Architecture has, since the beginning of time, held a mirror to its nation’s temperament. The Buland Darwaza captured the spectacle of Akbar’s conquest over Gujarat as well as contemporary glass and aluminium monstrosities capture the zeitgeist of the 21st century. Even today, architecture continues to function as a backdrop for the political, social, and technological revolution. Nation-building is defined as the process of developing and enforcing a national identity using the power of the state. It involves the use of major infrastructure development to foster social harmony and economic growth. 

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Saying that nation-building and architecture go hand in hand would be a gross understatement. The intricacy that exists within a country’s regional and national ambitions is embodied in its planning and design. The architecture of a region is representative of its character. However, most countries around the globe have diverse cultural and historical backgrounds. This makes it increasingly difficult to associate identity to a singular architectural emblem, though one may argue the Taj Mahal has been the de facto symbol of the whole Indian subcontinent throughout the West.

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To cement the identity of an integrated nation, advancements must be made at every step of the design process. The choice of building materials can immensely alter how a structure is perceived, thereby altering its identity. By using materials native to an area, we accentuate the regional character. The combination of locally sourced materials and intelligent modern building technologies can lead to a more economical, energy-efficient as well as aesthetic design.

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Further, it is only fitting to employ local artisans to work with local materials, due to their familiarity with the subject and its culture, thus giving impetus to employment generation. In order to design architecture that is sustainable, the ecological and cultural context of a place must be emphasized. Architectural styles that respond poorly to the climate, often perish, despite having other possible merits. An ephemeral style cannot contribute to nation-building. 

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A nation is said to be only as strong as its weakest citizen. The provision of affordable housing, to every citizen, should be imperative. A more comprehensive understanding of the user base must be established to ensure the result meets their needs. The emotion of what unites citizens of a country is not esoteric, nor should the awareness be. The complete potential of nation-building can only be realized once it proliferates into a people’s movement. Participatory planning must be a right and not a luxury. Another colloquialism states that architects often design exclusively for the 99th percentile in terms of economic bearings. This needs to be disproved and the intent of architects of the 21st century needs to be oriented towards societal needs. The need for a national identity needs to take precedence over the need for personal identity.  

The most prevalent hindrance to establishing a national identity continues to be the delegation of works of national importance to foreign architects. The pattern of regularly sanctioning projects that are part of the nation-building initiative to either foreign architects or indigenous architects that are implementing artistic styles already prevalent abroad is a testament to the fact that despite being independent, the world isn’t free from western subjugation. There is still doubt, especially among eastern settlements, regarding the competence of their own architects.

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Political endorsement of foreign expertise undermines the indigenous school of thought ergo, the identity of a nation. There are a host of underlying civil and social issues in developing countries that cannot be addressed by architects and planners if they happen to be of a foreign nationality, which is often the case. The lack of regional context leads to buildings that are either unsustainable or unattractive. As a result of this, there has been a steady departure from heritage and culture over the years. 

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This trend of deferring projects of national significance to foreign architects has been observed across the globe. Major cities all over the world are losing their authentic character and are becoming banal and homogenized. Bureaucracy has dictated a global architectural language that makes it impossible to distinguish between the skylines of Tokyo, São Paulo, Gurgaon, or L.A. 

The National Stadium in Beijing, designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, received similar flack. The central government was criticized for providing too much financial support to foreign architects who used it for their avant-garde architectural experiments, which could otherwise not be realized in their own countries. The architectural community of China saw the participation of international architects as a threat to the development of modern Chinese architecture.

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The dichotomy of globalization and nationalism has endlessly challenged architectural societies all around the world. Countries are not built to exist in isolation. Designers must walk a very fine line, balancing regional architectural evolution and establishing a global presence, while also ensuring a correspondence between the technological advancements made in different corners of the world to the structural developments made at home. As architects, our patriotism lies in the finesse with which we bring our nation’s identity to the international platform.

Author

Samriddhi Khare is a student of architecture. While juggling college submissions and research deadlines she finds time to write about architecture. She is a passionate individual with a penchant for architectural design, art history and creative writing. She aspires to bring design activism and sustainability to the forefront in all her professional endeavours.

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