Amidst our multicultural multicolored world, what is it that we call heritage? Is it the monuments that are a photographer’s delight? Or the sensory overload of cuisines? Or the old city alleys and vintage coffee bars that are truly beauty in chaos?Our advocacy for heritage is relative. It deliberates what we are willing to preserve and moreover what interests us.

Winner | RTF Essay Writing Competition May 2021

Category: Essay: Complex Pasts – Diverse Futures
Participant: Muskan Singh
Profession: Architect
City: Aurangabad, MH

Through a wide lens, heritage encases monuments, traditions, art forms, objects, and everything that is a legacy of the past.The values and philosophies passed on as heirlooms are all shares of the rich heritage we own. Along with a story that dates back centuries, a heritage is acknowledged for its emotional association with the people’s memories, the ideology it represents, and its prolonged impact through years on the society it serves. Our heritage stays as a reminder for us to never unlearn where we belong, and also how far we have come.

Tangible Identities

Architecture is heritage with tangible aspects,monuments that flaunt stories of the past. It is a snapshot of the cultural and social narrative of the community it sits in. The history that lies behind these heritage sites is marked by their mystical presence and stands testimony to the deep-rooted beliefs. The beliefs and traditions travel back in time for their origins, a few decades more radiant than others, and some monuments more celebrated than the lot. These buildings stand on grids that hold their principles and boxes that not just merely shelter. From Mesopotamia to Harappa and then from Romans to Mughals, their facets lie in the structural brilliance and humble appearance, leaving us to admire in awe.

Built heritage is flooded with examples of symbolism. We see structures that have been personified by their makers. Austere or eclectic, colosseums or churches, they all are engraved with the ideals that played spine in their making.For instance, Greek mythology associates light with prosperity and a perfect being. This intent has been reflected effectively in the Greek monuments with a beautiful play of light and shadow.Similarly, the after-life theories of the Egyptians are no secret. Development from flat tombs to ziggurats to pyramids is inspiring,all of it revolving around the same concept of providing the Pharaohs an accomplished life after death. Miles away, Indian templesexhibit one of the finest examples of extreme symbolism. The smallest of details in the temples carrystories of concept creation.Starting from the plan that has been derived from the planetary positions to the finial at the top of the shikhara that anticipated a connection to the cosmos. This metaphor through tangible elements does not limit itself to religious architecture. Building elements and materials have been the physical expression, unveiling ideologies of the great ruling empires as well. Nazis replicated their theories using clean lines, stark facades, and massive dominant scale with rigid pilasters. The colonial powers used symmetry and hierarchy in state buildings to boost superiority with a long-time vision of continuing to rule. These structures were pulse to the political environment at their time.

Moving from buildings to cities, the idea of symbolism continues to stay. Inspired by the community beliefs and lives of the people, the house to the deity was placed at the center of the settlement surrounded byareas dedicated for congregation and celebration. The formation of classes and division in society can be understood by the hierarchythat existed in the living spaces. The shape, size, appearance, or details, all elements from history are architectural means that embody an acute insight into the cultural and social background of its people.

Swayed Sensibility

Another approach that makes the heritage buildings credible is their sense of belonging. An architecture that is truly contextual, merged seamlessly with the surrounding and reinforced with progressive ideas. Modern league of heritage buildings hasfeatured their root principles and possessions along with creating newer perspectives. Be it the Bauhaus Art School by Walter Gropius or Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp Chapel, these are the places where contemporary ideas were formed and new beliefs were welcomed.

Modern heritage can be described as everything that breaks the barriers of ancient styles and has shown a new horizon in architectural design. Similar to the ancient eras, here too lies conflicts of philosophies and strive for acceptance. Contextual design ethics are certain to its site and purpose. The Gateway of India is one such piece of heritage. As the name says, it is an entranceway to the country, a gateway that bridges land to the sea. So is the case with Falling Water, an epitome of organic architecture that could not have been possible on any other piece of land. The building being what it is still countering criticism and is called romantic. Contrary to F.L. Wright’s style, our history talks about Seagram building by Mies van der Rohe. A modern heritage that is universal in nature and possesses perfect transparency in the structure… Heritage doesnot belong to an individual to pick from. It’s not about what we choose to stand for, it is about acknowledging all of it and keeping it alive, and letting the future decide for itself.

Reading through the pages of architectural history, we notice a subtle change in what the buildings represent. There is a shift from a cultural imagetoshowcase to a physical role to play for society. Not to forget, these monuments of ancient and modern history together are today agents to create a global image of their native place, playing their part in nation-building.


Heritage is the life possession that defines us. It is an entity that narrates tales of the people, is conceived by the people, and exists for the people. Pertaining to the context, history breathes throughour cultural and social differences that form its inseparable parts. Architecture is yet another mode to relish these unbelievable contradictions. Few refer to the architectural heritage as baggage from the past while others get influenced by these structures to create refreshing concepts.History itself is not averse to some degree of modernity.Our modern heritage sets an ideal vision, where the interrelation and interdependency of past and future are harnessed. Following the trail marks, we learn not to copy but to articulate and create new identities.

Demolition of the Hall of Nations erected questions of preserving the modern heritage which was rarely addressed before in the country. Imagine a Mumbai without the Gateway or a Chandigarh without the iconic Open Hand… Keeping our culture alive that these structures inhibit is all-important. Conservation, restoration, and retrofitting are all means of holding it intact. We are the stakeholders of our heritage. Speaking up our vision for tomorrow and portraying architecture as an instrument to attain it, can remove the tag of baggage from the architectural heritage and it will have something premium to offer back. This decade is a disclaimer that nearing future will have questions taking place of the monuments.

UNESCO acknowledges the diversity that our planet offers and allows a better understanding of the earth and its beings. Delicacies of our planet are perks to enjoy and worth preserving for the future, making them part of our wide-range heritage. Celebrating World Heritage… is to relive the stories of the glorious past, to look back and feel fulfilled, and to think about what is too precious to let go.


Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.

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