Discuss the phenomena of evolutionary psychology in relation to architecture and landscape architecture


The full topic under discussion of this essay is “The Phenomena of Evolutionary Psychology in Relation to Architecture and Landscape Architecture. The Prospects for and Limitations of a View Allowing for the Evolution of Humankind’s Psychology, Sensibilities, and Perceptions for Design. Is Evolutionary Psychology Apolitical, Does It Leave Little Room For Ethical Issues Arising From Our Inhabitation Of The Built Environment?”

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In order to produce solid research, the essay will be based on interpreting the keystones of the topic, which are evolutionary psychology from the viewpoint of human and cognitive evolution as well as architecture, as the ability of people to visualize and project images of buildings on the environment. The paper will also include ethical issues and view limitations.

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology is a complex study, which comprises both biological (evolutionary) and cognitive (psychological) features. As a study, it emerged over the past twenty years. From the theoretical perspective, it occupied the bigger part of psychological studies and increased the number of empirical studies released annually. Throughout the years, evolutionary psychology generated significant support and critical opposition and remains understudied as well as controversial to the world of psychology.


The Theory of Evolution exists due to its well-known developer Charles Darwin. It was introduced in 1859, in the book “The Origin of Species” written by Darwin for publishing purposes. For the field of biology, it was a major breakthrough that has initiated serious changes.

The book had two astonishing claims. The first one was that every creature living on earth is a descendent of a common ancestor. Thus, he stated that:

Life on Earth started with the simplest organisms whose mutations resulted in them becoming more complex organisms. Therefore, humans were not created at a specific time but descended from an aquatic wormlike organism (Francis 2007, 4).

While gathering evidence, Darwin came to the conclusion that big complex organisms’ ancestors were the one-cell organisms, which gradually transformed (mutated) into more complex beings.

The second one discussed natural selection, as the ability to reproduce and adapt. Actually, natural selection and evolution are not equal. According to Keith Francis (2007), “natural selection is the mechanism that enables evolution to occur” (4). Francis, as any other scientist, views natural selection from its essence, which was the function to reproduce. In order to spread one’s genes, animals and plants had to be strong and environmentally adaptive. Weak forms of life could not survive.

From the viewpoint of design (creation of the world and humanity), Doctor Paley believes “the complexity of biological world suggests that [body parts] are complicated artifacts created by a designer far smarter than any human engineer. And the designer, of course, would be God” (Bloom 2007). This approach to evolution is called creationism.

However, there are certain problems, which are discovered within creationism. If to consider the religious aspect of world design, evolution becomes a question itself. Therefore, evolution has hard evidence of its occurrence.

Applying Evolutionary Theory to Psychology

It is not quite understandable, why evolution is an introductory part of human psychology. Thereby, Professor Bloom explains that “our cognitive mechanisms were evolved for the purpose of survival and reproduction. They have been shaped by natural selection to solve certain problems” (Bloom 2007). The problems discussed by Bloom arise in the mind. As it is known, psychology is the science of mind and its variations. Therefore, this kind of science cannot be recognized without Darwinian Theory.

Basing on the theory of evolution, evolutionary psychology is one of the approaches, which studies human behavior throughout generations. Evolutionary psychologists explain human behavior as the product of psychological mechanisms. Together with natural selection and adaptation, these mechanisms were shaped to provide humans with the ability to respond to environmental circumstances. However, there was a need to define the features that activated and maintained these mechanisms. It occurred that the scientists were searching exactly for the human brain.

Mind Description by Evolution

A professor of anthropology at Wisconsin Madison University, John Hawks, believes that the human species are the carriers of one of the biggest brains. From the first fossil evidence of brains till nowadays there is a possibility to assume that the human brain has tripled in size. This increase was mostly due to the cultural and technological environment changes, which provoked the mind to accommodate and adapt. The main changes appeared in the regions responsible for the planning, problem-solving, communication, and other more complex functions of the cognitive system (Schachner 2013).

The mind is a subject to psychology, which is broadly discussed within the corresponding. Under the term “mind” the human brain is meant. The abilities and capacities of the human brain, outliving generations of cultural change, are tremendous. It is a major cognitive system, which sets signals and responds to the outer world.

One of the capacities of the human brain is to visualize objects and project them into reality. That is where architecture and art originate from.

Francis Crick has introduced an idea in his “The Astonishing Hypothesis” that “our mental life, our consciousness, our morality, our capacity to make decisions and judgments are the product of the material physical brain” (Bloom 2007).

