Public Building design has always been an integral and defining representation of any architectural era since time immemorial. Public Buildings are deemed to serve a plethora of myriad functions, whether it be social, cultural, economic, communal or symbolic. Any Public Building seems to accumulate deep-rooted connotations assigned to it by the general populace. This added layer of symbolism to the dynamics of public design are idiosyncratic to that particular era of time, adding eccentricity and character to the urban fabric of the city. Public Building design and the comprehension of its evolution is fundamental to be fully cognizant of the origins of a city and its diasporic population.

Past, Present and Future: Public Building Design - Sheet1
The Ancient Agora_©

Going back to the inception of civilizations, the Greek Agora was the start of the public area that was placed in the heart of the polis and served as a marketplace as well as a convening space for the democratic assembly. As a result, it was significant on a social, political, and economic level. It also served as a formal and informal gathering place for residents. The Agora was originally flanked by private residences, but later temples and shrines, as well as stoas, porticoes, and covered walkways, were built to encircle it. Later in Greek civilization, open-air gymnasia and theatres were built.

Past, Present and Future: Public Building Design - Sheet2
The Roman Forum_©

During the Roman Empire, the duties of the Greek acropolis and agora were combined in the “forum.” It was a semi-enclosed, open space where business, religious and political events, sports, and spontaneous gatherings took place. In the same manner that Agora was monopolized by citizens, the forum was a public space controlled by citizens. Forums were rectangular in design, with a 2:3 ratio, and were bordered by Porticoes. The forums housed temples, basilicas, shops, and markets, resulting in a mix of municipal and theological architecture. It also held other important leisure facilities, such as a theatre and public bathhouses. It also housed the curia and comitia, which were the town council and electoral assemblies, thus being an important feature of the urban landscape in Ancient Rome.

Past, Present and Future: Public Building Design - Sheet3
A Medieval Marketplace_©Svenart

The marketplace first appeared in the 11th century and quickly expanded into a vital public venue during medieval times. It was generally at the town’s center, in front of the castle or cathedral, and also at the crossroads of two major roads. Workplaces such as workshops and storage facilities, as well as commercial establishments such as inns and taverns, were located. Residents of the city frequently gathered with guests who had been drawn to the area.  

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The Renaissance Plaza_©

The Renaissance Plaza housed key structures such as the church and the town hall. It was a meeting ground for locals and a venue for public celebrations. Plazas also hosted plays and other theatrical productions. The renaissance plaza reflected the local social order, revealing ethnic, religious, and political identities. It was primarily designed with symmetrical geometry in mind. The buildings that surrounded the Plaza and squares all had an identical front, emphasizing the significance of balance and harmony in architecture. Furthermore, this design feature expanded into upper-class residential areas around the squares, allowing for an unusual quasi-public characteristic. In addition, developers of new residential communities began to adopt this new approach to constructing and controlling public access to the plaza.

Ever since Renaissance Plazas, the contemporary period has seen a dramatic evolution. The city’s planning was directed by the priority of rapid movement in the urban space, which resulted in a close link between open space and the built environment. However, there was an increase in the number of new public areas for leisure and recreation. During the nineteenth century, new consumption venues such as shopping arcades, shopping streets, bazaars, and department stores arose, all of which were regarded as essentially social and public spaces. The shopping arcades were often designed in a linear fashion with numerous stories, and the exclusively pedestrian areas were shielded from the elements by glazed roofs.

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The Modern Shopping Complex_©

Many changes occurred around the globe as a consequence of industrialization, resulting in a widely varied nature and interpretation of public space. Furthermore, privatization and economic pressure, as well as technical improvements, have had a significant effect on the formation, use, and control of public places. As a result, a distinct type of public space arose, namely the retail malls that we see today. These shopping centers are owned and operated by private companies. Furthermore, they are completely enclosed and pedestrian-only in a controlled environment with ample parking and multi-functions. It contributes to the creation of a safe shopping and leisure atmosphere away from the rest of the bustling world.

Today, the world of architecture and building design is evolving at an alarmingly rapid pace where we are constantly trying to achieve elusive utopic urban fabrics. The future of public buildings is a conscious shift towards designs that are holistic and promote communal living at their core while meeting sustainability standards. 


  1. ArchDaily. (2020). The Evolution of Shared Space: Privacy vs. Openness in an Increasingly Dense Architecture. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2021].
  2. ‌ (2019). Architecture, History: Evolution of Building Design. [online] Available at:



Faria is an architecture student at IGDTUW, Delhi. She feels passionate towards learning and actively looks for new experiences. She believes that the design language should be universally accessible and understood, hence, she strives to uncover hidden dynamics of design by shifting the language from visual to verbal.