Students’ Site Content Analysis Using Snapshot Photography (Comparative Study of Iran & Turkey)

Document Type : Original Article


1 Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Environmental Design, Iran University of Science and Technology, Tehran, Iran.

2 Ph.D candidate in Landscape Architecture School of Architecture and Enviromental Design, Iran University of Science and Technology, Tehran, Iran.


In the process of architecture design education in Iran, less attention is paid to socialcultural contexts during site analyses. Hence, the problem oriented approach to design process aims to consider architecture as a more public activity that provides potentials for contemplating many environmental and social attributes in the design process education. Photography could be considered as an efficient communicational method in site analysis that enables students to represent their social knowledge about the urban environment. Nevertheless, photos have so far been used as a descriptive tool in architecture rather than an analytic or critical one. This study points out that photography could be used more thoroughly in the context of site analysis through an interpretive process of ‘reading’ images, a process which fits within a paradigm of visual literacy, but moves beyond a simplistic, semiotic ‘decoding’ of imagery. ‘Reading’, in this context, is considered to be a process of interpretation concerned with complexity, which refers to a process of interpretation and elicitation. The multi-research methods have been used in this paper. Qualitative method was used for the first part of the study to establish a theoretical formwork for the research area. Case studies, in Iran & Turkey, were used for comparison of the two nations with regard to this issue. In this study, 17 students at Shiraz University and 21 students at the Islamic Azad University of Shiraz digitally photographed the built environment of Shiraz, Iran. They went through a process of key-wording and interpretation of their photographs as the 20 Turkish students had done in Toke et al in 2010. Participants were asked to use ‘snapshot’ approach to photography in order to record the direct responses of their engagement with the study area without spending too much time on composition and aesthetic aspects of the photos. Moreover, this approach not only makes it possible to represent the citizens’ natural behavior, which may change as they see themselves in front of the camera, but also brings some unwanted or unseen objects of the Urbanscape to the scene that could be useful for further interpretations. Then, they were asked to choose images from among the set of photographs they had produced during the initial exercise and interpret them in terms of their intentions in taking them and understandings of what they depicted. To facilitate interpretations of the photographs, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire containing a series of open-ended questions. The open ended questions consisted of three parts: i) ‘Read’ this photo and tell us about it; ii) key-word the photos respectively using five words and iii) Why do you think the photographer chose this photo to present among the other photos? The first question is based on the term ‘reading a photo’ and asking the students to write a paragraph about their interpretations of each photo. The second one is about key-wording which is a selective process notunrelated to the process of choosing particular images to share and discuss. In this sense, key-wording is an akin to a process of framing which is valuable in narrowing down the number of available features in the photo. The final question asked the students about the photographers’ reason for selecting the photo. This question makes it possible to compare as if the shared familiarity of the study area lead to the same interpretations among the photographer and the observers. One of the most interesting aspects of the students’ photographs and interpretations is not so much that they addressed either material, or social/behavioral factors, but that they often addressed these together, uncovering multiple layers of meaning in the sites they referred to. It was found out that unlike the Turkish students, the Iranian students had not placed enough emphasize on the people, social and cultural diversity. Instead, they had concentrated more on the tradition and the conflict between the tradition & the newer productions. Yet, two kinds of challenges were identified in this study. The first emerged from the ‘educational – academic constraints’ which pays less attention to urban spaces, social and behavioral activities in architecture education. It also leads to fewer comments’ from the observers on visual irregularities and diffusions in managing signboards, urban graffiti and façade designs. The second which could be named as ‘cultural constraints’, is derived from the cultural legacies and historical attachments which causes observers to be more sensitive to rehabilitation and revitalization rather than new buildings. This paper suggests that this process could help both the teachers and the students to define the site contents. Moreover, it could provide a tool for assessing the results of design projects using the social- cultural attributes.


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