places for living in winter; were arranged on the ground floor (see Fig. 10)

• The first floor and the upper floors were used to live in summer (see Fig. 10)

• The interior open-space of the building (the central courtyard) is connected to the exterior open-space (street) by a semi-open space (the Shenashir). Thus, it resulted in privacy and enjoyment of both the interior and exterior

• The building's entrance is often linked directly to the street from the courtyard through a corridor. Only in a few cases there is a vestibule. The semi-public space has rarely been seen in these buildings

• The connections between spaces on the first and ground floor are linearly through the corridors around a central courtyard or linked to each other through the central courtyard

• On the first floor and the upper floors, the connections are made linearly through the Shenashir

• Living was taking place on the ground floor and first floor (and other floors) seasonally. It means that in the cold months most of the ground floor was used and in the warm months most of the first floor was used (see Fig. 12)

• On the first floor, there is a room named Majlesi which is used as the guests' reception room (see Fig. 10)

• The sitting room (the Beneshin room) is on the first floor and used for family members (see Fig. 10)

• The Cuddy room (the Pastoo room) is a room near the sitting room which has lots of niches and closets (see Fig. 10)

• The Tarmeh is a place which is opened at least on one side and sometimes has no roof. It is used as a temporary seasonal sitting place or as a corridor and place for connecting several spaces [34]

• The roof is used for sitting and sleeping in summer nights

a In traditional architecture of the Bushehr, the Shenashir is a semi-open and interfacing space between interior and exterior spaces and it is like a veranda that is made of railings and canopies made of wooden material [34].

In some cases, the bathroom is placed besides the main building as a separate building which is connected to each other.

Semiology background

Semiology is a science which deals with the realization and analysis of signs and symbols in all forms and aspects. These aspects include spoken or written language or non-linguistic forms such as physiologic and biologic signs, semantic signs, value systems, and all forms of motions, moods, conscious or unconscious [12]. The recent semiology science is a young and new science which is introduced in the early 19th century due to philosophers focusing on it especially on linguists' studies [15]. Semiology method is also utilized for recognition of significant perception of the communication mechanism. In philosophical and logical beliefs of ancient Greece and India, semiology is used as a means to study the phenomenon [16]. The modern semiology is the result of an evolution of traditional semiology which had Greek roots, and this evolution occurred in medieval times. Consequently, this evolution approached the singes having a metaphysical basis to a human basis [12]. The recent semiology

is influenced by the works of some scholars such as Charles Sanders Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure, Levi Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes [16]. Among these theories, the ones of Charles Sanders Pierce and Ferdinand de Saussure play key roles. Peirce used the expression ''Semiotics'', and Saussure invented ''Semiology''. Umberto Eco suggested using Semiotics as signs science in natural sciences and semiol-ogy in the human sciences [15].

Semiology theories

Table 2 briefly describes the point of view of some scholars and theoretical framework concerning semiology. Among them, Pierce and Saussure's theories are the fundamental and basic ones. Pierce's views have been effective in cultural studies, anthropology and also in history and review of art [17]. Moreover, Saussure involved semiology in anthropology issues [12].

Table 6 The analysis of architectural physical structure.



Physical structure Climatic features

Building configuration

Ventilation and lighting

Ornaments and details

Proportions and scale

Material and color

Non-visual qualities

The climate is hot and humid on the sidelines of the Persian Gulf where rainfall is sparse and showery. It is sultry in summer. The favorable wind-flow is from the north and the northwest and the other wind-flows are unfavorable

The buildings form is cubic and it was constructed on two floors or more The courtyard is a square and the spaces are organized around it

The ground floor is a combination of the courtyard and the close-space and the upper floors are a combination of the courtyard and the closed-space and the semi-open space. In some buildings, the last floor is built in L and U forms (changes in floor) (see Fig. 13)

The buildings are located in such a way that it opens on two sides or even four sides in order to better ventilate them

Most of the buildings have the Shenashir on the outside and spaces inside and it is like a second shell around the building that prevents it from intense radiation and the extreme heat of the sun The ventilation based on maximum use of favorable wind-flow is very essential. Thus, this wind-flow streams into the spaces through several openings in the exterior facades and then by using the openings which are created in front of them and facing the central courtyard, the flow of wind through the space and the cross-ventilation make this possible (see Fig. 10)

