Architecture isn’t limited to just providing shelter, it is the essence of a city and its people. Paul Goldberger once said, “Architecture begins to matter when it brings delight and sadness and perplexity and awe, along with a roof over our heads”. The architectural critic rightly describes the evolving and adapting profession of creating designs for structures.
Studies show that we spend almost 3/4th of our lives indoors. A majority of us, seeking a sense of permanence in a place called home. Since 2010, overall, more than half of the world has been living an urban life. A life that most of us associate with skyscrapers, busy transports, and a high economic influence. These kinds of cities have emerged globally, bringing with them the dreams of success and opportunities. Ergo, migrations to such metropolises have proliferated. The resulting conurbations house a diverse range of people and their cultures. These elements become the symbol of the city or an iconic skyline that stretches into the horizon.
Architecture is the art and science of creating structures for the people. The efficient planning of these structures with avenues and streets makes up a city or a settlement. From our homes to workplaces; to buying essentials and entertainment, the entirety is architecture. With that, do we consciously, really think about architecture or the extent of its impact on our lives?
“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us,” says Winston Churchill, a former prime minister of the United Kingdom. We see the evidence of these words by the events that have led to the present style of architecture.
History is witness to the evolution of cities that were triggered by the pandemics of the past. The bubonic plague of the 14th century inspired the Renaissance, which was the rebirth of art and architecture. It resulted in more open, larger public spaces that symbolized the end of a time of pain and suffering. The 20th-century Spanish flu brought on the era of Modernism. The industrial revolution had already taken place and glass and steel were utilized extensively. The emphasis on sterility was associated with these materials as they were easier to clean. It also revealed the importance of light and ventilation, as natural healing elements, which led to generous windows and white walls. It gave rise to buildings being viewed as a kind of medicine by the architects and users alike. And hence, the spatial design was used as a means of disease control.
Italo Calvino writes in his book, the Invisible Cities, “The city, however, does not tell of its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand”. It represents the evolution of cities and their people. Individually, carrying its own identity has become a part of its culture. The climate of the place, locally available materials, and its traditional society often stimulate the style of architecture. These spaces often lose their appreciation as they become a part of daily life. And the people become unconscious of their surrounding heritage.
Traveling to a new city is one of the simplest ways when everyone becomes aware of the structures. The newness of the region, combined with the general curiosity that we are born with, makes us observant of our surroundings. We may feel the joy of walking through a well-lit neighborhood or the gloom of a darkened alley. Spaces trigger emotional responses that are mainly subliminal and highly qualitative. The users may find it complex to explain the experience, but a well-thought-out space should help form a positive connection.
The Perspective of an Architect/Designer
As students of architecture, one of the first things we learn is to observe. Observe the buildings, the user interaction, and the built-unbuilt relationship of the space. Over time, it becomes an unconscious habit to notice the anthropometrics of the structure, the architectural style, the material palette, accessibility, and especially the users of the space. The way the users use a space speaks volumes about the design. Essentially the motive of the structure is to provide the functionality to the user with ease. But is that the only motive?
“We borrow from nature the space upon which we built,” says the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando. His approach seeks to balance local needs with being minimal with the designs. Equivalently, a balance between the built and the unbuilt is what represents architecture. The greenspaces of an urban fabric become a well-needed reprieve from the synthetic masses. On a smaller scale, pockets of landscape in the conception of backyards, green walls help to appease the user.
With these times of climate change and a global pandemic, the need for eco-centric, sustainable designs has grown more than ever before. Technology also holds a contribution to the future of architecture. It has already altered the way we design and made it efficient to connect with people globally. The younger generation of students is learning software that enables BIM modeling and computer-aided design in their path to becoming architects. It has helped improve the ways of conveying and visualizing information and design.
Understanding the path of evolution of architecture conveys the profound impact it has on our lives. It can alter the mental as well as the physical experience of the user. After learning architecture, it becomes a responsibility to craft spaces that speak to its people and the context. Simply changing the perspective and becoming aware of the art that is constantly surrounding us, makes us appreciate the profession even more.
Carr, S. (2021). The Topography of Wellness: How Health and Disease Shaped the American Urban Landscape. University of Virginia Press.
Tedx Talks. (2019). Mumbai’s Architecture is Killing Us !! | Sameep Padora | TEDxGateway. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwC4SRQx7Zg.