A question that a historian often faces is regarding the relevance of history. The debate remains unresolved to this day. When it comes to architecture, architectural history is a subject that every student of architecture compulsorily goes through. Studies and discourses have managed to establish the significance of architectural history. The architectural repertoire has become congruent with defining the time periods due to these studies. But how does this journey to the past, contribute to the present and our voyage into the future?

Architectural History

Architecture and humanity have been interlinked ever since the need for shelter arose for man. The connection that began as a method to meet the demand of an individual eventually became a medium of expression for the society. Architectural history looks into the evolution of styles over time. But it is not the only aspect that architectural history perceives. It also looks into the reasons for this evolution, and what triggered these changes. It documents the evolution of various structural elements of the style of architecture. Along with it, it studies the changes that took place in society and its culture at the same time. Architectural history is thus a chronicler of the society, complex cultures, architectural styles, changing socio-political scenarios, and humanity’s response.

Despite the generalizations one can draw, the influence of architectural history is different between western society and the eastern. In western cultures, the study of architectural history provided them with a benchmark with which one could categorize the architectural representations. In eastern cultures, architectural history is very much intertwined with their traditions and the demarcations between periods are less defined. The western cultures strived to create a model of a timeless and ideal architectural style. In contrast, in the east, it was more influenced by its political and global situation. The study of architectural history does need to be tailored to define a region. It is tough to express it with a blanket approach.

Growth of Modern Architecture

Modern architecture is a concept that developed mainly in western cultures during the 1930s. The root of this revolution is often stated to be the Chicago World Fair. Various architects, through their works, have overtime given a concrete form to the concept of modernism. The most noticeable aspects of modernism are its focus on form rather than ornamentation, attention to structural elements and materials, and a global language to the utilization of space. Modern architecture is easily identifiable, and the contrast in its style with the earlier architecture is visibly present. But modern architecture developed as a result of years of evolution in the architectural styles through the different time periods. The pioneers of modern architecture such as Frank Lloyd Wright defined their approach using inspiration from vernacular architecture. The clean, modern lines, open plans, and horizontality in his signature style was drawn from his study of Japanese vernacular architecture.

Despite the stark contrasts, one can always draw parallels between modern architecture and vernacular.

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Image Sources: Influence of Japanese architecture in Frank Lloyd Wright’s work ©www.architects.zone
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Image Sources: Influence of Japanese architecture in Frank Lloyd Wright’s work ©www.architects.zone

Architecture is primarily created using ‘response’ as the driving force. It develops as a response to needs, climatic conditions, social scenarios, and so on.

The study of architecture is not merely a development of a design process. It is a holistic approach towards understanding, the culture and anthropological history of an area. Architectural history is the tool through which modern architecture was shaped. Modern architecture isn’t an independent entity, it is but a product of a continuous process that evolved through time.

Understanding the history associated with the different facets is a form of research that adds to one’s knowledge of the field. It encourages one to analyze and interpret the processes that have taken place before, to bring something to its present state. It not only reveals the processes involved and contexts, but it also gives a sneak peek into the trials and errors that took place.

It is ultimately a method to add to the repertoire of an architect’s knowledge.

The process of transformation that took place is more evident in residential architecture than in public architecture. The traditional residences show the arrangement of spaces based with respect to function. The concept of function over form was evident in traditional folk architecture. With time, the language of design changed, as it took on a more universal design, keeping in tune with the development of modern architecture. Yet the remnants of the architectural evolution are evident within the pattern of spaces. The experiences within the space are also indirectly an effect of the evolution it has experienced. Thus, architectural history becomes the foundation on which modern architecture is standing upright.
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Image Sources: Evolution of residential architecture in Gulf cities ©Remali, A.M., Salama, A.M., Wiedmann, F. et www.doi.org

Similarly, contemporary architecture indirectly influences the future. The different approaches being adopted in architecture at present is shaping the reality and experiences of the future inhabitants. Architectural history contributes to the physical nature of modern architecture. It also makes one contemplate all the factors that shaped modern architecture and enables us to have a better understanding of it. Architectural history’s relevance in modern architecture can be summarised through Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”


Namita is an architect. Her experience at COSTFORD paved her interest in the architectural philosophies of Laurie Baker. She has a passion for writing. Her mother, a preceptor in English literature instilled in her the passion for books and languages. She also loves to explore new places and wishes to be a globetrotter.