What is the first thing we do when the vacations are around the corner? The images of the places we wish to visit, beckon our mind. The one constant in those images is that we associate the name of a place with its defining architectural style or monuments. The architecture of a region represents its identity and heritage. Their images imprint effortlessly in the minds of the locals and the visitors alike. This makes the architecture of the area an unavoidable part of the tourism industry.

The architecture of Tourism - Sheet1
Tourism and architecture ©www.freepik.com

The tourism industry is an integral part of the world economy. Various countries have turned to tourism as a solution to alleviate socio-economic issues. It plays a significant role in terms of employment, foreign trade and global markets, etc. Tourism, in turn, began to enhance and mold the architectural identity of regions. Certain cities in the world have incorporated this aspect into the policies and laws that govern their land use and development.

Architecture and tourism when synergized open new avenues to the socio-economic development of the region. This symbiotic existence gave birth to the concept of ‘the architecture of tourism’.

The symbiosis

Postcard cities are an example of the symbiosis between architecture and tourism. Architecture, gastronomy, culture, and scenic beauty are the magnets that attract tourists to a region. The development of tourism is linked to other aspects as well. It involves the preservation and advancement of the social, historical, and economic realms of society. The preferences of tourists are of utmost importance in this case. An in-depth understanding of the community and its culture can help us carve out the potentials within it.

The architecture of Tourism - Sheet2
Tourists utilizing augmented reality to interact with a landmark ©www.trendhunter.com

When mentioning architecture and tourism, the focus is often on the built environment. The structure, aesthetics, and history of a building or monument contribute to its status as a landmark. Also, the building, its site, the entrepreneurial opportunities in its surroundings, and the natural attractions the sites offer to tourists all contribute to its tourism potential. Thus, all these stakeholders contribute to the symbiosis between cultural production and cultural consumption.

The incarnations

The enrichment of the tourism potential of a region favors the utilization of architecture and urban design in multiple ways. The essence of iconic architecture and history of a region is captured into souvenirs. The pyramids of Giza or the Parthenon are transformed into a portable keepsake.

The architecture of Tourism - Sheet3
Landmarks as souvenirs ©www.archdaily.com.br

Another approach is in the form of religious tourism. Here the sacred aspects of a community or city are highlighted to cater to a specific group of tourists. This is evident in cities such as Varanasi. The tourists are fascinated by the spiritual setting and in turn the city gains benefits in the form of revenue.

Cultural tourism depends on the artistic and cultural assets of the region. But the mere existence of these assets is insufficient. These aspects have to be showcased efficiently to play to the gallery. This is where the museums and craft villages come into play. The built environment that houses the aforesaid itself becomes an icon in this process, such as the Guggenheim Museum or Smithsonian museums.

Sometimes a city in itself is designed to cater to the tourists. In this case, urban design becomes the defining factor. Favorable characteristics include the ample presence of gastronomic hotspots, shopping centers, and photogenic spaces. The redesigning of central Glasgow by MVRDV to make it tourist-friendly also aimed to enhance its liveability.

The architecture of Tourism - Sheet4
Redesign of central Glasgow by MRVDV ©www.architecturaldigest.com

The creator and creation

The existing potentials within a region is definitely a principle part of tourism generation. The conventional approach is to enhance these assets and their imageability to attract tourists. This approach is most suitable for regions that possess a unique asset. The heritage, culture, or architecture of the particular region has to be one of a kind to stand out. These marketable features are essentially inimitable. It needs to be preserved as close to its original state as possible. Most of the UNESCO world heritage sites exhibit this quality.

Certain cities, on the other hand, opt to rescript its design instead. After extensive analysis of current tourism trends, the city takes on a new form. They draw from their regional contexts and reinvent it to cater to a more global taste. The characteristics of such cities are exclusive but still accessible and comprehensible to the broader public. The contemporary cities elucidate this international and universal value. This doesn’t make them plebeian; instead, it creates a compelling sense of prominence. They celebrate the differences within them and transfigure an illusion of paradise to the visitors. The regional center of 1937 Paris exposition was a harbinger of this trend.

The architecture of Tourism - Sheet5
Souvenir postcard of the 1937 Paris exposition ©www.ocf.berkeley.edu

The desirability of a city does not merely contain itself to the built environment. The political, economic, and social layers of a city are also the beneficiaries and key players of the tourism industry. A city like Las Vegas becomes a prime example of this. In its case, architecture becomes a tool that converts an arid landscape into a success story of ‘experience economy’.

The architectural language that developed here is a poster child of hedonism. Here tourism not only gave birth to a new urban design approach, but it also influenced the legal, economic, social, and political planes of the area.

The architecture of Tourism - Sheet6
Illustration by Federico Babina representing architectural quotes in Vegas-style ©www.architectmagazine.com

The architecture of tourism

The tourism industry is an influential determinant of architecture and urban design. The dynamism of the tourism industry acts as a stimulus to the economy, employment generation, infrastructural development, and social development of a region.

The fiscal benefits are not the only aspect it caters to. Tourism ultimately aims to provide recreation and relaxation to visitors. The travelers crave a break from their humdrum lives. The quest for new destinations, new experiences, and personal development defines a tourist. The same pursuit becomes the foundation on which the design of the tourism industry stands.

In this aspect, architecture is undergoing a transformation. It is essential to determine what should be an architect’s prime approach. Should architecture be visually fascinating, or should it be utilized to fascinate tourists?


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.