A strong sense of identity helps us navigate how we function while simultaneously opening us up to what we are and what we are not. Architectural identity follows a similar concept but at a greater depth. This allows us to intimately embody a people’s way of living, portraying a society to its full length. This makes architecture with cultural significance disappearing much more significant. Without distinct architectural identities, we are left with a less distinguishable world. 

In ‘Architecture as Symbol and Self-Identity’, Jonathan G. Katz affirms that architects have ‘to create a physical environment readily identifiable by society as its own’. (Archnet.org., 2021) Establishing ownership is just as important as good design.

Changing Identity

Originally an architectural identity allowed people to express themselves while also providing variation when living in a multicultural society. The beauty about this system of self-expression was that all designs were very unique to the culture they were supposed to reflect, in turn when they merged it was apparent where elements of design came from. The details were as rich as the culture and reflections on design decisions could easily be made. 

The overall goal for a design has changed, previously it was to capture the culture and people perfectly, while now the designs have become timeless. Due to the changing times, architectural identity is less distinguishable than it was before. This is due to the diversity we once exhibited being hardly visible today, making our architectural identity weaker. Designs have shifted from representing culture, to designs that demand to shape culture. It is for the human to adapt to the design fully. 

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A building with a timeless design and a building with a time-specific design_©Patrick Bingham-Hall

Technological Identity

With the recent technological advancements, our architectural identity has increasingly merged. The progress towards our cars, healthcare, and overall living conditions has led us to identify our own living spaces as a tool for functionality. The advancements we made, has shifted our understanding of what a building is supposed to be in all contexts. Rather than an identity, the designs produced were thought to be solutions to the way of living. The result is buildings of the same form and spatial arrangement becoming the norm. 

This summarises the international style which projected one design method into every country regardless of its established identity. It is due to the desire for mass production and repetition that the designs are efficient but ineffective in showcasing our identity. 

Similarly, 3D modelling has become a key figure in establishing quick designs as well as quick design solutions. Through the introduction of parametric designs, buildings do not necessarily form an identity but rather an experience. The shapes and complex geometrical patterns replace the contextual significance of the space. However, repeated shapes and a level of complexity can reflect the site and its context. Specific features can become more significant and thus ‘convey a sense of specific identity and which are non-alienating’. (Archnet.org., 2021) Such work helps establish an identity while also allowing for designs to progress beyond what we have seen before. 

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Parametric design of a library with complex geometric shapes_©Felipe Hernández

Environmental Identity

Comparable to the technological changes brought by our time, a newfound focus on the environment comes from a similar place of concern. Research indicating that climate change is an urgent issue established a factor included in every design: sustainability. The act of making a design sustainable has become as important as including windows. A design is sometimes more validated for its sustainability rather than its aesthetic impact. This, in turn, has decreased the amount of experimentation done on buildings, for example, forms are simplified to reduce the amount of energy used to heat the building. 

The shift towards recognising the environment as an essential part of our surroundings has also caused a shift within the architectural identity. A large number of buildings produced have courtyards and gardens scattered throughout the design indiscriminately to further wellbeing. By placing nature at the centre of our designs, they become a replicable design solution rather than a design tailored towards the people it is designed for. Including nature in designs is an important step to designing welcoming spaces but repetition of the same space disregards individuality. 

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Sustainable design methods_©casa-architects.co.uk

Cultural Identity

The shift within architectural identity has been fundamentally around how much culture we are willing to portray in our designs. Rather than providing visible evidence within the façade such as bride colours and patterns, the designs may have hints of social aspects within their form. Although culture covers a variety of things, we tend to now focus on behaviour. Rather than creating visible differences, we create them socially. 

For instance, an architect will focus on how people gather within a certain space and emulate this in a social space within a building. Gathering can be different for different groups of people so the architect believes that culture is upheld appropriately in the architectural identity. There has been a significant shift towards the way we think culture should be incorporated, it has become a subtle art rather than the face. 

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A library design that encompasses the many elements of a city_©Michael Grimm / Snohetta

Architectural identity has thoroughly changed due to our changing times. Designs have adapted well to our industrial needs, but such advancements do not provide insight into our societal ones. The need for artistic expression has been significantly undermined by the obsession with creating buildings that are reproducible. This is something that many architects have noticed and are counteracting by putting elements of the site’s context and including this in the façade. However, the impact of modernism continues to undermine our culture and more importantly our architectural identity. 


Archnet.org. 2021. Architecture as Symbol and Self-Identity | Archnet. [online] Available at: <https://archnet.org/publications/3498> [Accessed 1 October 2021].

Architect-US. 2019. International Style Architecture controversy – Architect-US. [online] Available at: <https://www.architect-us.com/blog/2019/09/international-style-architecture-controversy/> [Accessed 2 October 2021].


Halima Mohammed is an architecture student whose passions lie in investigating what makes design connect with us emotionally. She believes that architecture is always worth questioning and discussing, trusting that architecture can be analysed like a piece of literature.

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