By using this type of ventilation, the central courtyard sucks up the wind-flow from the pass (alley or street) into the (interior) spaces. So, a natural cooling system is created

The central courtyard also leads the wind-flow into the building through the semi-open spaces (like the Tarmeh)

The openings have the role of brightening the spaces, too. Therefore, the interior spaces are very bright and vivid because of several openings

The openings are located deep in the wall and have the canopy or the Shenashir in order to prevent the intense radiation and extreme heat of the sun

On the ground floor, a few openings are seen, more in heights and they are smaller than the upper floor openings (about half the size)

Above each opening usually there is a rectangular mesh which is made of wood and colored glasses with different decorative lattices (see Fig. 14)

In interior spaces there are some kind of ornaments with plaster in the corner of the ceilings and also there are some decorative wooden designs on it

The niches and meshes with colored glasses are the other ornaments in the rooms

The doors are made of wood in combination with glass and with an arch above (called Khorshidi) which is

designed differently and is pretty using a combination of wood and colored glasses (see Fig. 15)

The entrance door of buildings has the most ornaments which are made of wood and metal. The doors

have two different types of Knobsa one of them is for men and the other one is for women. The other

components of the entrance door are: the lock, the studs, wooden ornaments and an aperture above

the door for ventilation and lighting (see Fig. 16)

The wooden shutters are made with some angled blade that leads the wind-flow through it and also controls the outer views and interior spaces There are fireplaces in some buildings

The height of floors and the entire building had been considered due to climatic issues and reduction of heat and humidity (the pure height of floors is about 4 m or more)

The central courtyard is usually like a square in proportion (the length and the width are equal) and in most of the cases, its height being more than its length and width. The courtyard is like a ventilator for the spaces around itself and it creates a shadow and reduces heat with these proportions The width of the interior spaces is less than their length (most of the spaces have the ratio of (width to length) 1-2 up to 1-3) and the highest of them are more than its width (the ratio of about 3-4 up to 3-5, see Fig. 12)

Materials which are used in buildings are: local stone (called Gassar stone), lime mortar, wood and mat to cover the floor (wood with a circular cross section, which is called Chandal, have the role of carrier beams, wooden lumbers that were used to connect these beams and to create the surface for floor covering), plaster to cover the inner surfaces, wood for doors and windows and railings and canopies (see Fig. 17) The buildings are covered with a grayish-white coating for the wooden elements such as Shenashir, canopy, railings, doors and windows with colored glasses are distinguishing features of facades The rainwater was gathered in a water-storage pit through the gutters and then it was used The interior spaces are bright and vivid due to good lighting and colored glasses The roof was used for sitting and sleeping in hot summer nights

Bathrooms were placed inside the buildings and the public bathrooms were not needed any more

It is some kind of handhold which is used to knock the door.

Fig. 10 Rashidi mansion plans (from Bushehr Province Administration of Cultural Heritage archives). These plans show the present conditions of buildings and some of the changes which had occurred.

Fig. 11 The space syntax (designed by the authors). (A) Accessibility pattern on the ground floor (winter occupancy). (B) Accessibility pattern on the first floor (summer occupancy).

Categorization and fundamental principles of Semiology

Based on the theoretical frameworks as is described in the previous table, scholars have offered different categorization and expressions regarding semiology. These definitions and categorizations have some different points and also some points in common that result from each scholar's theoretical principle.

Generally, these categorizations and principles are illustrated in Table 3.

The synchronic and diachronic aspects/the syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations

The synchronic and diachronic aspects and also the syntag-matic and paradigmatic relations are the concepts that Saussure analyzed in the field of signs and language system. Saussure believed the synchronic and diachronic aspects as a result of an optional nature of signs. The syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations include the relations between elements of a sign system. Table 4 presents the characteristics of these concepts.

Therefore, it can be said that the syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations provide us the possibility of creating different combinations and different meanings in various situations. Moreover, these various formed structures and systems can be analyzed based on the synchronic and diachronic aspects [15], although, it is important to note that the syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations are placed on the synchronic aspects of a system. Hence, every sign system should be detected in a specific period of time (the synchronic aspects), not as an historical continuity (the diachronic aspects). It is because recognizing the complementary and historical relations is not an efficient parameter to describe a system [16].

The conceptual model of semiology approach in architecture

According to what has been said previously, by considering architecture as a language that is created by a system of signs [8], the semiology triangle for this system can be illustrated as given below (Fig. 6).

