Study of the Affordance Theory Based on Gibson’s Point of View and Its Effects on Studies of Human-Built Environment

Document Type : Original Article


1 Assistant Professor, Hamedan Branch, Islamic Azad University, Hamedan, Iran.

2 Hamedan Branch, Islamic Azad University, Hamedan, Iran.


It is believed that the relationship between the mankind, the nature and the built environment depends on many different factors. This is a complicated and multidimensional issue. Nevertheless, it is an integral part of any design and decision-making processes of the built environment. Gibson’s theory of Affordance is one of the critical theories in design studies and is based on environmental psychology. Environmental psychology is an area which can play a specific role in the study of the relationship between the mankind and the built environment. Based on this discipline, connection to the place is deep and profound. In intensity and meaning, it goes far beyond what our direct physiological sensors are programmed to reveal. Although the influence of the environment on behavior has long been acknowledged by many environmental psychologists, not many studies have been done in a retailing context. So far, few studies can provide a framework to determine the exact and fixed implications of the relationships between mankind and the environment as this relationship, heavily, depends on the context. Gibson coined in the term “affordance,” meaning the interactive possibilities of a particular object or environment. To Gibson, affordances are relationships. They are a part of the nature: they do not have to be visible, known, or desirable. Some affordances are yet to be discovered and some are dangerous. This concept has been extremely influential in the field of design and ergonomics, as well as the work in the context of the human-built environment interaction. This concept is being referred to, in direct and indirect ways, in environmental studies, but its implications are somehow neglected in various approaches. Although the definition of this concept seems to be very self-explanatory, when considering in design based studies, applying its implications seems difficult. This paper aims to investigate the concept of affordance based on applying a thorough research, reviewing literature related to environmental-behavior studies. Thus the methodology used is a qualitative and interpretive approach, analyzing environmental behavior theories while considering the concept of affordance as a critical issue. In fact, this study takes a qualitative approach to claim that an effective and operational framework for the operational concept of affordance could be established to explicate the relationship between the mankind and the built environment. First, various approaches to environment and the assumed implications of affordance are assessed. The assessment is carried out based on environmental psychology. Then, the evolution of thinking of affordance will be studied and the influences of deep psychological thought on affordance will be derived. In this stage, major theories will be categorizing definitions and various implications. Finally, the conclusion of the research will take in a form of a framework for explicating the concept of affordance referring to relationship between the major elements; Human and environment. This research believes that an effective key definition of this concept can be explored by` means of in-depth analysis and investigation of the related major theories. The findings suggest that although diverse approaches exist and considering the concept of affordance in studies of the built environment constructed based on the Gibson’s theory of affordance, when applied in context of the built environment, a comprehensive approach should be taken. This approach should consider the physical aspects, social issues and the meaning in the built environment. Each aspect of the lived environment could be considered as a level of affordance in the environment. Findings of this paper reveal that the concept of affordance is a deep concept which depends on the context and the environment when considered with an architectural point of view. It can be applied in design process considering the clear and hidden aspects in the built environment. These aspects include natural, physical and socio-cultural features of the environment as the context of design. 


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Volume 5, Issue 9
March 2013
Pages 73-86
  • Receive Date: 22 June 2011
  • Revise Date: 21 July 2011
  • Accept Date: 24 July 2011
  • First Publish Date: 01 March 2013