Ever since the beginning of mankind, there has always existed a central place, just as an atom has central nuclei. A man had to seek individual shelter in course of time, there came the introduction of a central place of congregation where the growing population could gather for activities involving local development. The early men congregated for food & protection as local communities across different parts of the world. These were the seeds of the essence of nativity and culture.

As the man got civilized, organization patterns emerged. The ability to maintain large communities over a wider area led to the emergence of kingship, where the cultural identities got stronger. Monocracy insisted on strong cultural expressions that found their ways through the places of gathering. Right from the Doric columns of the Greek temples and the arcades of the Roman Colosseum, the Kingdoms had their individuality and cultural ties spoke through various art and architectural marvels. Even today, these marvels have the cultural voices let out by every cut on the chiseled surfaces of the ruins.

The culture of any place can be both living and non-living. Non-living as mere places of admiration or attraction and living as an actual lifestyle or a part of the lifestyle of people. While the non-living culture tells the stories of great times that have led to the peace of today, the living culture takes us along the path and lets us live with the historical ties.

Chowks of Northern India function as shopping areas inside the fortified walls and ruins of the Mughlai palaces of the early times. The tall gateways mark the ancient glory and express religious significance through inscriptions & architectural details on the stone surfaces. The Teen Darwaza’s Indo-Islamic style marks the entrance of Manek Chowk in Ahmedabad. The intricate stonework expresses the skill of ancient times & the native religious style, while the varied shopping activities (from traditional textiles to the modern accessories), culinary styles, etc. seen on the inside of the chowk showcase the diversity of the population that has settled over years. The ‘Jama Masjid’ inside the complex, that holds the religious gathering as the meaning goes, keeps the essence of the Islamic culture in the religious neighborhood. This takes the culture into the lives of the people. Every population takes the living culture through religion & its practices.

Cultural expression through Public spaces - Sheet1

Cultural expression through Public spaces - Sheet2
Manek Chowk, Ahmedabad catering to the modern trends & nightlife inside the old fortified complex

Temple towns of Southern India that were planned towns with the temple as the center still maintain the cultural fabric of the place by their presently functioning temples and regular festive gatherings. Temple town of Srirangam, Tamil Nadu is nestled inside the temple walls with the early grid organization pattern where visual linkages are possible to the temple gopuram (tower) from any point. Yearly festival gathering along the main temple street (Sannidhi theru) along which the temple chariot will be carried, involves the people in the religion and traditional practices. These activities along the public spaces help the culture travel through time.

Cultural expression through Public spaces - Sheet3

Cultural expression through Public spaces - Sheet4
Past and present fabric of Srirangam with the Ranganathaswamy temple Ref: Google Images

In the later formed cities such as Industrial towns, the culture involves the lifestyle of the people settled in there. Public spaces such as parks, zoos, and other places express the culture by showcasing the native flora & fauna. Manmade structures such as shopping malls, etc. express the modernity and diversity in cultures with the various options in food and clothing that would suffice the busy city population. Seasonal events held at open areas such as arenas hold various attractions that bring the growing diverse population together, to be a part of the emerging city culture.

“People express culture.”

(Right from their dressing style & food preference to their language dialect, people express the culture).

Cultural expression through Public spaces - Sheet5
Celebrating amongst the diverse New York culture: New year eve celebrations at Times Square, NYC Ref: Google Images

Whether the culture has pre-existing ties or is a newly emerging one, it is the people that express them. The user who uses the place has ample influence from the places used by them. They, in turn, influence the design and nature of the spaces emerging. It is a paradox.

The ‘public spaces’ meant for the ‘people’ express the culture not just with the rigid structures but with the flow of movement and usage by the user. These places where the ‘spirit of place’ is found, welcome the undying evolution process.

As quoted by Rem Koolhaas, “The Generic City is a city free of context, history, and identity. It is a blank slate, allowing its inhabitants to make of themselves what they will.”

The evolution of public spaces has found their way from the organized early architectural spaces to the modern developing cities’ transitional spaces that allow the versatility of the users involved.

All along, the ultimate cultural expression is through user nature.


Akshaya Muralikumar Architect of Thoughts-Passionate human being looking for the essence in user experiences. Because, perception matters.

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