Right from the beginning of civilization, architecture was first perceived as a means to provide shelter and protection for the family. Caves are said to be one of the first forms of architecture used by humans as their homes. It was around the Neolithic period that humans derived a sense of how they wanted their homes to look and feel. The architecture was much more democratic in terms of how it was made for the people, by the people, and of the people who were its users.

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Neolithic and later sites_©Erica Bean

Architecture: Journey through the years 

The role of architecture in society has primarily been to respond to the needs of the community it serves. As times passed by, civilizations advanced, the role of an architect began to change from doing the combined job of a painter or a sculptor to handling the project from design to execution in collaboration with a team of experts from diverse backgrounds, as the growing needs and demands of the society started becoming more complex. 

As the role of the architect began to become clearer, so did his responsibilities. He not only had to design the building suitable for its users but had to gain knowledge about several other factors like the site history, surrounding community, laws, political situation, materials, construction techniques as well as obtaining permits from various authorities. 

Architecture began to respond to the prevailing situation during different periods throughout history- each era marked the creation of new building typologies that shared similarities and differences in different parts of the world, depending on the community it served. 

Architecture undeniably began to respond to the needs of the different people that existed in the society, which had been divided by complex social structures. Moreover, as people began to understand the potential of architecture in making their lives more efficient and comfortable, the design of the built environment began to undergo rapid changes.

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Guiyang, the capital of south-west China’s Guizhou province_©Xinhua Alamy

Architecture for Social change

The creation of community buildings, gathering spaces, public spaces, parks, gardens, etc., can be considered good examples of how architecture helps to bring social change by creating opportunities for interaction and bringing people together. One of the essential needs of human beings is the need to feel connected with each other. It is when one connects with someone that a dialogue or conversation takes place, which in turn makes room for debate and discussions, exchange of ideas, change in perspective, and leads to change in the thought process of the community at large.

It is a common observation that the design of a building or a space also affects the way one behaves in that space- that is what leads to the creation of different spaces to cater to different functions in our daily lives. The principles which are used to design the spaces subconsciously manifest themselves into our behaviour in those spaces.

For example- a workspace or an office is more formal than a cafe or a restaurant which makes one feel at ease. A temple or a sacred space compels one to be disciplined and makes one feel at peace, whereas in an open urban space like a park or garden, one can be playful or have fun. 

In this manner, architecture also affects the behaviour of its users in terms of how they respond to the surrounding and built environment.

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A street in Poblenou superilla_©Paola de Grenet, courtesy of Barcelona City Council

Architecture for Cultural and Economic change 

Have you ever wondered how different cities or spaces developed their own identity over a long time? What makes different parts of the cities around the world similar, and what sets them apart from each other?

As new communities emerge, their requirements change, and it becomes the responsibility of architecture to cater to the changing needs. For example- shingle-style architecture that erupted during the Victorian era lay importance on the wealthy and lavish lifestyle of its owners. Moreover, the age of Industrialization created opportunities to design and make intricately articulated details in architectural works that were never seen before, but it also led to unsystematically planned cities and development.

This period marked an end to many cultural traditions that had been formed for over three thousand years as new types of structures and materials began to be explored. But if architecture can take away from us, it also has the power to provide for us. With the establishment of democracy, to achieve the overall development of a nation, varied types of construction works were necessary. Architecture, at its fundamental level, is a service to the community. Though many private enterprises executed their own plan, many others realized the need to stand up for the community as a whole and joined their hands with the government to create spaces that catered to a larger public. 

With rapid urbanization and the continual development of technologies, the tools used for designing evolved and helped to envision and realize buildings that seemed improbable earlier. The building’s typologies were no longer limited to standardization but, in fact, opened opportunities for experimentation in designing. This further led to accelerated economic growth and development of a city by promoting tourism.

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The Museum of the Future in Dubai_©Giuseppe Cacace/ Getty Images

Architecture and Human Psychology 

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us”– Sir Winston Churchill. 

This statement holds significance when one thinks about how architecture deeply yet almost subconsciously shapes us and our way of living. Several studies and researches have shown the impact of architecture on the psychology of humans. While one experiment showed improvement in health conditions of the residents when allowed to be in connection with nature, some other studies show how people living in bigger cities feel more isolated from each other. Some other factors like colour, seamless transition between spaces, barrier-free circulation, minimalist designs, facades with varied elements instead of monotonous glass cages have played a significant role in instilling calmness in its users and reducing anxiety. Upon looking at the larger picture, one can realize how architecture subtly leaves imprints on our minds, guiding us through our daily lives. 

Architecture: Our Guardian Angel? 

Architecture exists all around us in varied scales and proportions; it comforts us, surprises us, affects our behaviour, and makes the built environment better and more liveable. Architecture is not just about designing, but how the design works, how it makes us engage with our surroundings and in turn mitigates the growth of a city. Cities expand, grow and sustain when the built environment responds to the growing needs of the population it caters to. The duty of architecture is not just limited to aesthetic attraction but how it helps to bring about cultural, social, economic change, which leads to the development of cities. Architecture, when practised in the right manner, can become the catalyst for this growth.

Crowds of people crossing street on zebra crossing in New York, USA_©Alexander Spatari/Getty Images


Online articles: 

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  5. Spatari, A. (n.d.). Crowds of people crossing street on zebra crossing in New York, USA. [online] Getty Images. Available at: https://www.gettyimages.in/detail/photo/crowds-of-people-crossing-street-on-zebra-crossing-royalty-free-image/1161240357?adppopup=true  [Accessed 7 Mar. 2022].

Shaymi Shah is a published author and an architectural content writer by profession. Through keen observation about architecture and life around her, she weaves narratives through her writing as she wants to make people, even outside the fraternity, realize the importance and fundamental need of design in our daily lives.