To be or not to be, is a perpetual question. Should architecture have existed or not? By definition, architecture is the study of the design of structures. These include everyday houses, glorious institutions, religious buildings, and any place of people. That is to say, architecture is any designed building that brings comfort to human lives against harsh conditions. But what if it didn’t exist?
On one side, many may perceive architecture as the foundation of the developed world. It is critical as a historical source for knowledge about human civilizations, histories, and cultures. Humans have learned of the earliest leftover traces of the buildings that sheltered humans against nature. It then becomes the center of civilization since its inception because architecture is a permanent marker in space. Then these structures saved many communities in wars against each other. It has also helped ancestors survive and locate their way in times without technology. The role of architecture as a marker in space has guided many travelers through many journeys.
And today, it is where each of us bases our every activity. We live within buildings, work within buildings, enjoy relationships within buildings and fulfill our lives within these buildings. The built environment has become integral to our general functioning as a society. Beautiful architecture exists all around us, with assorted colors, differing shapes, or designed concepts. Each project becomes a work of art and a space of appreciation.
If architecture were not incepted, and the design of most built environments around us did not exist, what would human existence be? Going beyond the technical and obvious that we would still survive, it is a compelling alternative to ponder how our society would become.
Design Reflective Of Climate
First, one must analyze why architecture became integral for survival. The crucial factor is that communities designed their dwellings to respond to their climate. It did not just serve the sole purpose of providing shelter but was a solution to the challenges that came with their region. Regarding vernacular architecture, true architecture can be seen in climate-responsive designs. They built wide overhangs to protect from harsh summer sunlight or steep roofs that brush off heavy monsoon rains.
Without this thinking and understanding of what architecture can provide inhabitants, the life of humankind could have proved to be very difficult or a struggle. Imagine living in the extreme climates of Leh Ladakh and having to survive harsh winters without thick insulative walls, or stilted structures to stay safe from floods or snowfall. It would not make sense to make the life of these residents harder. Due to a lack of climate strategies, they would have to scavenge for more materials to keep them warm or suitable in these climates.
This ingenuity and strategies integrated with architectural design allowed people to settle in places that would have been considered inhabitable. For example, a city like Dubai seems unbuildable some mere decades ago. However, today it is a significant global business hub, with advanced technology and innovative buildings that started from the first vernacular architecture with wind towers (barjeel). Life has thrived in many inhabitable environments due to responsive and effective gestures fashioned by architectural design.
Design Reflective Of People
The second aspect of architecture is its inhabitants. The basis of architecture is the understanding and interpretation of design by different people and their cultures. Some people prefer having large open spaces for the gathering of communities, while others prefer staying at homes where they are allowed certain privacies. These tendencies reflect on the culture of a society as a whole. The design adds to the flair of this expression.
However, even without the design of these buildings, one may still discern the lifestyle through typologies and planning. General planning of structures may have been visible and given hints and shows in the remains of civilizations such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in India. However, it would not do justice to the knowledge of culture, intricacies, and identity; the crucial manner of expressing oneself. For instance, this expression has led to many sub-typologies of residence design; mansions, tiny homes, co-living, and more with different forms such as cantilevers, high rises, and more.
What If It Is A Better Alternative?
Many have argued that the very act of building and construction is not sustainable. With current trends and scenarios of growing populations and increasing demands, an architectural practice that encourages more exploration of form and building does not sit well. What if the world were to do away with architecture?
Modern-day eagerness for architecture may be interpreted as a rapid solution strategy. It creates the space to organize an arising problem and space in the expanse of cities and countries. Such decisions lead to architectural design, then construction, which requires excavations, material production, and transport of pre-fabricated elements, or furniture, which adds to a massive carbon footprint. If architecture had never come to a head, and not grown into the profession it is, people would have found other strategies for shelter. Perhaps they would still create permanent places of accommodation, but it would allow for a different culture without centers for functions. Alternatively, a sustainable version would exist where communities would stay in a single built environment. There are infinite alternatives to analyze, of which a few would have been better than the current scenario.
Architecture creates an entire medium for architects to explore emotions and produce fascinating spaces, but it overpowers much of the natural. Many recent global efforts now focus on the creation of green spaces, namely sustainable and regenerative architecture, which proves how much the built concrete has taken over.
Integration of Politics
The purpose of architecture is to create functional spaces, and effectively serve the requirements of its users. Since the first intentionally designed built structure, these spaces have always been commissioned or overseen by someone. As established before, it becomes an object of permanency, interpreted by many as power. Frequently, architecture has been used and manipulated by leaders to propagate their ideals. It naturally becomes representative of their philosophical ideals and goals and occasionally can have negative effects.
Using the example of 1900s America, many would understand how almost every building was designed to be racially segregated, continually reinforced by officials. Such architecture helped to propagate the mistreatment of people and their rights. This created disadvantages for many members of society who should have been catered to equally.
A Series of Trends With a Touch Of Globalization
Finally, we turn to the modern context. With similar designs in all directions, architecture may have been part of the stifling of natural creativity and critical thinking. Early vernacular designs were often natural designs worked out after a lot of trial and error for suitable shelters. We had circular huts due to the ease of building them since the shape would support itself. Domes do what is newly labeled as the structure of shell roofs.
However, in the age after the universal architecture movement, many styles have traveled across land and seas to create the same box-like structures where a room shape is often a play on rectangles or squares. Although there are many explorations within that, many revert to this basic shape due to modularity and dense population designs.
Many such examples can come up but it is easy to think that life without architecture could be very different. The design thinking of our ancestors has kept the human race alive and thriving, no matter where it is suited. However, it may have been harsh in its treatment of nature and others, especially as we continue to “develop” and design sometimes inefficient spaces.