History as a subject has been an integral part of the foundation of architectural education. Have you ever wondered why it is so important though? What does history teach us that is pivotal to our understanding of the subject? Does it help us as we progress today?

History presents to us more than just the timeline of architecture. The domain captures vast lessons that apply to the practice as well as offer a guideline for comprehending today’s problems and seeking constructive solutions. A few such aspects that the history of architecture entails are listed below:

Understanding of Culture

The expression of identity through architecture has been a crucial method to understand the core values and principles of cultures across the world. Giving deep insights through spatial planning, materials, symbolism, and culture has been thoroughly embedded in the architectural styles that evolved in different parts of the world over time. Dating back to the days of Egyptian civilization, the beliefs of life after death were manifested through the Pyramids and temples. Whereas the Greeks celebrated Gods and their influence through their art and architecture. Such examples have immensely guided the study of influences and inspirations for people as well as architecture that prevailed in different parts of the world.

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Greek Architecture ©AgAuNEWS
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Egyptian Pyramids ©Wikipedia

Association of people and spaces

With culture, the relationship that people have established with spaces has narrated their faith and beliefs. Vastu-Shastra, for example, has been a key understanding of spatial design utilizing the natural resources for efficient living. Similarly, Byzantine and Romanesque architecture have based their religion as a medium to develop spaces that create an emotional experience. Moreover, Byzantine architecture signified colors to define the spaces, such as gold for heaven, red for the divine life, and blue for the human form.

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Interiors of Hagia Sofia ©Live Science
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The painted crypt of San Isidoro at León, Spain- Use of color ©Wikipedia

Phases of Innovation

Architecture and innovation have moved hand in hand through history. Many examples of different aspects that endured innovation in ancient times have continued to inspire architecture to date. Moving from grid planning in the ancient settlement of Mohenjo Daro to the design of aqueducts in Roman architecture, implementation of geometry in architecture, and even complex use of color and perspective in Baroque style. In recent history, open-style spatial planning by FLW, the use of extensive technological advancement and materials in modern architecture have been a testament in understanding the extent to which architecture has evolved to improve our spatial experiences.

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Johnson Wax HQ- Open Plan Layout by FLW ©Dezeen
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Roman Aqueducts ©Ancient Pages
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Mohenjedaro Layout ©Indus River Valley-Mohenjo-Daro-Weebly

Typology in architecture

An evolution in architectural style also developed different typologies to address the needs of society. Building typologies emerged at different scales which have contributed to developing the urban landscape worldwide. Many architectural elements also became prominent traits associated with the typologies of the architectural style. Some of the most profound examples of courtyards eminently used in the western regions of India, domes used in Islamic architecture, vaults, and arches of Gothic architecture to list a few.

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Typology in residential architecture ©Pinterest

Expansion of Architectural Vocabulary

Just like unique elements are identified with an architectural style, a set of vocabulary accompanied. With history, we have learned these elements and comprehended the ideology behind them, widely growing our technical knowledge as well.

Architecture as a response

The history of architecture portrays itself with social, economic, political history. It is important to note that architecture also reflected as a response to the prevailing scenarios in society. Whether it was a natural calamity or a political power surge, its impact was notable in the design of spaces. This aspect offers one of the most crucial lessons for architects, how does architecture evolve in times of trouble or prosperity. The constant change in time, the economy, and society doesn’t always offer a platform for growth. How does architecture address that? This can be extensively understood as one browses through the events in history. As an architect, such ability of adaptation goes a long way.

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An example of vocabulary ©Pinterest

Steppingstone for Growth

From form defining function through the form follows function, from defined plans to free-flowing spaces, extensive decoration to minimalist elements, and material use, the language of architecture has been revived from one style into another. We have stepped forward towards the growth in the field with a consistent reference of the past. Time, place, and people have evolved with spaces and times like today, one seeks comfort, sustainability, innovation, and creativity as amalgamation in the habitable environment. In this regard, history offers an extensive background of how change has been conceived. What is also important is to learn from mistakes in the past that were duly reflected upon in the journey of architecture.

History not only narrates the events of the past but also guides for the future. This comprehensive subject holds immense information from philosophical aspects, technical details, groundbreaking ideologies to astounding creativity which finds its applicability beyond the classrooms in the practice. As Norman Foster says,

“As an architect, you design for the present with an awareness of the past for a future which is essentially unknown.”


Aditi Sharma is an architect, researcher and amateur photographer based in Mumbai. Through RTF she is expressing her ardent thoughts in the domain of culture, history, gender, and architecture.

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