When you walk into a coffee shop, either you decide to sit in the centre in front of the big glass cabinet displaying baked goods, or you decide to sit in a corner where, probably, no one would notice you. Either you want to smile at everyone wishing them a good day, or bury yourself in a book and not get noticed at all. The spot you select to sit in a café defines your mood on that day and time. Can you imagine how many such moods the café’s seating arrangement serves?
That is architecture! Architecture is a philosophy which gratifies humans in situations (moods). Architecture does not end with the design of buildings, I believe. The roots of all architectural movements and styles lie in the philosophy of humans, further branched by anthropology, sociology and psychology. Innumerable questions followed by research and deep thinking, which led to this belief, are discussed in this essay.
Hypothesizing that the philosophy of humans is the answer to the question “Why do we do what we do?” In architecture, this essay aims to relate a few architectural eras to the philosophy of humans.
From Neolithic to Medieval
Architecture existed even when humans didn’t have a vocal language to communicate. Since then, architecture has been the language through which humans understand each other needs. The first formal structure recorded in history was constructed by the neolithic man –Stonehenge, England. Stonehenge showcased the social values of humans, such as safety, intimacy, and religious beliefs. Later, the ancient Mediterranean era showcased more formal structures defining the lifestyles of humans. For example, homes were constructed with details providing for various vocations, such as agriculture, metal works and masonry. When humans realized the need for faith, more and more power was given to the church through the means of architecture. For example, the church was placed at the highest elevation in the city, used the strongest of construction materials and the details of doors, windows and arcs were specially designed intricately.
Post-Mediterranean era, the curiosity of humans and the need to evolve led them to travel and come in contact with each other across continents. While the Pre-Columbian era showcases artistic advances, Islamic architecture showcases the religious lifestyle presented in building plans and sections. Of course, with the advancement in science and mathematics, our buildings started to look more proportionate and appealing, but the central idea that each structure echoes the philosophy of humans, or the ever-evolving philosophy of humans, is irrefutable.
From Medieval to Modern
One of the most popular architectural styles that our history has witnessed is colonial architecture. The colonial style proudly showcases civilization, Christianity, and commerce. The colonial style in different regions was topped by the vernacularism of the region. Consequently, Baroque, Orientalism, Classical, Revivalism and Art Nouveau came into existence. Each of these styles was layered by industrialization, advancement in technology, the discovery of new materials and the evolution of aesthetics but always topped by the philosophy of humans that defined the culture of these monuments. Many iconic and popular buildings have become uninhabitable in the past few decades because they could not show resilience to the changing philosophies of humans. For example, the Glass House by Philip Johnson. Though iconic and renowned, the house stands uninhabitable and has opened as a museum. Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier was petitioned to title it as “uninhabitable” by the resident of the house. Why do these homes, which will always be talked about in bold letters in books, fail? If only could they relate their design concepts to the philosophy of humans, I say.
The transition to the modern era in architecture is canvassed by technological advancement, political dynamism and the discovery of new and more efficient building materials. However, the transition is mainly manifested by changing needs of humans. Why did the needs change with time? Because the philosophy of humans changed. Modern humans don’t appreciate discrimination of any sort, they demand equality and transparency. For example, wouldn’t it be impossible to tell from the façade of the Seagram building where the janitor’s window would be located, as compared to St. Peter’s Basilica? Wouldn’t you feel more human when walking inside the Seagram building through its narrow stilts as compared to a hundred times larger (to humans) pillars of St. Peter’s Basilica? When the world is trying to solve societal inequality issues, our buildings should not add to the challenges, I believe.
The newest style in architecture named contemporary style has its roots in modern architecture. Once the buildings conveyed a sense of equality and transparency, the need for recognition arose. Humans don’t only look for justice but also recognition. That is when regionalism and post-modern styles evolved, which use local materials and represent traditional styles in the building aesthetics.
The philosophy of humans is a wide and multidisciplinary subject. It needs further research and thinking when deriving design concepts and principles for the built environments. In the present times, many concepts of design are developing and will continue to develop inspired, decoding the everyday philosophy of humans. For example, resilience in architecture has become an important idea that responds to the changing climate and consequently changes the philosophy of humans. This idea can also be related to psychology. The most resilient object anyone can witness is the human brain, I believe. Don’t we all bounce back from our distressed times!
The success and failure of architecture cannot be measured as an object of art is measured. There are plenty of examples of great design failing and a basic design getting great appreciation. Enchanted by aesthetics, today’s architects commonly ignore the philosophy of humans and tend to experiment with popular forms and styles. It is, therefore, important to understand the basis on which these forms and styles were developed. It may sound silly to research the philosophy of a medieval home while incorporating a particular architectural style for a home being built in 2022. And this very much creates a gap between theory and practice. The architect should bear in mind what he owes to the clients, society, time, place and culture when making design decisions and erecting a building.
Nesbitt, K. (1996). Theorizing a New Agenda in Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory (1965 – 1995): Princeton Architectural Press New York.
Ashraf, K. Nisar, Z. (2021). Transforming Philosophies into Architecture. Journal of the Indian Institutes of Architects, 201(8), pp. 23 – 30.
- Online sources
John Bentley Mays (2006). Glass houses: masterful, beautiful, uninhabitable. [online]. Available at: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/glass-houses-masterful-beautiful-uninhabitable/article18172916/ [Accessed date: 24/06/2022].
Misfits’ Architecture (2011). The Darker Side of Villa Savoye. [online]. Available at: https://misfitsarchitecture.com/2011/09/03/the-darker-side-of-villa-savoye/ [Accessed date: 24/06/2022]
- Images/visual mediums
Andre Pattenden. (2020). A Monumental Discovery—XRF Sheds Light on the Origins of Stonehenge. [photograph].
AP News. (2019). This 1911, file photo shows the Notre Dame Cathedral, on the island called Ile de la Cite in Paris. [photograph].
Biondo, M. (2022). The Glass House. [photograph].
Mihyun, S. (2018). Villa Savoye. [photograph].
Stroller, E. (2022). Seagram Building: view from the northwest at dusk. [photograph].
Zucker, S. (2005). Saint Peter’s Basilica. [photograph].