Culture has been deeply rooted within society, since the inception of human civilization. Today’s modern society would not have existed this long if culture had not been passed and expressed through various forms throughout history.  In retrospect, culture is preserved through ancestral history, scriptures, art, festivals, rituals, and architecture.

Architecture is a form of expression, storytelling within a built form. Every wall confined within a structure conveys a narrative in the upbringing of the architecture. Architecture is a language unspoken, but heard by many as a beacon that reflects an inherent part of society. It helps to define the ideologies of a community; their values, creativity, and skills are translated into a built form. By analyzing architecture, one is deeply immersed in the memories of the past; the daily labors, social life, economic status, and politics are all inscribed in a building. 

The design of a city expresses its identity and its sense of place in history. Architecture plays an imperative role in conserving cultural identity as it paves the future direction in which a community is headed towards. Sustainability in architecture also comprises preserving the heritage of society and carrying it forward with the technology available today. 

Some examples of culturally relevant architecture that assists in bolstering cultural identity according to its time and place are as follows:

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Cultural Identity and Architectural Expression - Sheet1
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, U.S. Department of Defense_https://www.defense.gov/Multimedia/Experience/Vietnam-Veterans-Memorial/

Designed by Maya Lin, Vietnam Veterans Memorial is 247ft. long wall latched with granite panels in which the names of 58,000 deceased who fought in the war are reflected honorably. The design beautifully blends into the existing landscape providing beautiful views of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. The design aspect becomes an integral part of the landscape. The architecture commemorates the historic veterans and their families, who fought in America’s longest-running war. The memorial establishes itself as a symbolic expression of patriotism, grief, and respect.  

La Sagrada Familia 

Cultural Identity and Architectural Expression - Sheet2
The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Valery Egorov, Getty Images Plus_https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sagrada-Familia

Antoni Gaudi’s deep-rooted Catalan history is manifested beautifully in the design of his cathedral in Barcelona. A symbol of Catalan culture nestled in Barcelona, Gaudi has represented the artistic style, ornamentation, and religious figures through his rendition of the modernist movement in Architecture. The meticulous details reflected in the exterior and interior have prolonged the cathedral’s construction till this day. It is the epitome of architecture that embodies cultural identity. 

Bahal’s of Kathmandu Valley

Cultural Identity and Architectural Expression - Sheet3
Kumari Ghar (Palace of living goddess), Manfred Sommer_https://www.flickr.com/photos/asienman/21758540120/sizes/c/

Embodied within the vernacular of Nepalese architecture, is a two-storeyed courtyard-style dwelling known as the Bahal. The archetype of a bahal has a perfectly symmetrical facade, with the exterior divided into five bays and the interior courtyard walls into three. The windows represent a specific function that is carried out in the room. At the center, there are meticulously designed bay windows serving as a unique identity of the Bahal. The typical building block of the archetype of Bahal is brick, which remains unrendered on the exterior and rendered with mud plaster in the internal wall of the courtyard. The main entrance is highlighted with intricate decorative doors representing the deities found within the Bahal.As Kathmandu got its name from Kasthamandap a temple built from a single tree, Kastha meaning “wood” and Mandapa meaning “pavilion”; from there on embarked as the wooden city. 

What makes buildings culturally relevant?

Cities are a physical manifestation of the culture represented by civilians that share common ideologies and beliefs. Culture gives a sense of direction to the architectural design of a space; be it through color to set the mood of a space; the use of space for various functions in different cultures; or the proliferation of vernacular materials and construction methods of a specific region.  

Culture influences architecture in multifaceted areas, but over time, the direction has been dominated by the banality of modernism. The industrial revolution gave birth to modernism and its most notorious architectural style, the International style, which constitutes a plain glass and steel facade, rectilinear form, and stripped off their decorations, unlike their predecessors. During that time and age, it was a well-adapted revolution in architectural expression. Buildings still follow the architectural style and have culturally adapted to the trend of minimalism.

Red Square_Krakow wiki https://krakow.wiki/top-5-tourist-attraction-in-moscow/

Architecture in the current era is in a very dire stage, as it is feared that buildings are becoming stale and all the designs look the same. The real challenge as an architect is to progress with the mindset of designing with a purpose to sustain culture within the society. Architects should design a building that reflects the identity of a community, they should design a building that means something. Meaning can be added to architecture by educating the masses to learn to see and perceive culture as it is and for the community it is built for. Through local involvement and by letting the relevant cultural group participate in the design process and the construction phase of a building, cultural values are preserved in a community, so that future generations can pass on the world cultures to many more generations to come. 

Reference List

– EVS translations, 2023, ‘EVS translations’, The role of architecture in preserving cultural identity. Accessed 19 Aug 2023. https://evs-translations.com/blog/architecture-cultural-identity/

– Uo2 Architect, 2023, ‘Uo2 Architect’, Role of architecture in Cultural Identity: Case Studies from around the world. Accessed 18 Aug 2023.

http://uo2architects.com/the-role-of-architecture-in-cultural-identity-case-studies-from-around-the-world/#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20most%20famous,a%20symbol%20of%20Catalan%20identity

– Jyoti Singh, 22 March 2022, ‘Urban Design Lab’, The Cultural Expression in Architecture. Accessed 19 Aug 2023. https://urbandesignlab.in/the-cultural-expression-in-architecture/

– William Morgan, 24 March 2020, ‘AIA’, Muted but monumental: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Accessed 18 Aug 2023.

https://www.aia.org/articles/6143509-muted-but-monumental-the-vietnam-veterans-:16

– PDH Academy, 2023, ‘PDH Academy’, Architecture reflects culture. Accessed 18 Aug 2023.

https://pdhacademy.com/2016/03/28/architecture-reflects-culture/

Image 1 – Vietnam Veterans Memorial, U.S. Department of Defense
https://www.defense.gov/Multimedia/Experience/Vietnam-Veterans-Memorial/

– Image 2 – The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Valery Egorov, Getty Images Plus https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sagrada-Familia

Image 3 – Kumari Ghar (Palace of living goddess), Manfred Sommer https://www.flickr.com/photos/asienman/21758540120/sizes/c/

Image 4 – Red Square, Krakow wiki https://krakow.wiki/top-5-tourist-attraction-in-moscow/

Author

Sumin Bajracharya is a flamboyant architectural designer passionate about design and the wanderlust that comes with it. A nature lover and photography enthusiast who encapsulates the ambiguity of the world through his lens