Building permits and approved architectural drawings are parts of a construction process in residential environments. This process affects residents in numerous ways. Investigation of these effects requires recording the perception of residents over time. On the other hand, the mechanism of guiding the residents’ experience of gradual physical change requires a model that would integrate with the objective process and would exhibit the residential environment at any time. Due to the complexity of elements and processes of change in the physical environment involving emotional, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions, the conceptual framework of the present study is proposed based on Jack Nasar’s model of environmental response in order to collect evaluative responses, and on the adaptive cycle model of Holling and Gunderson to identify the process of non-hierarchical perception of physical change by residents. The research was carried out with a qualitative grounded theory approach. The in-depth interview questions within the proposed model were used to collect the opinions of 18 residents of two neighborhoods of Hemmat-abad and Sadat in Babolsar. The respondents were selected using snowball sampling, and the adequacy of the sample size was determined by theoretical saturation. Concepts, categories, and major categories were extracted by coding, and grounded theory models were developed according to conditions, interactions, and consequences of categories. The results show that residents develop indicators for the emotional evaluation of physical changes over time. Focus on the dynamic nature of change, shift in the narrative in relation to economic incentives, lack of physical continuity in the past and present, and adjustment of the level of adaptation by internalizing external factors were the main observed themes during the four stages of abandonment, destruction, construction and operation, respectively. Adoption and implementation of criteria such as sustaining the concept of dwelling, reference patterns and mental environmental standards in the process of change by both builders and residents can reduce the damage caused by the lack of guidance documents to control the construction cycles in residential neighborhoods.
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