Architecture Recognition: A Survey

I developed an interest in Architecture a long time ago – so long even, that I can’t remember ever not being interested in it. Because of this interest I took it upon myself to learn about buildings, I spent time reading about them and studying them on my own. As I learned more and more about Architecture, I also started to learn about History. Not too long ago, it occurred to me that the two really go hand-and-hand. Even new, contemporary Architecture is history in the making. I’ve started to think about how Architecture could be used as a tool to teach and encourage interaction with history. During my studies as a Historic Preservation student I’ve become further convinced that Architecture is under utilized in the Education.

I also think that Americans don’t have as great of a respect for their built environment as Europeans do – perhaps that Americans are even more familiar with iconic European buildings than those built-in their own country. This has been a hypothesis of mine for a long time, I’ve often fantasized about surveying American citizens to see what buildings they would be more likely to recognize, American or European? When posed with the open-ended final project for my Preservation Practice and Philosophy class, I decided to do just that.

I created a survey using the online engine surveymonkey.com of 10 iconic buildings (5 American examples and 5 European examples). These are the buildings I choose (hover your cursor over each photo to see the name of the building):

 The results were interesting; as I had expected the most often correctly identified buildings were European. But, to my surprise, the most often incorrectly identified buildings were also European. The American buildings fell squarely in the middle.

I had 50 total responses, most of which were individuals from Minnesota. Almost all the responses were able to easily identify the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben. The most often correctly identified American structure was the Space Needle with 47 out of 50 respondents correctly identifying this building. The Parthenon was the most often incorrectly identified building with only 10 out of 50 respondents correctly identifying the structure.

As far as the comparison of European to American recognition, it was closer than I was expecting. 67% of responses were able to correctly identify the European structures compared to 59% of the American buildings. Clearly, the respondents were better able to recognize the European buildings, but there was not as large of a difference as I had expected.

Ultimately, what did I take from this project? I felt that this survey didn’t confirm my theory that people are more familiar with European architecture than American. Instead, this survey has made me think that perhaps people aren’t that familiar with iconic architectural structures, at all – regardless of their location. Don’t get me wrong, over half of respondents were able to correctly identify all the buildings (63%) which I think is great! But I think we can do better.

I think that when you’re deeply interested in a topic, it’s difficult to understand or see how someone couldn’t be just as obsessed with it. Maybe, not everyone shares my zest and zeal for buildings. And that is ok – but maybe we’re missing an opportunity for education. I think that if our society had more interest and investment in our built environment that we’d be more apt to take care of it – thereby creating a more appealing and sustainable place to live. All that being said, my survey was only of 50 (mostly Minnesotans) people. I’d be interested to see what a further reaching survey would result in.

Bottom line, maybe our society is lacking respect and knowledge of our structures. It’s not hopeless, after all you’re reading this blog which means you either really care about me (thank you!) or you also really care about this topic (or both – thank you again!). I guess that’s why I’m here writing this – I’m going to prove to you how important Architecture really is, one blog post at a time!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey!

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