Culture shaping architecture is a very inherent concept. But we usually tend to overlook this concept or idea. In order to truly understand this concept, let us first try to understand what culture is. Culture is defined as the ideas, customs and social behavior of particular people or society. The behaviors we are accustomed to and have been taught are the factors determining the kind of spaces we need to live in.

“Architecture becomes a frame for constructed situations” – Bernard Tschumi

Now let us try to understand architecture in its basic form. Architecture is the designing of space to fulfill certain functions based on the needs of the users. The user’s needs arise based on their activities, which are all well defined by their culture. Their practices and beliefs dictate what their living and gathering spaces should be like. At times, architecture becomes a direct expression of culture and/or beliefs.

Among the foremost things that decide the role of architecture or space, culture plays a very significant role. The location of a space, the size required for that function and the way through which it connects all are aided by the basic cultural significance space is being designed for. Space and culture are interlinked together to the extent that space cannot be analyzed without that factor coming into play. First, space is formed based on certain cultural requirements, later it may even influence some changes in the existing culture.

Below are some examples that demonstrate this fact:

  • The ancient temples of South India make this fact very evident. They have a prakara, the circumambulatory path around the main idol, to fulfill the practice of going around the idol that is the tradition of the Hindu people. They also have natyamandapas in front of the main veneration area to provide as a stage for dances. These dances served the purpose of communicating some principles of religion. The inscriptions on the temple’s upapitha (the portion above the plinth, clearly demarcated on the façade) also tell stories. The need for this portion of the wall to be well demarcated arises from the culture of telling stories through stories that are usually written on this part. If the architect is not aware of these facts, then a temple that doesn’t fulfill these purposes would be produced, hence defeating the purpose of the temple is a learning space. They are raised to such great heights that they are made visible from long distances, to remind all people living in the vicinity of the gods.
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Clockwise-prakara, natyamandapa and upapitha of a South Indian temple – source-swadesi.com, wikipedia.com, and mytouradvisor.blogspot.com
  • In ancient Greece, the people were rigorously engaged in public debates about philosophy, mythology, and science. It was considered a part of being Greek. That is where the famous gathering place of the agoras was born. A place for public gatherings to express their thoughts and consequently become a part of that society. The agoras are what turned into public squares and can be seen even today in major cities modeled after classical city centers.
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Agora of ancient Greece – source- athenskey.com
  • In ancient Rome, the concept of the pantheon, where all their gods were situated at an equivalent position in comparison to each other, showed their strong belief in polytheism. They had transformed the idea of 12 equal beings into space and architecture. The result was a circular ace with 12 niches at equal distances. And they decorated the way they knew best, with classical Roman proportions and orders. Today it stands as the symbol for ancient Rome and classical architecture.
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The interior of the Pantheon at Rome- source-tripimprover.com
  • The well-renowned Vastu Shastra, the rules and regulations for space as dictated by the Hindu religion is being followed by the Hindu people. The Chinese have the Fengshui or chi. All these rules or instructions have been drafted in accordance with the cultural practices of the people following that religion. These were made to make sure that people followed their culture. These instructions are looked at from a sacred point of view, even today.
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Vastushastra and Feng Shui – source-arthunt.com and artmoony.com

Culture reflected in architecture helps create or maintain identity in today’s world of globalization and internationalism. It also helps maintain the integrity of the society. This principle makes sure that the user is a good member of the society he/she belongs to. Hence good societies need architecture sensitive to their culture. It is important to consider the way culture can reflect in and simultaneously influence the growth of the architectural medium. Along the way, with the advent of modernism, this principle has been forgotten. Buildings don’t have a unique style; they don’t even come close to creating or even maintaining identities. We seem to have forgotten the way our ancestors used to do things. We must realize that architecture and culture are two sides of the same coin. The faster we realize that the better. We can avoid the progression of architectural uniformity of the future world. People should always be allowed to express themselves and buildings should let them.

Author

Architectural Journalist

Rethinking The Future

Vellore

Bharani Sri is currently a B.Arch student at the VIT School of Architecture (VSPARC), Vellore. She enjoys passing her time by reading about architectural history, art, philosophy, and criticism. She believes that the world would be a better place if everyone was encouraged to look through the lens of historical analysis.

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