A culture of the place has been determined through various factors over the years, the ethnicity, the beliefs, history, social behaviors and responses, and evidently, the people. As crucial as it becomes to comprehend how these factors form the culture, it also becomes significant to determine the factors which express them. 

Architecture has been one such prime contributor in reflecting the culture of a society, and during the course has evolved along with the transformation, diversification, and collaboration of these cultures. 

In the earlier times, a notion of a culture could be determined through the architecture in the form of the styles which they used, with the elements such as murals, carvings, and descriptions on the facades, through the typical features of spatial dispositions, and more notable, the public spaces of a region and their functioning, and association. These factors, all along, have been a portrayal of the then social patterns, order, values, classifications, and principles, customs, manners, and have resonated with their way of life.

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Carvings on Konark Temple, India ©www.wordpress.com
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Fresco from Bonampak, Mexico – 800 CE ©www.britannica.com
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Mosaic of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul ©hagiasophiaturkey.com

A substantial exchange of these cultures began with the onset of trading, when unlike today, trading was experiential and involved switching of ideas and beliefs along with the goods and commodities, however, the extent at which they were exchanged, differed. Therefore, in such instances, distinctive architecture styles too were adopted and intertwined, one of the explicit examples being the silk routes with structures exhibiting architectural styles of Chinese and Islamic amalgamated together. It was also during the period colonization by European countries that the colonials introduced their culture to the indigenous people, bringing in a new perspective and approach to the pre-existing values and ideologies and hence diversifying them; such as the Spanish colonization of America, British colonization of India or the French colonization of Vietnam and all through also transformed the architecture making it a combination of both the communities.

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Spanish colonial architecture in Bolivia, South America ©en.wikipedia.org
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Indo gothic architecture in Mumbai ©www.istock.com

Since then, with an increase in the interaction within the communities as well as countries, a new approach towards the styles could be determined, with people being introduced to new ideas and intellects, and the drive of experimenting and expressing it through their art and architecture. Intending to inculcate modern values and habits, and to outdo the old and conventional, people found architecture as a crucial component in doing so, by embracing new styles and introducing spaces and structures which would help to establish a new character, way of life and therefore the culture. This was supplemented by foreign architects designing public spaces and spaces with cultural importance, leading to a trace of distinctive state of art and architecture into the region, for instance, Kenzo Tange designing the Supreme court of Pakistan Building or Le Corbusier planning the Chandigarh city.

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Supreme court of Pakistan Building by Kenzo Tange ©en.wikipedia.org
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Palace of the Assembly by Le Corbusier ©www.archdaily.com

It was after globalization, and the modern technology and material making the construction process seamless, that the society gradually started transforming at a comprehensive level, with adaptability and flexibility in the architectural design processes, unlike earlier. The architects, therefore, strived to achieve an equilibrium between the local and global into their designs, intending to make the structure both contemporary and intimate, and the approach was recognized as ‘critical regionalism’. Rejecting the ancient elements of ornamentation as well as the modern-day fundamentals of placelessness, these architects emphasize on the profoundness of the context and the region to create an output that is unconventional and distinct, one of the notable examples being the Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon, a contemporary structure yet corresponding with its site and it’s significance.

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Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon ©www.sydneyoperahouse.com

On the contrary, some architects questioned the pre-existing system of cultural architecture and rather produced designs that were experimental, innovative, and individualistic. Disregarding the present design processes and the cultural landscape, architects such as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Rem Koolhas provoke a distinct perspective through their designs. For instance, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao by Frank Gehry is a striking example of contemporary cultural architecture, with an unconventional form and material, sited amidst the industrial setting at the edge of the river, the museum itself has led into generating a cultural identity of Bilbao. 

 “Bilbao is truly a signal moment in the architectural culture,” – Paul Goldberger

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao by Frank Gehry 
©www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus

Similarly, Rem Koolhas too through his atypical approach tries challenging the state of architecture, and the way of expression of the present-day culture, which already is a weave and a consequence of a multilayered character. His projects such as Qatar National Library, Seattle Public Library, and Casa da Música are few such models juxtaposing the pre-existing cultural symbols of the society.

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Qatar National Library by Rem Koolhas ©www.qm.org.qa
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Casa da Música by Rem Koolhaas ©www.archdaily.com

The architecture of a region, unlike earlier does-not necessarily correspond within itself, a major reason being the mixed culture, as the architecture itself is a reflection of the culture and the society it is sited in. The architects too have derived their distinctive style to establish the expression of the mix-culture into their designs, whether the approach and aim being similar or not, and are capable of implementing those into the society. However, the question arises of how appropriate is the need of a region to derive a language and identity for itself or to lose one. 

Manasi Prabhu
Author

Manasi prefers writing over talking to express herself. Being an architecture student, she believes that designs and their resulting comprehensions are a mirror to look within oneself. She is an optimist who is considerate towards her surroundings and more so people. Structures, their stories and photographs fascinate her.

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