Leda Cosmides and her fellow evolutionary psychologist John Tooby assume that the human brain works as a computer being the design and product of natural selection, which enabled people to extract information from their surroundings. Moreover, this computer-generated human behavior at the individual levels is a response to the environment. The cognitive response, which is a kind of a program, is an adaptation present in the human brain. This program has numerous adaptive features nowadays, although it was common in the past (Downes 2014).

The other scientist, Professor Gould1 believes that: Natural selection made the human brain big, but most of our mental properties and potentials may be … the non-adaptive side consequences of building a device with such structural complexity (Mitchell 1999, 10).

The evolution of the human brain occurred simultaneously with the evolution of all human beings. For example,

  • Perception2 made changes to the human worldview;
  • Communication broadened human receptivity of the world;
  • Needs described in Maslow’s pyramid3 made humans realize them;
  • Selection of a mate contributed to reproduction;
  • Physical and social environments were analyzed and learned;
  • Decision-making became one of the common processes;
  • Choice of enemies and allies was based on certain knowledge about the world;
  • Ability to understand the other human being, with respect to his desires and beliefs.

However, there are two misconceptions, which are present within evolution and psychology.

First, natural selection is a force, due to which all the living beings want to reproduce. Notwithstanding this principle, there are mechanisms that work a part of the human mind, more likely at the level of set instincts.4 Second, natural selection is seen as entailing adaptation. This view is also wrong since there are both adaptations and accidents or by-products.5 Thus, the application of evolutionary theory to psychology is full of controversies.

Is Evolutionary Psychology Apolitical?

Concerning humankind, at the level of consciousness (mind) the first men had the idea that makes sense from the outer surroundings, which may get the solution to the question of their place in the whole world. Thus, men started to learn and acquire information, made tools, made a fire and controlled it, invented the wheel and other conveniences of modern society.

One of the features of modern society is politics. Life problems, which evolved with the course of human evolution, are mostly of the political character. The politics of life is presented in the “distribution of costs and benefits within and between groups” (Petersen 2012, 802). Boehm (2000) also suggested a theory that politics was the characteristic of the life features even before Homo sapiens and accompanied humans throughout evolution (802).

The first man who was believed to be a “political animal” by nature was Aristotle (802). Both biological and psychological studies reveal that the modern cognition of politics has evolved as an opinion formed on the basis of the particular culture. Long research in political science has shown that notwithstanding the evolution of the mind, politics is complicated and difficult in its essence. Hence, most of humanity misconceive politics t are apolitical.

Despite such a controversial finding, both psychological and political scientists have justified that politics had always been a part of human evolution. This assumption is based on a fact that humans had always searched for power and manipulated the cost-beneficial systems.

Therefore, the answer to the question is both positive and negative. Indeed, evolutionary psychology is apolitical since the main creator of evolution is a human who is politically ignorant if it is connected with complex political concepts. However, the process of mind evolution within humans is a political issue since the surroundings made humans aware of the political factors and taught them to have some general idea regarding the matter.

Evolutionary Psychology: Ethical Issues

The first ethical issue against the theory of evolution presented by Bloom is metaphysical. If one rejects the belief that mental life is based on the brain processes, evolution immediately becomes separated and irrelevant to psychology. The brain (and its evolution) in this case is not the mind. Pope John Paul II has once commented on Darwin’s Theory as follows:

If the human body takes its origin from preexisting living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God. Consequently, theories of evolution which consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter are incompatible with the truth about a man (Pope John Paul II, cited by Bloom 2007).

In other words, Pope presumed that evolution did not affect the mind, and, in such a way, the mind did not correspond to the same physical laws as everything else, which was physical. Therefore, this is a complete rejection of evolutionary psychology, which studies the mind within the process of evolution.

Another ethical issue against the Darwinian Theory was introduced by Ashley Morgan6, an anthropologist. He stated:

With the exception of the reactions of infants to sudden withdrawals of support and to sudden loud noises, the human being is entirely instincts. Man is a man because he has no instincts because everything he is and has become he has learned from his culture, from the man-made part of the environment, from other human beings (Bloom 2007).

Morgan rejected the idea of evolution and the idea of “mind change” as relative to the processes of evolution. He assumed the man to be a creature, who learned and acquired knowledge from the cultural environment.

Another ethical issue against the evolution theory was published by Louis Menard. He said:

Every aspect of life has a biological foundation in exactly the same sense, which is that unless it was biologically possible it wouldn't exist. After that, it's up for grabs (Bloom 2007). 7

Through his statement, Menard presented evolution in a light devoid of cultural background. He truly believed that Darwinism had little information about people as a cultural society. Biology, according to him, had no answers to the questions of culture.

