The term ‘meme’ was coined by Richard Dawkin in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’ in 1976. He defined a meme as an idea, behaviour or style that spreads through imitation from person to person. A meme is to ideas like a gene is to physical traits. In the modern day, memes have taken the form of images, videos, GIFs and other viral sensations. 

Memes throughout History

Before diving into the cultural and behavioural significance of memes, it is crucial to understand where they came from. Internet memes date back to as old as the 1900s. Some of the oldest memes are Godwin’s Law in 1990, Dancing Baby in 1996 and ‘ROFLcopter’ in 2000. Apart from satire and wit, memes are a creative medium of expression. Expression of opinion has always happened throughout history in one form or the other. The comic strip can roughly be considered a primitive version of the meme.  A comic strip is a series of drawings or doodles arranged serially to show humour, satire or a comedy narrative. The traditional comic strips had a three-by-one column while some slightly longer narratives with four-by-three famous comic strips are Popeye, Tarzan, 

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_Lot Detail – Charles Schulz Hand-Drawn & Inscribed ”Peanuts” Comic Strip From 1968 Featuring Snoopy_©

Peanuts and Terry and the Pirates. These strips would usually be printed in the Sunday newspaper. The Calvin and Hobbes comic strips were compiled and published as a book.  These illustrations were usually just one photo with text over it. While extremely satirical the illustrations would be considered an indirect mode of expression. Over the decades, however, the space provided for the strip or panel in the newspaper became smaller and smaller. Regardless of the format, the main purpose of the comic was to express, educate or criticise. Throughout history, comics and illustrations have been used to express opinions against the prevailing power. Following Dawkins’ meme theory, memes evolved through the decades, across generations. It is one of the most dynamic cultures to exist. 

The Impact of Internet Memes

The memes we see today are usually in the form of short videos, gifs, or photos. According to the original memetics theory, memes could also include songs, ideas and even catchphrases and behaviour. Memes have evolved to become entirely anonymous. It is possible to track the host of a meme but the host’s identity is usually left behind. This has led to memes becoming an easy way to communicate. Not only at a global scale but even in one-to-one conversions. More often than not, these bits of culture would go viral and break the internet. Dawkins’ comparison of a meme to a biological gene is accurate. Like a true gene, it follows the survival of the fittest. Relatable memes survive because they get imitated more widely while others may die out within two or three days. 

The internet meme has impacted society drastically and in both negative and positive aspects of life. Phenomena like the Blue Whale Challenge entered the media spotlight in 2016-2017 by promoting self-harm among teenagers. Inversely, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was created by the ALS Therapy Development Institute to raise funds for developing a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease. The ice bucket meme went viral helping the institute raise over 100 million dollars in months for their research. It is necessary to ensure that the impact is positive rather than negative.

Meme Theory in Architecture

Architecture is the most creative practical field and has evolved throughout the decades. The architectural drawings we know today started as scriptures, illustrations and carvings found in ancient Mesopota and Harrapa. Architecture has been influenced by climate, material, and cultural beliefs of the ruler and even social aspects.  Art movements like Bauhaus, De Stijl and Art Nouveau have also influenced architecture drastically. Modernist architecture revolutionised the way the design process while vernacular architecture kept the design rooted in its strong cultural values. This spectrum of styles has given birth to a spectrum of opinions. Architects, especially students have taken to the internet to voice their opinions on various architectural styles. Memes are an effective method of critique. They are shared anonymously; they are crisp and to the point and they have the potential to spread like wildfire. 

The meme culture is spreading passively without any effort. As mentioned, these small pieces of information have a greater impact on society than any other medium. As society becomes more accepting, a lot of social issues are being discussed openly. There have been writings on racial discrimination, universal accessibility, feminist values and LGBTQ+ rights in architecture.  Feminism in architecture has given designers and theorists a new way of looking at design. Architects started talking about the in-betweens, the spaces between the insides and outsides.

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“Why loiter?” is a book that speaks about how women still feel unsafe while walking the streets of Mumbai. Men can loiter aimlessly on streets without any threats, while women have been denied this opportunity. The authors argue that if all groups of the community start loitering on streets it will be a better space for everyone and allow them to access the space in the first place. Additionally, public artwork, artistic lighting or decorative street furniture can help make these spaces safer for women. Awareness about inclusivity in urban design largely remains a part of theoretical studies and is yet to be practised in the mainstream. 

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To date, memes have been shared blindly without giving them much thought. Architecture plays a pivotal role in shaping society and memes can be used to address social issues. Memes can spread awareness about the problems faced by the marginalised communities of society. Active use of the internet meme can help bring the necessary change in society.  


As a final-year architecture student, her five-year journey has nurtured a profound love for writing and a deep passion for spatial analysis. Her fascination with architecture intertwines seamlessly with her equal ardour for movies, finding inspiration in both mediums. Additionally, her love for music adds another layer of creativity to her pursuits