“Architecture is not really the design. Architecture is a way of creating moods, situations, images, and stories” says the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, BV Doshi in his book, Portrait of a house. 

Then does the real power of Architecture live in the moments that it often captures and the memories it created in silence as we move past or live in close association with it? Does architecture provide spaces with a vocabulary to communicate with us by providing experiences that make us feel alive, or stir our emotions? 

The Debate

Architecture has been a subject of keen observation. But how closely do we observe it?

Right from the time of Ancient Greek philosophers such as Epictetus, to hermits  or saints, who often overlooked their surroundings or were hardly affected by them, to the legendary modernist architect, Le Corbusier, who claimed that a house is a machine for living, to the contrasting views of architects like Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who insisted that ‘The duty of architecture is to turn something useful, practical and functional into something that is beautiful, the impact of architecture in our lives has been a topic of common debate’. 

If we see the examples of buildings of the past or even the present, we might observe an underlying sense of similarity between the buildings of the same period, due to certain principles that had been followed, but what is often unacknowledged and becomes a part of our subconscious observation is how the context of the place determines a different design for the same building type. Each new problem demanded a new design solution, which may or may not apply to a similar design elsewhere, thereby giving something new to the public at large.

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Villa Savoye Rear Facade, Poissy_©Paul kozlowski- FLC/ADAGP

Back in time 

Several instances in history show evidence of the contradicting views that have been raised around the subject’s importance. 

For long periods in history, repetition of a particular style of design, with minor changes owing to the context and surroundings, or cultural, sociology-economic conditions, became the norm. This method of pursuing architecture became a common practice and is observed in the periods of Classicism to the Gothic era, Renaissance to Baroque, and Art Nouveau to Modernism. What was accepted by the larger majority, became the primary decision maker for creating architectural works. As a result, very few architects felt the need to produce original works. 

Later, the age of Industrial Revolution and Modernism came in to sweep the architectural norms of the previous centuries off their course and introduced a simplistic approach, governed by a set of rules that make a building functional. It saw the end of an era where decoration and ornamentation of buildings weren’t considered essential, as much as making the building useful and practical. 

However, even this style of architecture too faced contrasting views about what a building should look like because it was argued that to make a building simply functional may not be the true purpose of architecture, but it was about what the building made you feel, that was important, as remarked earlier by John Ruskin, an English writer, philosopher of the Victorian Era.

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CEPT University_©Edmund Summer

Something to Think About

How often have you walked into a space and felt an instant sense of comfort?

How often have you come across a building that leaves you spellbound because of its height, the volume it engulfs within, or the dominance it radiates on its surroundings?

Have you ever stumbled upon a stair or hit your toe badly because you weren’t aware of the last step being slightly different from the rest or because the corner of your new bed came in the way of your regular movement within your room?

Why does a crossroad make you want to keep walking, but a public square or a garden makes you pause?

What differentiates the office as a space to work, from a home as a space to rest, or a cafe as a space to hang out, a resort as a space to relax or have fun, a temple as a space to contemplate or pray?

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Kala Academy, Goa_©Author (Shaymi Shah)

Architecture- Our Guardian?

Architecture, in its truest sense, makes us habituated to a certain way of living. For an architect, what may be a simple, thoughtfully designed, minimalist house, for a common man it could be an appropriately proportioned rectangular box in which they like to reside. They would subconsciously use the guidance provided by the architectural elements in their daily lives without ever realizing how dependent they have grown on them. Architecture then quietly becomes the backdrop against which the play of life takes place, every day.

How Does it Affect Us?

Have you come across the term ‘change of space’? We tend to use it often when we have been living in the same conditioning or working in the same environment for a long time, so we need to go somewhere else or be somewhere else to feel refreshed. It can be monotonous to live in the same house, see the same walls, or the same view from your balcony or the windows if it is just a rectangular space devoid of anything that stimulates your senses or instigates memories or stirs up conversations. 

That’s why, more often than not, we feel the need to go on a vacation, live in a space that isn’t our home, or eat food in beautiful cafes or restaurants that offer a stunning ambiance, or go to a spa to relax in its serene atmosphere instead of sleeping in our beds that would do the same for us, considering that home is a place where we may find ourselves most comfortable- yet we feel the need to get away from it, even though it’s for a few days, weeks or months. It’s because we crave new experiences. Architecture surprises us, captivates us, comforts us, or simply makes us observe and acknowledge our environment closely by creating experiences. 

Another important aspect of understanding architecture is how it makes us perceive the environment around us. It compels us to trigger our senses– majorly sight, smell, and hearing, to observe our surroundings, analyze how it makes us feel and why it makes us feel so. 

Why else would we be keen to visit a beautiful temple in South India, or see the caves at Ajanta Ellora? Why would we want to visit Burj Khalifa or go for a holiday to Paris or Rome to be mesmerized by the city’s urban fabric? Why else would we want to roam around the streets of New York or go for a drive around the beautiful lands that encompass Corsica?

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Streets of Paris_©Corey Frye

Architecture’s Superpower

Architecture is an essential part of our everyday life. Imagine, if all buildings were meant to be the same, wouldn’t our life become one long recurring experience without any surprises? An instance that triggers our senses, may easily be overlooked by someone else. Similarly, an occurrence of an event that is loved by many, maybe of no interest to us. 

Architecture provides us with a palette of choices to understand what comfort and happiness mean to us. It is a process of discovery. It is like a puzzle of ideas, emotions, functions, spaces, aesthetics, that fit together in different combinations, each giving a new result to make us realize what we like the most.

If architecture was insignificant for us, we would never have known about the beauty of possibilities or that of new experiences. The superpower of architecture lies in the experiences it creates, the emotions it instigates, and the stories it tells. It not only speaks to us but also speaks a lot about us.


Book Citations

  1. De Botton, A., 2006. The architecture of happiness. 1st ed. United States of America: Vintage Books.
  2. Doshi, B., Singh, D.,and Singh, N. (2021). Portrait of a House. New Delhi: Spontaneous Books

Online Sources

  1. Lee, P., 2021. The History of Architecture in a Nutshell | Widewalls. [online] Widewalls. Available at: <https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/the-history-of-architecture> [Accessed 26 November 2021].

Shaymi Shah is a published author and an architectural content writer by profession. Through keen observation about architecture and life around her, she weaves narratives through her writing as she wants to make people, even outside the fraternity, realize the importance and fundamental need of design in our daily lives.