Culture can be defined as the totality of values, beliefs, symbols, systems, etc. shared by a group of people who learn and transfer this knowledge through interactions. Tradition, on the other hand, refers to the handing down of beliefs and customs from one generation to the next. Together culture and traditions ensure the survival of a community for future generations by forming its chief binding element. Since ancient times, communities around the world have been looking upon their indigenous traditions for a sense of social unity and identity. For them, the sense of pride and the feeling of belongingness are the same, which is often reflected in the intangible components of their culture. Physically, this can also be seen in their art and architecture. Architectural Identity refers to the cultural and social association that people have with their built environment. Built heritage is, therefore, an important part of a community, where people would at times go great lengths to protect it.

Since ancient times, this built heritage has been the representation of its people. In architecture, this was evident in the:

Planning Process

The Planning Process of such heritage was highly influenced by several indigenous traditions and rituals. The layout of Mandapas, Pradakshina, and Garbha Griha in ancient Hindu temples was laid by numerous traditions and rituals. The Pyramids in Egypt and the holy temples of Greece are all a paradigm of this ideology of planning. But this approach of characterizing the spatial requirements of a building was highly criticized by the modern architects of the 20th Century. Soon the theory of “Form Follows Function” came into being because of the rising population and spatial constraints in urban centers. Thus, a dynamic shift can be seen in the modern planning process from its ancient counterpart.

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Image Sources: Typical Plan of a Hindu Temple ©

Visual Appearance

Traces of the association of Architecture to a Canvas can be found throughout history. Societies around the world used their built environment to put the intangible aspects of their culture into a tangible form. This is evident through the mythological and historic instances that are displayed on the walls, ceilings, and interiors of various ancient places of worship worldwide.

In terms of resources, traditional architecture has always been labor-intensive. Due to the absence of machinery, most of the ornamentation done was handcrafted. This, in turn, led to the birth of various crafts and with-it communities of highly skilled craftsmen, who depended on these crafts for their livelihood. But with the onset of industrialization as mechanization took over traditional craftsmanship, many such communities are either struggling to survive or have switched to other means of livelihood.

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Image Sources: The Great Sphinx of Giza, Evgeny Kazantsev ©
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Image Sources: Ramaswamy Temple, Tamil Nadu ©

Construction Materials And Techniques

The availability of material has always been one of the chief factors that determined the character of our built heritage. The use of Vernacular materials and construction techniques was done in abundance due to the constraints of materials and climatic factors. This rendered a unique character to the local architecture, instilling a sense of identity and belongingness in its community. Unfortunately, this trend of vernacular architecture has changed significantly in the past century. Due to the interlinkage of economies worldwide, people are no longer obliged to follow the particular construction techniques native to their region. A new definition of architecture has now come into existence, where people follow the same building model, irrespective of their geographical location. This has resulted in the loss of the cultural identity of any place through its architecture.

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Image Sources: Temple of Athena Nike ©
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Image Sources: Under the heading visual appearance, Malibu Temple, California ©
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Image Sources: Vernacular Architecture of Himachal Pradesh ©

Changes in Traditions Due to Modernisation

In recent years, the indigenous traditions of several communities are at the brink of extinction. This is largely owed to the combined effect of modernization and globalization. In many countries, the European way of life is idealized and linked with the term development. Due to this, the western prototype of lifestyle and civilization is taking over the traditional way of life in several communities. Today more and more people are abandoning their traditional roots for a higher standard of living, often migrating to the urban cities. The architecture of these cities is characterized by new advances in technology, spatial constraints, and availability of capital by individuals or the government, rather than by the ethnic values of its people.

In the past few decades, this has resulted in a standard and monotonous definition of architecture that is the same in all regions despite their cultural and ethnic diversity.

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Image Sources: Under the heading changes in traditions due to modernization, New York City ©

In the Indian context, this is evident through the “The Smart City Mission” that has very little ground for the conservation of heritage in these cities. While some of this heritage is recognized and protected by various organizations, most of the ancient built structures in the oldest regions of these cities lay abandoned and forgotten.

While this mission seeks to equip its cities with the latest technologies and urban structures, little does it contribute to curating an identity for its people.

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Image Sources: Smart City Mission ©

Yet, this approach of development is also opposed by several communities who look upon modernization as a threat to their culture. In some instances, the inclination towards this resistance is so high that people have fabricated several orthodox practices and taboos against modernization. Because of this several communities choose to follow their primitive way of life and discard all the innovations and technologies. Thus, in today’s date, it is of utmost importance to come up with a new definition of development that balances both our past and present. This will not only benefit the indigenous communities but also their architecture, which is nothing less than the physical manifestation of their traditions.


Rishika Sood is a student of architecture, currently in her third year. She has a keen interest in exploring buildings and aspires to work towards the conservation of historic monuments. She is particularly drawn indigenous art, craft and lives of the craftsmen associated with it.