Architecture and Landscape Architecture

It is considered that evolutionary psychology affects the landscape and architecture. As the human population increases and new technologies appear on the horizon with unpredictable speed, the needs and the requirements of humans are also in the process of increase.

Further, immemorial humans adapted to their natural surroundings by constructing homes and working with tools. These constructions were dedicated to the human cultural preferences and altered with the change of cultural “trends”. With the flow of time, small homes changed into big skyscrapers and villas, and the stick and stone hunting weapons were replaced by big and complex hunting guns. Moreover, with the discovery of possibilities to manipulate forms, many abstract buildings became the usual architectural foundations.

Steven Holl describes architecture as the “work from the abstract to the real” (Holl 2013). While a piece of art is an object or a particular event, architecture is a building, where “constraints of engineering safety, function, climate responsibility, and economy, sometimes transcends to inspire us with ideas in space and light—qualities achieved in the abstract” (Holl 2013).

Landscape architecture, in its turn, is “the analysis, planning, design, management, and stewardship of the natural and built environments” (Hopper 2012, 3).

Architecture is one of the ways in which humans have learned to relate to the world. According to Dewey, it is a form of meaning-making (Robinson and Pallasmaa 2015, 46). As a study, “architecture absorbs any physical and cultural materials of embodied and social experiences and transforms them into new experiences that intensify, harmonize, and enrich meanings and possibilities for living and acting in the world” (46).

The development of architecture is based on experiences and the occurrences of phenomenological character which should be understood only through perceptions of an individual. According to Perez-Gomez8, architecture is “a state that comes forth from interaction or communication between the people and what constructs their environments” (Cardenas 2014, 2). Moreover, architecture is capable of establishing a cultural space, and the reality of a person’s experience is constructed through it. Architecture can be understood only through space and time. Perceiving space as interrelated with experience and associative features presented towards this space establishes both attitude and character for that place.

Analysis of Architecture through the Theory of Evolution and Psychology

While conducting the analysis of architecture through the theory of evolution or the theory of cognitive processes of the mind, it should be noted that architecture did not evolve as an instinct9, rather as a need to fulfill the instinct of preservation. It is not a biological study and may have occurred only at a psychological level.10 In addition, architecture is not an adaptation whereas it is a means, which allowed the adaptive instincts to be completed.

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According to natural selection, architecture is a by-product, which humanity obtained due to the complex gradual change of the environment. For example, in the past people had shaped their living with the help of stones, sticks, hay, and other available material. When humans had access to clay or brick, they changed their architectural experience towards these materials. Nowadays, people have all sorts of building material, which they use on the daily basis.

When applying psychology to architecture, one might analyze it through “The Pyramid of Needs” developed by Abraham Maslow (in figure 1). Being rather a creation of the cognitive processes, architecture was destined to accomplish some of the crucial needs to support human living. For example, physiological, safety, and self-actualization requirements were met due to the invention of architectural accessories to satisfy the needs.


Figure 1. Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs

Source: Griffin 2011, 125

To sum up, architecture relates to evolutionary psychology as both the by-product of natural selection11 and a cognitive breakthrough12 to meet the needs which humanity has acquired for centuries.

Ethical Issues Arising From Our Inhabitation of the Built Environment

Tracing back the philosophical history to Aristotle and Plato, the human being has always led a good life within the borders of the city (architectural buildings). Moreover, Hannah Arendt stated that public spaces are the engines for human self-revelation within a certain community. However, the importance of this aspect with regards to the good life within the constructs has been never found in the environmental ethical theories. As scientists paid more attention to the evolution of human species and humanly engineered systems, the matters of built or domesticated environments, where humans actually reside gained less consideration. Due to unpaid attention towards the architectural aspect, environmental ethics could not reflect or criticize the spaces of human inhabitation. Thus, in order to address the problems connected with the living spaces, humanity should pay more attention to the built environment. Urban, suburban and rural environments, which are degraded, act as obstacles to the development of environmental consciousness.

According to Roger J. H. King (2000), there are four major ethical issues presented within this topic (King 2000, 115).

The first ethical issue refers to the support of the idea that the environmental ethics of the architectural environment is an integral part of environmental ethics. Justus Buchler13 agrees with this notion, saying that the built environment reflects what kind of people they are and how they perceive the natural world (116). The pragmatism of Buchler shows that different people in a culture of environmental responsibility will construct a built environment, which is completely different from the one people currently inhabit.

Don Idle14 argues that built environments affect human self-interpretation and the way different individuals understand each other. Hence, the prosperous and healthy life of people is based on the built environment. However, there are ethical principles with regards to the wildlife, which complicate the human ability to construct ecologically.

