THE PERSONALIZATION OF A HOUSING ENVIRONMENT: A STUDY OF LEVITTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
Recent research suggests that the relationship between man and his environment is reciprocal; just as he acts on his environment, so does the environment on him. The implication of this view for environmental design is that the human habitat is not determined once and retained forever; rather, it is continually adapted to the changing needs of its inhabitants. Current theories of architecture lack an adequate response to such a view, since little is known about the variability of human needs over time and their implications for design.
This study examines the relationship between the personalization of a housing environment by persons and, on the one hand, the length of time that the persons have resided in it, and, on the other hand, the characteristics of its initial design. For the purpose of this study two surveys were conducted in the Pinewood section of Levittown, Pennsylvania--a suburban settlement with single family detached houses.
It is argued that the variability of human needs can best be described on the basis of personalization, primarily because personalization in any environment is readily observable. Three types of personalization connected with three basic human needs are identified: (1) functional adjustments for household activities; (2) territorial delineation of home grounds for security, and (3) attachment of identity to a dwelling for belongingness. It is shown that different environments afford different opportunities for each of these types of personalization. In demonstrating this, the distinction between unself-consciously designed (vernacular) and self-consciously designed environments is emphasized.
One of the two surveys that were conducted was a mail-back questionnaire aimed primarily at determining the relationship between each of the three types of personalization and the length of time a person has been a resident. The survey revealed that such a relationship is true only for functional adjustments; this indicates that functional adjustments in a housing environment increase as the persons invest more time in it. The two other types of personalization, territorial delineation and attachment of identity (personal expression), were found to be independent of time.
The second survey was conducted by direct inspection and involved each of the 254 houses located in one section of Pinewood. It was shown that certain types of home additions were associated with particular characteristics of the physical housing. This indicates that personalization is, to a certain extent, influenced by the nature of the original design.
In formulating suggestions for follow-up research, emphasis was placed on the affordances of the physical environment for each type of personalization. As for housing design in terms of function, it is recommended that the designer avoid creating an initial unsuitability of design by leaving excessive space open for future needs. It is also recommended (1) that the dwelling units be addable rather than flexible or open-ended, and (2) that the dwelling units be provided with undifferentiated spaces in different sizes and types open to optional use and future adjustments.