Architecture and culture go hand in hand. Both are always integrated regardless of the context. It is true that ‘Architecture is an expression of culture’ since it reflects and directly impacts people, their activities, opinions, etc. Architecture is a technical, creative process that is motivated by perspectives and beliefs. This essay will concentrate on how history has influenced culture and architecture and how this connection has remained intertwined throughout time.
Architecture reflecting cultural identity
The Historical Significance of the Culture-Architecture Connection
Whenever one travels to a nation, one would initially comprehend an area’s cultural practices through its structures, especially those that have existed since ancient times. In the bygone era, when religious buildings, forts & palaces were the main focal point of a town/city’s identity, the architects collaborating with the monarch or head of that particular province or state, would inculcate elements that derive their roots from the people’s practices in that era. This article will focus on historical examples from four eras where architecture reflected people’s identity: Ancient Indian, Egypt, Greek, and Roman architecture.
One of India’s greatest architects Charles Correa, once defined cultural identity as trails left by civilization as it moves through history. Characteristics of social groups and their cultural practices in religion, culinary practices, dressing, language, and other beliefs have continuously been reflected in the built environment of that place.
Taking the example of the Indus Valley Civilization that had been estimated to be existing around 2500 to 1700 BC, people back then predominantly focused on functionality and efficiency than aesthetics, and the same is said for architecture as well. Cities were designed along grid patterns with extensive layouts of drainage systems. Residences and housing settlements were built using bricks, stone, and wood, unique materials at the time. The Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro, the earliest public water tank of the ancient world, was also labeled as the ‘College of Priests‘ since the building served as a residence for priests who used to oversee functions and other ritualistic practices in the Great Bath.
Culture in the architecture of the Buddhist era in India, which began in the 3rd century BCE, encompassed mainly three types of structures that are: Viharas (Monasteries), Stupas (To venerate relics), and Chaityas (Prayer halls or temples). Evolving with the changing religious practices, stupas were incorporated into the chaitya-gracias. Irrespective of its location, a stupa has three significant architectural features deriving its origins from Buddhism: Anda (God’s home at the universe’s center), Harmika (indication of stupa’s sacred significance),Chattra (central point with Buddhism’s three jewels : Buddha, Dharma & Sangha.)
As the Buddhist era architecture, other regions in India have been greatly influenced by respective culture, religion, etc. To name a few, the temples of Madurai, Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, Belur, Halebeedu, Badami, Pattadakal in Karnataka, Sun temple in Orrisa, etc.
Culture in Architecture: Ancient Egypt
When one thinks of ancient Egyptian architecture, the first structure immediately comes to mind is the Pyramids. However, there are other structures like temples, fortresses, and palaces that are equally iconic as well. The internal arrangements and size often reflected their ideology. Using locally sourced materials such as limestone and mud bricks, they employed the construction technique known as “post and lintel” to ensure that their buildings were in alignment with certain astronomical bodies. The columns used in Egyptian buildings were mostly decorated to imitate the look of plants that the Egyptians held in high regards, such as the papyrus plant.
Ancient Greece and Roman
People in ancient Greece were well known to be extremely detailed in all aspects of their lifestyle, and the same was reflected in detailed massive columns in temples and theatres built in that period of history. In the post-Hellenic era in ancient Greek periods, two main cultures were dominating the society: Minoan, the culture of ancient Crete known for intricate and elaborate palaces and pottery with motifs. They decorated their pottery with bands of marching soldiers rather than octopus and seaweed. Greek ideals were based on a foundation of proportions, the golden ratio, and the ratio of lengths of body parts to each other. Further evolving into more complex structures, Greek temples hosted governmental, educational, and religious buildings over the centuries to convey a sense of order and stability.
Taking a cue from Ancient Greeks, the Romans improvised their infrastructure with intricate columns, arches, and curved roofs. The arches served as a stepping stone for massive aqueducts and bridges. To cater to their game-loving society and to encourage Roman forms of sport, the Romans built large amphitheaters like the Colosseum, laying the foundation for the sports stadiums we see today.
Culture in Architecture: Post-industrial revolution
Following the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution brought about several changes in how architecture was perceived. Architectural design has undergone a significant transformation with access to more resources, materials, and better procedures and techniques as contributing factors in architecture becoming a full-fledged and still-thriving industry today.
In conclusion, Architecture never deviates from culture; instead, it adapts and co-exists in transition when there are huge paradigm shifts in the way people live. Every culture may inspire a form of architecture that can range from monuments, forts, and public infrastructure to regular residences. Each culture is distinct, and the more we study about them, the more we admire and appreciate our surroundings.
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Image 1: Sanchi. (2023, January 27). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanchi
Image 2: Sanchi. (2023, January 27). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanchi
Image 3: Ancient Greek architecture. (2023, January 20). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_architecture