What Is Architecture? 

To understand if human existence necessitates architecture, we must do two things: define architecture and locate architecture through history. There are various definitions of the term “Architecture”. Professionals in the field equate it to elevations and aesthetic details, which one may contest would strip it of its essence. Recalling Celiker and Cavusoglu (2005), Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu asked ‘What is the essence of a cup?’ ‘It is the space within that makes the cup useful’. According to this philosophy, the cup’s essence lies in the space that the cup holds. As Frank Lloyd Wright often elaborated, ‘A three-dimensional space created for human habitation, that is the essence of architecture.’ (Bianco, 2018)

Architecture is a creative discipline, not only in the sense of artistic creativity and not only with respect to the building scale but also creative in its relationship to the entire natural, social and cultural environment.

Where Does Architecture Come From? 

Historically, we can understand architecture was a means to further social organisation. One can look at the many civilisations we have information about, but this practice too finds its limits in the advent of archival processes, as well as information derived from archaeological processes. The information we possess on the lives of people is bound to recent times, with almost no reference to civilisations that came before the ones we already know about. While there is a lack of knowledge of prehistoric civilisations, the bodies of knowledge about these discoveries provide much information to bridge gaps in our imagination, and hence, provides the speculations made in this article. 

The structuring or organisation of society happens on the basis of ‘difference’ and ultimately leads to a division of power. The categories based on which power is divided are what we understand as gender, race, or some other label altogether that we may have grown out of with time. But throughout modern history, the one way that has allowed us to successfully demarcate and distinguish the division of power in societies has been through the organisation of space around us. By using space, politics of access, and territories, is how we produce power relations. In this journey of relinquishing control, is what one might presume architecture has both progressed and originated from. 

What Does Architecture Mean? 

While we know little about the hunter-gatherers, we may presume they had little use of architecture in the way this article interacts with as a concept – as their primary goal was to secure food. A meaning-making process for architecture could have been to develop permanent or long-lasting structures. These arose, presumably with the shift from the hunting-gathering to agrarian lifestyles. One can also presume this to be a development from a nomadic pattern of existing to a more permanent one; establishing the boundaries and shelters to symbolise and demarcate their “roots”. This also allowed for the development of community, and inevitably, the politicisation of spaces which has developed into communalism. 

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Prehistoric Caves at Mt. Carmel, Israel_©Shmuel Bar-Am
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Nomadic Architecture_©nomads.orgGalleries.html

Yet one can assume that the most crucial issue a developing practice of architecture would aim to target would be the management of human settlements in large numbers. Dealing with issues of population like epidemics, casual issues like violence and conquest, and the preservation of resources are only some of the many issues we can imagine necessitating architecture. A good example of how architecture solves problems pertaining to resource allocation would be the case of the ancient Romans. The ancient Roman cities had public bathhouses and ducts that brought in freshwater that was piped into public drinking fountains, a decision rooted in public health and social welfare (constructible.trimble.com, (n.d.)). Mesopotamian civilisations developed urban drainage systems & courtyard housing, another example of ancient organisation, curbing the potential rise of unhygienic living quarters and giving way to effective ventilation. It is an illustrious example from the history of people civilising themselves for survival. 

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Mesopotamian Architecture_©britannica.complaceMesopotamia-historical-region-AsiaThe-character-and-influence-of-ancient-Mesopotamia

The Harappan civilisation was significantly divided into two parts – the citadel and the lower town. The citadel is a large man-made mound on which lie several important and political buildings such as ‘The Great Bath’, which were the houses of the ruling class and the assembly hall. The lower town was meant for the general public, having residential grids (Themes in Indian History – Part 1, (n.d.)) . This is an example of how we architecturally organised ourselves in a way that architecture gives way to power. It illustrates how people can wield architecture to establish their force and award themselves power over others. One of the most well-known examples would be in the ancient Egyptian civilisation, where we observe iconic structures, such as the Pyramids — erected to serve the ruling class. Pyramids were built to house and protect the pharaoh’s body buried inside. Egyptian pharaohs were believed to become gods in the afterlife. To prepare for this transition of death to the afterlife, pharaohs built the pyramidal tombs brimmed with necessities and riches that a ruler would need to guide and sustain himself in the next world (Handwerk, 2021).

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Harappan Architecture_©wikipedia.orgwikiHarappan_architecture
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Egyptian Pyramids_©discovermagazine.complanet-earthwho-built-the-egyptian-pyramids-not-slaves

Architecture is intricately tied to political power. It provides a model for the implementation of a system of structure that is created in response to a society’s needs & desires – and as a reaction to varied conceptualisations of the world & themselves by people in the past (Glenn, M. (n.d.)). It is because of these varied concepts and understandings of the world that hegemony will develop almost inevitably, and architecture too becomes inevitable. As we can see through the examples, architecture was one of the most basic and effective methods to actualise these hierarchies, and also to ensure survival and identity. Therefore, to imagine a society without it would almost be to forsake organisation and imagine an anarchic dystopia.

Architectural Evolution_©Macrovector

Thus, architecture has become, as observed, both a means to further social organisation, and help facilitate identity-building in a community. The way societies across the world have rearranged themselves according to religion, architecture is also a medium & means to the same kind of restructuring. To envision a world without architecture begs us to envision a society without differences, without the inevitability of experimenting and evolving with the surrounding resources. Large populations with differences need to be integrated, and religion has allowed and facilitated the unification of these groups; by marketing the acceptable, we demarcate the unacceptable (Association for Psychological Science – APS. (n.d.)). Architecture has allowed us to actualise this difference since primitive times, and to imagine a world without it would scarcely leave any place to imagine modernisation or innovation of the spaces around us. Architecture has allowed us to bring the social difference imagined by communities into the physical world – and without it, we might have never progressed in the rich & meaningful ways we have to date.


Bianco, L. (2018). Architecture, values and perception: Between rhetoric and reality. Frontiers of Architectural Research, [online] 7(1), pp.92–99. doi:10.1016/j.foar.2017.11.003. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095263517300730

constructible.trimble.com. (n.d.). Ancient Architecture and the Human Need to Construct. [online] Available at: https://constructible.trimble.com/construction-industry/ancient-architecture-and-the-human-need-to-construct

Association for Psychological Science – APS. (n.d.). Why Do We Have Religion Anyway? [online] Available at: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/were-only-human/why-do-we-have-religion-anyway.html#:~:text=One%20idea%20is%20that%2C%20as.

‌Glenn, M. (n.d.). Architecture Demonstrates Power. [online] Available at: https://scholarship.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/bitstream/handle/10066/714/2003GlennM.pdf?sequence=5&isAll%20owed=y.

Handwerk, B. (2021) Pyramids of giza: National Geographic, History. National Geographic. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/giza-pyramids.

“Bricks, Beads Bones: The Harappan Civilisation” (no date) in Themes in Indian History – Part 1. NCERT.


She is an Architect, currently residing in a small island nation. Her primary interests lie in sustainability and social justice. On her days off, you may find her traveling (or at least planning travels), spending time with animals or scuba diving to the depths of the ocean.