“The sun never knew how great it was until it hit the side of a building.”― Louis I. Kahn.

The transient nature of reality and everything we have ever known is best expressed through the Japanese concept of “Ukiyo”, or “Floating World”. It doesn’t hold anything dear and thus allows the passing of people, events, and time unbiased; its sentient rules are breached only when the world is caressed by the touch of the human soul in art, architecture, and other forms of expression. Architecture has been a stubborn attempt to pause time and mark the soul’s presence in time’s lonely journey to eternity. In the absence of architecture, the world would be lonely without evidence of human touch, without art, beauty, or humanity.

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The “Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi bridge and Atake”, from “One Hundred Famous View of Edo”, Utagawa Hiroshige, 1856-58 ©Public Domain

The Birth and Demise of Architecture 

The human-centric understanding of architecture co-relates it to the emergence of the first bipedal sub-species that took shelter inside caves and anticipates its end to be when humanity is erased from existence. However, it is not reasonably possible to mark the exact beginning of Architecture, neither in the sense of the beginning of time itself nor in the conception of human life. Before anything existed and the entire universe was condensed to a point, the point was the architecture of everything. When the point exploded and expanded into planets, constellations, and galaxies, architecture would still prevail in specific patterns binding everything. How then can one dare consider a reality in the absence of architecture when an individual, from the moment they are conceived, is enveloped in the primordial sense of space in their mother’s womb whose warmth, shelter, and intimacy allow a cell to develop into a complete being?  

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Architecture of the Milky Way Galaxy, November 8, 2017_©Pablo Carlos Budassi

Likewise, even when humanity ceases to exist, architecture will remain. Even in the absence of society, Architecture will continue to thrive. Architecture has been the all-encompassing pattern in the universe that preceded and will outlive everything. This singular rule has sheltered and held together everything that has ever existed, in the absence of which planets would deviate from their paths, and everything would cease to exist.

Omnipresence of Architecture 

Architecture is a universal language shared by all cultures and species. A swallow’s nest is identical everywhere, and so is an ant’s colony. The temples built for communion with divinity have been made by every culture to exist in the grandest of expressions and to the best of their abilities. Architecture, then, is the evidence of lives touched by divinity since the time unknown. Our Gods might have lived in palaces, on the mountain tops, beneath the water, or deep into the underworld, but their footprints in the mortal world remain in architecture.

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Architecture of memory, Hiroshima_ ©Peter Chordas

Humanity reached the depths of the ocean and heights of heaven in search of the unknown in the comfort of architecture. Society has found a home in the desert and within the frozen glaciers. Architecture has allowed humans to live and thrive deep into space, far from the earth and at the bottom of the ocean. In the absence of architecture, a being is left wandering. A life without architecture is a life spent without, a life spent outside, a life untouched by wonder and possibilities.

An unnamed Vacuum

Shelters are narratives of realities, and the Architecture of a given place and time provides a tangible ground to the transient socio-cultural formwork of the era. Without the Parthenon, Agora, and Stoa, the celebration of the genius of the Greeks wouldn’t be sung. Likewise, without the walls of the Sistine Chapel and the Plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica, Michelangelo would be a miracle lost in the folds of time. Mumtaj would be just another beloved if not for the brilliance of the Taj Mahal. Without the camp at Auschwitz, the testament of humanity at its worst and most resilient would be non-existent. Architecture orients humanity not just in space but also in time. In its absence, the concept of time and space would become irrelevant.

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Architecture as a testament to mankind at its worst_ ©Lisa Lubin

If humanity endeavoured to continue to live in the absence of architecture, the world would be a lonely place where prosperous sentiments and expressions wouldn’t exist. A poet’s ballads full of longing from across the window, a painter’s plight over the loneliness of a cafe at dusk, and the helplessness of an author when he finds himself lost within the alleys of Europe only to be met with an ever-expanding piazza would be some of the numerous sentiment lost to oblivion.

Evolution would have deemed it inefficient to develop complex neurological functions like search, passion, exploration, despair, and ecstasy, all of which would be unnecessary to humanity, whose life is bound by the struggle for survival. The sensitivity that makes a man cry for his brother would be replaced by constant watchfulness, having continuous exposure to the danger of the outdoors. In the absence of architecture, the limits of human desires and aspirations would never be realized in a way that cannot be accurately dissected in today’s reality, where everything has been drenched in architecture forever.

A Life in Exile

Without architecture, humanity is orphaned because of no sense of belonging roots to a time and place. The call of distant lands with buried treasures seems unimportant in the face of a secure ground to spread your seeds into, around which a life is built. Migratory birds fly hundreds of miles yearly in search of a home, and pollens exiled by wind find their final resting only when they land upon a flower of their kind. A comet shooting toward the earth must return to its orbit, and the stars must stay aligned. The dead are believed to be doomed to eternal wander should their spirit not be given a final resting in the mortal world. Thus every entity in this world has a place of its own without which one wouldn’t find solace in living nor in being dead, in existing or non-existence.

A Life in Exile_ ©Marko Djurica

In the absence of architecture, everything would continue to flow untouched. Without a trace of soul, beauty and love would abjure time itself. There would be no voice whispering “I was here” through the imprints on the wall, no echo of “I lived, and I loved” from within the creases of rocks, and no hymns of “I believed” from within the grand halls of worship. Without architecture, the world would be dark and lonely, and life would be an eternal exile.


An architecture and art enthusiast, Rashmi Gautam, is an Architecture Student from Nepal in search of her own expression in forms of words and design. Finding solace in the company of literature, art and architecture, she can be found brooding in the nearest library or museum.