Fig. 12 Behavirol pattern and proportions in Boushehr traditional mansion (Rashidi mansion).

Fig. 13 Changes in form (Golshan mansion), photo by authors.

In this triangle, the architectural mechanism includes a spatial organization and a physical body. Moreover, the social-cultural background studies the social and cultural parameters of people who apply that architecture. As a matter of fact, based on the conceptual model of semiology approach, at first the architectural mechanism is analyzed from two points: firstly spatial organization, and secondly physical structure, in order to gather basic data regarding its mechanism. After that, the social-cultural background of the users of this architecture is investigated in order to understand their beliefs and ideas in their lives. Since, every society with any governmental system and ideology has its own particular beliefs and ideas, architecture as a part of culture is appointed to objectify these abstract ideas [4]. Fig. 7 describes these analyzing processes. Finally, by comparative and descriptive investigations among the architectural mechanism analysis and social-cultural background analysis, it can be figured out how the architectural system can demonstrate the beliefs of the people in its architectural structure as a meaning and image.

These points should be taken into account in the presented model:

1. According to the synchronic and diachronic aspects of semiology, the investigation of an architectural system is carried out in a specific period of time. It is because

Fig. 14 Rectangular mesh which is made of wood and colored glasses (Rafiee mansion), photo by authors.

the meanings and images are different among individuals and groups [13]. Thus, this is the result of cultural-social changes which have occurred through time.

2. As it was mentioned in Table 2 regarding sign it can also be said that the relation between the architectural mechanism and the meanings has an optional and contractual nature. Furthermore, there is no natural and inevitable relation between them.

3. In order to analyze the spatial organization in this model, the Space Syntax method can be used; based on the justified graph.1 This method is close to the syntag-matic relations in semiology. So it is appropriate for studying the social-cultural relations in space [18].

1 This method is extracted from Steadman, Bill Hillier & Julian Hanson work [18]


i *' ' 111

Fig. 15 One type of door and different type of ornaments on it (Rafiee mansion), photo by authors.

4. According to this approach, it is possible to recognize the elements and concepts of the architectural system. Afterward, the new and creative combinations and structures can be created from these elements and concepts based on utilizing the syntagmatic relations. Indeed, this approach is a way to structure-detection and deconstruc-tion the architecture as a text.

Fig. 16 Entrance door (Taheri mansion), photo by authors.

Fig. 17 Structural detail and material (Azin mansion), photo by authors.

5. The research method utilized in this approach is a qualitative type and it is also based on comparative and descriptive analyses of field observation, library data, and valid documents.

Analysis of the architectural mechanism in case study

In conducting the research analyses, at first, general terms and conditions of the target area (traditional area of Bushehr city) were studied. These studies include the climatic-geographical features and the general structure of the area. Then, 9 residential buildings have been selected from this area to be studied. The selected buildings are: Rafiaee, Rashidi, Golshan, Kaman-di, Amiriye, Azin, Tabib, Irani, and Nozari mansions, to be studied. After that, the architectural mechanism applied in these buildings was analyzed and the results are illustrated in Tables 5 and 6. (The analysis method is based on the method of a research done by Ghaffari et al. [19].)

Analysis of case studies social-cultural background

In the next phase, social-cultural background of these buildings was investigated and the data which was collected from field observations and library information were used. Based

Fig. 18 The social-cultural structure of Bushehr (designed by the authors).

Table 7 The social-cultural characteristics of the Bushehr people. The social-cultural characteristics of the Bushehr people Based on religious content (especially Islam)

Religious and traditional ceremonies and rituals (like Norooz, Ashoura, etc.) Most of the people are businessmen or sailors

Businessmen are the upper level of the society (rich people) and sailors are the middle and low levels of the society

Hospitable and friendly people

The ethnic and family living

Dynamic and lively society

Flexible (capable to interact)/acculturation

Extrovert but with specified personal territory and privacy

Particular and unique cultural characteristics

An interconnected complex of ethnic and tribal micro-cultures and in the entire scale is interconnected by Islamic beliefs and Arabic and Western cultures

High social relations (inner-systemic and outer-systemic) Separation among men and women Simple, satisfied and happy people

on these studies, the history of the Bushehr city is back to the Elamites period [20] but the current city was prospered at the time of King Nadir Shah [21]. Due to the special geographical and strategic situation of this city near the Persian Gulf, it was one of the important cities of Iran until the early 19th century and it was heeded by different foreign countries like Britain, Netherlands, France, Portugal and Russia. Therefore, this city prospered and developed more during the Qajar era and most of the European countries had embassies or commercial and political agencies there [22]. These political and economic interactions between people of Bushehr and those of other cities have significantly impacted their culture and tradition. Hence, they imported wood from India in order to construct their buildings. Moreover, modern movement started from north and south of Iran [23] so Bushehr is one of the cities from which the first steps of modernism and modernity emerged. Thus, the architecture and culture of the city were impressed by this movement, so some new and different things and behaviors appeared [24].

