Can you imagine existing in a world without architecture and design?

For most architecture and interior design students, it might seem impossible to imagine a world without the human touch and intention of architecture and design. From the start of college towards facing internships, architecture & design students are trained to observe the world by spotting shapes, lines, and colors to build their sensitivity to design approaches and practices. Even nature with its organic patterns and its asymmetry looks to be by design. The trend of exploring the limitless possibilities of the multiverse and the rise of talks about AI’s effect on the design industry is a hot topic today. With that in mind, let’s imagine what if there is an alternate reality without the concrete, glass, and steel of modern buildings. Let’s walk through three scenarios below.

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The Pleasure of Architecture by Alex Wall, 1989_©Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) via Kemper Art Museum and ArchDaily

Architecture Without Architects

Without lg any further, vernacular architecture gives a glimpse of a life without our contemporary notions of architecture and design. Apart from water, air, and food, shelter is one of the basic human needs. Humans of the past have met this need by finding naturally formed shelters in the warmth of caves, under the cover of rock overhangs, or above the protection of mountains. As humans shifted from nomadic lifestyles towards agriculture-based societies, villages formed to accommodate larger populations until eventually, cities rose that would help define our urban abodes today.

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Bahay Kubo, an example of vernacular architecture in the Philippines_© Pipo via Adobe Stock

In the context of the Philippines, the bahay kubo is an essential example of the need to construct structures for habitation. By utilizing locally accessible resources, people built their homes without formally educated architects. But they met their communities’ needs with local builders who used cogon, bamboo, nipa, anahaw, and rattan.

Architecture Without Building

Another possible future for architecture and design students is to become an architect or designer who doesn’t practice their profession after passing the licensure exam or graduation from university. The study of architecture and design is multidisciplinary and ranges from learning technical drawing skills, color theory, conceptualization, architectural visualization, and more. What students learn in school can be applied to other design or arts-related professions, as well as architectural journalism

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The Line, a megacity project in Saudi Arabia by NEOM_© NEOM via Dezeen

On the other hand, an interior design student might ask: Is constructing more new buildings a need? Today’s buildings have a new set of criteria to resist the gravity of a changing environment. Another factor to consider is that making new buildings is expensive. Structures need to shield against weather & natural hazards, make sense in the local context and materials, and be buildable through resourceful means. Thus, architecture fulfills our need for protection and helps us survive. But it is also formed by intentions, values, and aesthetics from the eyes and minds of humans. So, with these objectives and without constructing a physical building, a person and the public can still participate in the outcomes and motivations of architecture by reimagining new realities to shape its future. As Louis Kahn said, “Architecture is the thoughtful making of spaces…”

Living Without Buildings

Migration, displacement, and homelessness are other realities that architecture and design students must face today as they enter a profession that encourages design thinking, teamwork, and innovation to solve problems. From the context of a developing country with a majority of its citizens moving to the city for better opportunities, building a new large infrastructure project might not always be the solution. For example, The Line is a new city that is being built today, as shown in the photo above, which is a stark contrast to the desert landscape of its surroundings. It is a large undertaking with some of the experts in the industry tackling it to achieve the vision of NEOM and service the standards of its high-end users. Surely when it is finished, many tourists from all over the world will visit the place. In contrast, in the urban jungle of Manila, there are many buildings and there are also many more commercial buildings being constructed. But in a developing world, there are other considerations. New buildings may be built due to desperate situations in the aftermath of a typhoon or an earthquake so quantity instead of quality might be the solution taken.

Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument: New York, project (1969)_©Superstudio via Alvin Boyarsky Archive

Human-centered design and empathy are keyword approaches taught in school. However, while artificial intelligence is being introduced as a part of the architectural and design practice, the sensitive and complicated realities of homelessness and climate change continue. Depletion of natural resources and the stifled breath of the environment exists. One approach might be to call back what an architecture studio from the 1960s called Superstudio reimagined through collage: a world without any visible form of architecture. Another response is collective knowledge and collaboration beyond the understanding of a single architect or designer that can provide a new approach to a new world. Moreover, designing with nature in mind or designing for a regenerative cycle by following how nature works is a speculative project that the industry is exploring. To face today’s issues, perhaps designing beyond the human subject and towards coexistence with nature is another possibility of human existence without our current notion of architecture.

So, is a human existence without architecture and design possible? With these three outlooks presented, it is difficult to deny that architecture as “the thoughtful making of spaces” continues to be relevant today.


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ETH Zurich (2022). Life, Without Buildings – Announcements – e-flux. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Sep. 2023].

Lorek, S. (2018). Ancient Architecture and the Human Need to Construct. [online] Available at:

Oxford Art Online (2023). Artist’s Work/Artist’s Voice: Louis I. Kahn. [online] Oxford Art Online. Available at: [Accessed 3 Sep. 2023].

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Image Sources

  1. ArchDaily. (n.d.). Gallery of Drawings from Famous Architects’ Formative Stages to be Exhibited in St. Louis – 4. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Sep. 2023].
  2. Pip (n.d.). Native Haus Bahay Kubo, von der Region Aurora, Sierra Madre auf Luzon, Philippinen Stock Photo. [online] Adobe Stock. Available at: [Accessed 9 Sep. 2023].
  3. Greenfield, A. (2022). ‘All Those Complicit in Neom’s Design and Construction Are Already Destroyers of Worlds’. [online] Dezeen. Available at:
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