Document Type : Original Research Paper


1 Ph‏.‏D‏.‏‎ Candidate, Department of Architecture and Urban design, Art ‎University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran

2 Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture and Urban design, Art ‎University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran

3 Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, University of Tehran, ‎Tehran, Iran


Thematic analysis has been used as a qualitative method for data analysis in various fields, especially psychology, behavioral sciences, health, and sociology. However, this approach, which emphasizes the content of the text, and views language as a direct and transparent path to meaning, has been less applied in the field of architecture and urban planning. Thematic analysis is a flexible theoretical approach, easy to learn, able to summarize data, and so on. Hence, it can be applied to a wide range of qualitative environmental studies, particularly to understand the users’ perception of the environment, which shapes their relationship with the environment, by classifying the meaning patterns within the data set. Using this approach allows provide an in-depth description of the data, and to highlight the similarities and differences between the data, thereby enabling the creation of rich and complex data. The present study introduces the thematic analysis as a flexible method, through a sample study undertook this method, and describes its six steps, including familiarizing with data, assigning preliminary code, searching for themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes, and finally, producing a report. It explains how the thematic analysis is used in built-environment studies. The study presented as a sample attempts to identify the meaning experienced by people in the architectural space. It strives to answer the following question, "What aspects of meaning are perceived when moving through a built environment?" The aim was to focus on the influence of physical properties on the users’ experiences of the environment to obtain useful findings for architects and environment designers. To identify the widest possible range of capabilities for movement and the possible experiences obtained with them, an interview was designed using “phenomenological ethnography” approach, in which students and staff of an academic campus were asked to respond to the questions of a deep, qualitative interview ‎when moving on their daily paths in the campus. Each participant was asked to move, along with the interviewer, on his/her daily main paths, express his/her thoughts and feelings about the path. Each interviewee were also asked to take photos of the phenomena affecting route selection, and explain why and how they affect. The thematic analysis of the interview content reveals eight meanings of efficiency, convenience, legibility, sense of belonging, agency, invitingness, attraction, and beauty, which can be summarized under 3 themes of physical comfort, involvement, and making sense (being apprehensible). These themes explain the main meanings experienced by people during movement between and within buildings. The findings show that some of the physical properties of the path clearly lead to the experience of certain meanings. Based on these findings, users experience efficiency in short, direct, and simple paths with minimum barriers. Paths with multiple accesses and amenities provide more convenience. Distinct paths with clear boundaries and adequate signs are easier to remember. All of these properties of a path provide an experience of physical comfort for those who move through the environment. The findings, on the other hand, suggest that navigable paths, containing reference points can be easily understood and remembered, and therefore, affored legibility. Other properties of the path that make it private, familiar and friendly, or make people feel more comfortable in it, allow for a sense of belonging. Together, these qualities of legibility, familiarity, friendliness, and the like enhance making sense of the environment for users. Finally, according to other part of findings, individuals can engage and involve in environments (identifying themselves as part of environments) where they, in addition to feeling more sense of invitation, experience agency that results from a greater sense of control over the environment through visual access and so forth. Crossing paths that have pleasing aesthetical qualities, and arouses individuals’ positive emotions, yield similar results and increase the involvement in the environment. These results can be used to design environments that are more favorable to users, and could help to create the desired architectural spaces for them by considering the attributes that provide physical comfort, the qualities through which individuals make sense of their settings, and those that more strongly attract and involve users with their built environments. Moreover, the process of thematic analysis, introduced in this article, can be applied for analyzing contents in similar qualitative research in the field.


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