People speak an accented Persian in Bushehr but there are some English and French loan words in their spoken Persian which have been naturalized [20]. People of Bushehr are mostly Muslim, but due to the presence of European nations in the past, some Christians and the Jewish people also lived there [25]. In fact, culture and beliefs of people are mainly influenced by Islamic teachings and beliefs, however, they have been

adapted to communicate and interact perfectly with other religious views. Thus, a kind of open and flexible culture, based on Islamic beliefs emerged in this city. In other words, these blended their cultural identity with the foreign cultures they faced and they formed a native and particular culture through this kind of interaction. Therefore, the Islamic beliefs in their culture had some significant differences from those of other cities of Iran or even the neighboring cities. This was even observed in their buildings architecture.

On the other hand, the traditional city of Bushehr (central core) is formed by four districts which are called: Behbahani, Shanbodi, Kooti and Dehdashti [20]. Each of these districts has its own special mosque, square, school, bathhouse and water-storage building. People of each district had a sense of belonging and affiliation to their district and they would react to the issues which were related to them, in such a way that during different rituals and ceremonies no one from one district would participate in the ceremonies of a mosque that belonged to another district. Although every district had its specified territory known to the people who lived there, the city was united in total and the districts could not be simply separated from each other. Moreover, although people in every district had different ethnicities (Lor, Kazerooni, Arab, etc.) [25] they achieved a peaceful coexistence with each other. Gradually, these subcultures lead to interact with each other and consequently the united culture of the city was formed.

Table 8 Signs analysis in residential architecture of the Bushehr traditional city.

Signifier (sign Signified (meanings and Referent (external reality, social-cultural

vehicle, images) background)



Central courtyard Physical comfort A solution to deal with harsh climatic conditions

Tarmeh Physical comfort/Social Adapting to climatic condition

relations Interaction and communication with each other

(like a sitting room place)

Entrance door Privacy Attention to gender and Creation of privacy

Knob (handhold) between men and women

Arched shaped Esthetics Creating beauty and considering technical issues

door and window

Opening Esthetics and physical comfort Creating favorable conditions for better ventilation

proportions of interior spaces

Considering esthetic issues

Shenashir Physical comfort Making shadows and favorable living conditions

Floors protrusion Pure and perfect geometry Rectifying the erratic geometry of space/emphasize

(console) on perfection and purity

Meshes and esthetics and natural lighting Emphasize on beauty and lively color/vibrancy and

colored glasses vitality of people and society/living simply

Railings and Privacy/Physical comfort Provide favorable conditions for living

canopy Respecting the privacy and confidentiality of

private life and public life

Wood Technical and geographical Importing wood from India and using it for

issues constructing a building due to the limitations of

local materials and land-based communications

with neighboring towns

Grayish-white Technical and climatic issues The color produced from building materials

color in facades without any extra ornaments/reducing the heat

absorption by buildings

Several openings Physical comfort/Internal Natural ventilation of interior spaces and creating

in interior spaces transparency and lighting better living spaces

Open and flexible culture (extroversion and capable

to interact)

Symmetry and Esthetics and geometry Considering the geometry rules and esthetic

rhythm in the principals principles


Exterior facades Climatic issues/Visual The effects of using natural ventilation

connection Make vision and connect to the natural

environment and building surrounding the


Less ornaments in Simplicity and avoiding Living simply/acculturation/economical and

facades and ornaments avoiding wasting of money and energy

interior spaces

Roof Optimization and Physical Use of good air in warm nights of summer/the

comfort/Social relations optimum use of roof space/family and

(climatic and social neighborhood soiree and gatherings


Water-storage Optimization and economics Maximum use of natural condition/energy saving/

(gathering and using the blessings of God (according to Islamic

storing rain beliefs)


