Pushing Beyond Just a Structure

Architecture had existed even before the word ‘ARCHITECTURE’ was coined. Available timelines trace the extreme existence of ‘ARCHITECTURE’ in the form of immobile ‘shelters’ (caves) to nomadic movable houses till their evolution into sky-soaring skyscrapers in today’s age. A few lines are drawn here, and a few lines there, and a splash of running materials and ‘architecture’ is done! But is that it? That’s a blurry perception of architecture. A stand-alone structure singing its glory to the city? 

Well, let’s understand its etymology. The Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com, n.d.) defined architecture as “the art of building, tasteful application of scientific and traditional rules of good construction to materials at hand”, coined in the 1560s. In this case, architecture is just limited to a building. But as Classical evolved to ‘Neo classical‘, so did the perception of architecture. From a bird’s eye view, the building is a piece of a jigsaw puzzle where many such parts come together to become more extensive and better-working systems. 

System Thinking 

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Creating an endless loop of possibility_©Ketaki Patwardhan

Architecture is more like an envelope which encompasses different micro-ecological, structural, economic, functional, climatic and lifestyle. These aspects are assembled in a designed box to satisfy the comfort and aspirations of the end users. System Thinking & Architecture (MKThink, 2018) article emphasized that buildings should be seen in their larger context beyond a single entity. This brings in a broader scope of landscape, inclusivity, history, extended ecology & climate and public and economic domains in the perception of architecture. All these different components come in together to make a city work better. In the end, these efficiently working cities mark the growth of a country. This gives a brief idea of how even the smallest part could play a vital role in making or breaking things in the larger scheme.

Reading The Past  

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Chinese tiles and Burma teak wood columns in Chetinad_©Author
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Chinese tiles and Burma teak wood columns in Chetinad_©Author

The past of a city also sets a solid precedent for growth. Each historical era had unique features which proudly slay its art and artistry. These features give an insight into material availability, joinery details and their workmanship, ergonometric and social conditioning. The materials used in architectural design also convey the social position of a person and their connections with the extended world. E.g., A 19th-century house in an interior area of Chettinad in Tamil Nadu, India, with Burma teak pillars, Chinese tiles and other fancy embellishments. These mind-boggling connections give a brief insight into robust transportation networks in those times, providing testimony to a marriage of local expertise and international materials. A visual timeline of evolution in design and material is showcased by them. A true example of vernacular architecture.  

 Running The Parallels

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Darkness exists even below the brightest space_©Jimmy Liao

Architecture works parallel with technology and at the speed of light after the Industrial Revolution. Humanity started moving more than ever to distinct places to make fortunes. People also carried their architectural identities reflected in their architecture when they moved. The opposite happened when people returned to their native land, where they built structures that reminded them of ‘Pardesh’ days. This practice slowly picked up, and even the local folks wanted houses with non-local nuances. The greatest (or worst) fruit of the industrial revolution was the mass production of materials. These materials could be transported swiftly, enabling people to make structures which could be replicated anywhere. This changed the perception of architecture entirely and also its structural systems. The newer generation would not have recognized these changes if the old structures had not survived.

One of the outstanding breakthroughs of the 21st century are Skyscrapers and tall statues. They showcase the prowess of technology and the economic progress of a country. There is always an unsaid race to make the tallest one by hook or crook, if it even means having empty floors at the top. Skyscrapers seem like endless shinning needles when viewed from the bottom. Living proof of how much glass and steel have been used to give a chic look. The more glass and steel are used, the more significant impact on the climate is due to the increased embodied energy of these materials. Understanding these changes would help to make an informed decision toward ‘Sustainable Architecture.’ 

Architecture Impacting Environment

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Pollution, by product of Development_©httpswww.freepik.comfree-vectorillustration-with-pollutions-earth_6907492.htm

The primary flip side of individual aspirations started turning into mass choice and impacting the environment. Climatology is one of the most underrated aspects of architecture, which deals with the local context and climate was thrown entirely out of the window. This had a massive impact on power consumption patterns. As mentioned before, architecture does not exist in isolation; when changes happen, it happens entirely within the system. Bold business (Mariah Venice Afable, 2019) has stated that the construction industry contributes around 40% to all sorts of pollution. Architecture and its allied fields are included in this. This speaks a lot about how architectural choices could significantly impact our environment. A local material understood and used could help create a more eco-friendly perception of architecture.  

Attention Points

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World reached moon but women still searching for basics_©httpsideas4development.orgenunexpected-link-access-toilets-womens-rights

In the 21st century, civilization has come to a full circle, from living in a cave to being able to visualize it entirely in Virtual Reality. Even the flying and floating architecture could also be added to the list. However, it is still not inclusive enough for all gender and sizes due to a lack of appropriate design. Public places are usually designed for an average height, making it uncomfortable for other sections. There is a lack of safe and secure environments to travel for females. The lack of public toilets makes it difficult for females, differently abled and trans people to stay out for longer. (Zallio and Clarkson, 2021) concluded that behaviour and attitudes are impacted by design. Cognitive and emotions are affected by access and usability. Efforts are being made at a smaller scale to create the changes.

Still a Scope For Hope 

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World becomes a better place when all are included_©ShutterStock

 ‘As Rome was not built in a day’, only a slow and steady pace will help to create a better environment. It is prolonged because the perception of architecture is not limited to a single entity and starts getting accepted more as a significant part of the system. Decisions are to be taken, which helps in the longer run. Architecture should be seen as more of a city’s transformation with informed choices of the context where everyone is heard and seen. It’s more like a reflection of the collective notion of a place.

“Cities can provide something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Jane Jacobs

Only cities like these will nurture spaces where the architecture will find its own to speak for all. So let’s cheer curiosity and observation, by-products of architectural education. That’s the only unidirectional way to awareness leading to better architecture! 


MKThink (2018). Systems Thinking & Architecture. [online] (MK)Think Pieces. Available at: https://medium.com/mk-ink/systems-thinking-e648240c4138 [Accessed 23 Jul. 2022].

‌www.etymonline.com. (n.d.). architecture | Etymology, origin and meaning of architecture by etymonline. [online] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/architecture.

Mariah Venice Afable (2019). Building Green – Minimizing the Environmental Impact of Construction. [online] Bold Business. Available at: https://www.boldbusiness.com/infrastructure/green-construction-environmental-impact/ [Accessed 20 Nov. 2019].

Zallio, M. and Clarkson, P.J. (2021). Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice. Building and Environment, 206, p.108352. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2021.108352.



Helly Solanki graduated with B. Arch in 2014 from MSU, Vadodara. She has explored various domains like Sustainable, Natural, Low cost, Cost-efficient, Historic, Humanitarian and Social architecture and yet keeps looking for all opportunities to learn. She is a passionate reader, and traveller and loves to write poems. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and cards.