If anthropology is the study of human beings, and architecture is the study of designing and making built forms, then anthropology’s study of architecture should essentially mean the study of humans living inside the built forms. The domain of anthropology deals with human behavior and studying the variations in that behavior concerning changes in their surroundings. 

Similarly, in architecture designers are bound to take into consideration human behavior before designing spaces or them. This simple comparison tells us how both the domains are related to each other, and how the study of human behavior is crucial in designing meaningful spaces that enhance human responses. 

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Human response in architectural spaces_©Shivangi vats-medium.com.

Crossovers Between Anthropology and Architecture | Anthropology Study

The most obvious crossover has already been mentioned – human behavior is crucial to both anthropology as well as architecture. There are some other crossovers as well which further help in describing the relationship between anthropology and architecture. To understand these inter-relationships, we will have to look at the timeline shared by these two domains.

The world began to acknowledge anthropological aspects of architecture, in the first half of the nineteenth century, through the works of two architects named Gottfried Semper and Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. Semper proposed a theory of ‘The Four Elements’ wherein he deciphers the morphological development of ornaments in history. 

On the other hand, Viollet-le-Duc explains a rational logic of structure in Gothic buildings to be similar to that of the internal organization of the human body. These were the first attempts in history that connected anthropology to architecture. They together explained the first crossover that humans designed objects and spaces through their interpretation of nature and the surroundings they lived in.

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Ibuku architects, Bali- Design inspired from nature_©Ibuku.com.

Building on such theories, architecture began to be studied and understood through the perspective of its users – humans. Architects began to design spaces that ensure human comfort, rather than simply making monumental designs. 

The human body became an example of how load can be transferred to the ground through joints, and this, in turn, leads to the understanding of the importance of a strong foundation. Thus, we come to our next crossover that anthropological study can translate into structural systems in architecture.

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Calatrava’s sustainable skyscraper- Turning Torse_©Inhabitat.com.

How does Anthropology Benefit Architecture?

We have understood how the domains of anthropology and architecture have been cohesively understood and interpreted by people. The next step would be noting how these fields of study can benefit from each other. The basic understanding of crossovers portrays the asymmetricity between anthropology and architecture. 

Anthropology is a vast field of study that has implications in several domains other than architecture, and thus, it benefits the field of architecture for more than vice-versa. 

The one simple reason for this difference is that architecture will be rendered meaningless if it doesn’t involve the study of humans. This has been elaborately stressed upon by several designers and architects ranging from Leonardo da Vinci, through Vitruvian Man, to Le Corbusier, through the Modulor. 

A man was, is, and will always be the basic unit of designing spaces. This is the reason why anthropometry is the first subject taught in architectural schools – to emphasize the importance of always designing spaces concerning human proportions. 

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Le Corbusier’s Modulor Man_©idesign.wiki.

Anthropometry not only lays down the dimensions of space design but also touches upon human behavior in spaces. For any activity to take place, anthropometry teaches us that humans do not stay still – activities always involve movements. This is directly associated with human behavior. Thus, in order to design meaningful spaces architects must consider anthropometry.

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Anthropometric measurements_©design.weebly.com.

Point of View: Anthropologist vs. Architects

Architects were bound to stumble upon the importance of anthropology since it is an integral part of designing but what is interesting is to note that even anthropologists were keen to understand the built environment

The first anthropologists to show such interests were Lewis Henry Morgan and Victor Mindeleff – they took into consideration the significance of the built environment in understanding the socio-cultural backgrounds of some groups of North American Indians. This essentially implies that in understanding the cultural practices of community settlements, anthropologists can benefit from the study of their built forms. 

Anthropologists and Architects may debate upon the importance of their respective fields but history is evidence that despite the asymmetricity in their significance, as previously mentioned, their co-relation is mutually beneficial. Both professionals may have different perspectives about similar objects of interest. 

For instance, an architect would explore the possibilities of human interaction in his buildings whereas an anthropologist would assess human behavior in that same built space. The architect would design spaces that encourage the social exchange of ideas whereas an anthropologist would research upon human responses in different public spaces.

Thinking in a space_©dwell.com.

The Way Ahead | Anthropology Study

Having acknowledged the premise of ‘What is anthropology study of architecture?’, and ‘Why is anthropology in design important?’, the next question would be – ‘What can we do with this understanding? 

It has been previously mentioned how the fields of anthropology and architecture are co-related. This conscious acceptance of both anthropologists and architects that their domains of study are co-related has led to the development of the concept – ‘Design Anthropology.’ 

This field of inquiry dwells upon the implications of anthropological approaches in design projects. It helps architects in translating theories of anthropology into solutions to design problems. Moreover, it allows anthropologists to interpret the branch of design under their vast field of study. 

With the world moving ahead at lightning speed, designers are obligated to constantly improve their products to suit their users. There is a separate branch of design that solely deals with such tasks as improving the user interface. This branch is specifically evolving in the field of digital design. 

Professionals who work in that branch of digital designing are called UX and UI designers. They are committed to maximizing the usability of products and improving the user experience. This is a consequence of Design Anthropology.

Design Anthropology Process_©Matt Artz-medium.com.

Similarly, in the field of architecture, architects are committed to designing modern-day solutions to modern-day problems. They are constantly trying to come up with designs that improve living conditions without harming the environment in which it is built. In this manner, we may interpret and re-interpret the significance of Design Anthropology.


  • https://www.jstor.org/stable/3630089?seq=1
  • https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1757-899X/471/7/072027/pdf
  • https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3363277/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modulor

Gautami Menon is a final year student at the Institute of Architecture and Planning, Nirma University. As an aspiring architect, she is passionate about expressing design through the written medium. She believes that architectural design is a platform where intellect meets art and her designs are an attempt at justifying the same.