Langdon Winner15, in his turn, argues that technology is equal to the form of life due to which the humans have the possibility to become what they desire to be by means of constructing. It is essential for people to understand the responsibilities they have towards the environment and try to build with social and moral constraints.

Steven Vogel16 believes there is a socially constructed aspect of the wild environment. He states that “we must reflect on how our construction of inhabited spaces both informs and facilitates our construction of wild nature as hostile or objectified “other” (117).

Notwithstanding the issues presented above, it is paradoxical to include the study of architectural buildings in the environmental study ethics. However, this is done to distinguish between the good and bad interactions of humans with nature. Bill McKibben17 considers that nature is a domain of human creativity. Robert Eliot18 also believes that it is an open canvas of human architectural art. However, he underlines the importance of nature and the necessity of its preservation.

To sum up, King presupposes that the view of environmental ethics expressed by the scholars is insufficient. Preservation of ecosystems and nature as well as of the natural view is the issue, which should be researched deeper with all political, moral, social, and personal aspects.


To conclude, the topic of the paper was “The Phenomena of Evolutionary Psychology In Relation To Architecture and Landscape Architecture. The Prospects for and Limitations of a View Allowing for the Evolution of Humankind’s Psychology, Sensibilities, and Perceptions for Design. Is Evolutionary Psychology Apolitical, Does It Leave Little Room For Ethical Issues Arising From Our Inhabitation Of The Built Environment?”

Every keystone of the essay was discussed and substantiated by the solid literary sources of the twenty-first century.

It was defined that psychology of the mind cannot be discussed without the theory of evolution, which is a pillar of cognitive change. The human mind evolved with the process of evolution. However, this evolution was rather cultural than human. Moreover, the brain of people works as a by-product of human instincts, namely set adaptations. The ethical issues arising from evolutionary psychology are as follows: mind rejection (if to reject the mind, one cannot state that the evolution occurred), religious postulates (evolution may be acknowledged as the change of human, but the mind was set by God), and cultural (humans are instinct less, only their culture makes them definable).

With regards to architecture, there is a strong relationship between this artistic branch with evolutionary psychology. First, the humans had to meet their needs (they were political); therefore, they constructed homes and learned to use the tools. However, the process of the construction was implemented at the cognitive level. Notwithstanding the architectural breakthrough, there are numerous environmental issues, which should be considered by society.

Architecture and landscape architecture evolved due to the human ability to think, visualize and project, which is one of the evolutionary by-products to sustain the instinctive need for safety and reproduction.

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1 Steven Jay Gould is an evolutionist proponent, who believes in the alternative causes of evolution.

2 Perception is a process of realization and awareness of new ideas and possibilities carried out with the help of the human cognitive system (brain).

3 The Pyramid of Needs developed by Abraham Maslow has five points: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization (Griffin 2011, 125).

4 William James claims that taking dinner people never think about utility, they eat because they are hungry, but because they need to maintain a healthy way of life and be able to reproduce. This feature is independent of psychological explanation (ultimate and proximate causations should be properly distinguished).

5 Adaptation lies in the fact that men evolved to attract women and be attracted to them. Therefore, the love of chocolate or television is an accidental byproduct, which people acquired as an alternative to the feeling of love.

6 Ashley Morgan is an anthropologist, who expressed his beliefs in 1973.

7 This point of view understands humans as culturally influenced organisms, where biology has no knowledge to justify this. The argument arising assumes that evolution has nothing to do with human lives.

8 Perez-Gomez, text “Dwelling on Heidegger: Architecture as mimetic techno-poiesis”.

9 Architecture cannot be mistaken for an instinct, it is the means of survival.

10 On the level of thought and mind.

11 As a derivative of the self-preservation instinct, architecture is not an adapted and set concept within the human biological needs, it rather is a product of those needs.

12 By naming architecture as a cognitive breakthrough, it is presumed that the human mind has evolved from the state of primitive to the state of current technological and architectural progress.

13 Justus Buchler, the writer of “Metaphysics of Natural Complexes”, “Nature and Judgement” and “Towards a General Theory of Human Judgement” (1955 – 1979).

14 Don Idle, “Existential Techniques” (1983).

15 From “The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology” (1986).

16 Steven Vogel, “Against Nature: The Concept of Nature in Critical” (1996).

17 In “The End of Nature” (1989).

18 In “Faking Nature: The Ethics of Environmental Restoration” (1997).



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Robinson, Sarah, and Juhani Pallasmaa. Mind in Architecture: Neuroscience, Embodiment, and the Future of Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2015.

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