Bathroom (in the Physical comfort/Privacy Use the bathroom inside the house for convenience,

house) comfort and cleanliness in life/importance of


Material Technical and economic issues Maximum use of local materials/economic/energy

(sustainable development) and investment optimization

On the other hand, it shows the cultural formation of the people of Bushehr and it emphasizes on flexibility and impressible aspects of these people's culture yet saves their own identity. It can be said that the culture of people of Bushehr is a kind of inner-systemic (subcultures of four districts) and outer-systemic

(Islamic culture, Western culture and Arab culture) cultural interaction (Fig. 18). People of Bushehr have good public relationships with each other and also with other ethnicities. One of their characteristics which is obviously seen and one oftheir distinguishing characteristics is gathering and talking together.

Table 9 The fundamental concepts in residential architecture of the traditional Bushehr city.

The fundamental concepts in residential architecture of the traditional Bushehr city

Physical comfort

Visual connection to the surrounding environment

Social relation and interaction

Simplicity and avoiding ornaments

Attention to privacy

Optimum use of space

Climatic and cultural sustainability

Efficiency and maximum use of climate

Economics and optimization

Transparency and brightness of interior spaces

Attention to spaces color and lighting


Inner-systemic and outer-systemic interactions Considering the esthetic principles Pure geometry and proportions Attention to technical issues

This feature is even seen among Bushehri natives, so that old men and women often sit by their house door and speak with one another. In the past, they would gather on the roof of their houses at summer nights in order to use the cool weather and

spend a soiree there. Table 7 explains the social-cultural characteristics of the Bushehr people.

The results of case study analysis

Now, based on analyses of architectural mechanism and social-cultural background, the signs can be analyzed in architecture to evaluate the effectiveness level of the proposed model of semiology approach in architecture regarding the case studies. Therefore, the sign in the residential architecture of the traditional city of Bushehr can be described as follows (Table 8).

Regarding Table 8, the fundamental concepts which form space and place in residential architecture of the traditional Bushehr city can be recognized. These concepts are the result of climatic and social-cultural demands of the city that emerged in the architecture in different forms and it was coded based on the semiology elements of the architectural system. In fact, Table 8 shows the relation between an architectural mechanism (signifier), meaning (signified) and social-cultural background (referent). This is the result of using a semiology triangle based on the semiology approach in architecture. The Fundamental concepts that are presented in the residential architecture of this city can be stated as follows (Table 9).

Now, the space and place concepts have been understood better in the residential architecture of the traditional Bushehr

Fig. 19 The conceptual model of semiology approach in architecture (designed by the authors).

Fig. 20 Left: the process of sign creation. Right: the process of using sign. Both examples are from Bushehr traditional architecture (designed by the authors).

city by achieving these results and perceptions. This can be useful in the residential architectural design of that city. It should be noted that, as mentioned below, form and shape can change in the architectural system and the relation between these two concepts and their architectural mechanism has both an optional and contractual nature. Therefore, different forms and shapes which include and show those concepts, could be created.


According to conducted studies and analyses, current research introduces an effective method for perceiving and recognizing the architectural concepts, especially space and place concepts. This method, which is named the semiology approach, resulted from using the theory and method of semiology in linguistics. Using this approach will be very efficient and successful, especially in sustainable development processes and also designing ofenvironments with a historical value. Based on this approach, the concepts of space and place can be analyzed and discerned how they emerged in different architectural systems. Moreover, it can be used as a method to reach the concept of identity and sense of place. Fig. 19 illustrates the conceptual model of the semiology approach in architecture. This approach, by considering the architectural system as a system of signs, attempts to encode them. Accordingly, by encoding a code, the meaning content and the formal content can be perceived. Then, regarding this fact that the relations between signifier and signified (form and meaning) is optional and contractual, the formal content can be changed by maintaining the meaning content (Fig. 20). In subsequent phases of the current research, 9 residential buildings which belong to traditional context of the Bushehr city (Iran) have been analyzed as the case studies based on this approach and its fundamental concepts are achieved. The research results demonstrate that this is an efficient and successful approach to detect and identify an architectural system and also to deconstruct in architectural text. This issue has been very helpful and useful in recent architectural theories and discussions which seek the text deconstruction and also tend to a sustainable development.

Conflict of interest


This article has been extracted from the master degree thesis

that is done in Islamic Azad University of Iran (Shiraz



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