Architecture has always been a mirror of the creative, engineering and technological prowess of a community over a period of time. But as we move along into the 21st century, architecture has evolved into more than just a practice of aestheticism and monument-building. Because of the immense pressure of the growing population, the value of land as a commodity is sky-rocketing. Therefore any kind of development taking place on a valuable piece of land carries an added responsibility of maximizing the economic potential of that land. Because of this very relation, architecture can be a useful tool for economic growth in a region, and the upcoming development in a region can be reliable markers for predicting trends or changes in the regional economy.
One very interesting idea that depicts how architecture predicts economic trends is the Skyscraper Effect. Coined by economist Andrew Lawrence in 1999, the ‘skyscraper index’1. shows that the tallest skyscrapers correlate with an ensuing business downturn in that region. These buildings are sanctioned and built during times of economic prosperity, but they are such a drain on the resources that more often than not, by the time it is complete the market usually crashes. Completion of icons like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building was followed by the Great Depression in the USA. Similarly, the World Trade Centre in New York, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lampur and BurjKhalifa in Dubai have ushered a period of market let down right after they were opened to the public. While this index is not 100 percent accurate, the fact that architecture can create such a dent in the economy of a region certainly adds a certain responsibility on the shoulders of our lawmakers as well as the architects.
Skyscrapers are a symbol of the modern urbanization that has overtaken the world. They also add a sense of pride and belonging to the people of the region, and serve as a multi-purpose space for development on various fronts. While they are important, there are many more ways in which architecture becomes a tool for reforming the economy. Some of them are discussed below:
This process involves re-imagining a space in a way such that it has a unique character and gives it a new meaning. This is a step further from the original historic development of different regions which were overshadowed by the repetitive construction practices that are the norm today, thanks to globalization. According to Ksenia Katarzyna Piatkowska, “Architecture is used as a marketing device creating competitive advantages of the cities and metropolises in a post-globalization epoche.”
2. The process of making architecture a brand is to create a space that is easily recognizable and markets emotional sensations and perceptions while being a homogenous addition to the region’s landscape. It should be able to transform the otherwise bland image of a city into a monumental vision. Bilbao, Shanghai, and Dubai are some prime examples of cities that employed space branding as a tactic to improve the economy and establish a unique identity.
For a long time now historic architecture has been used as a significant source of revenue in terms of tourism and thus it improves the economy. People travel across the world to see places of relevance in history. Today, culturally rich cities and towns have to be redeveloped in such a way that there can be more facilities for the ease of access to the throngs of tourists visiting every year. One way this is done is by creating a new destination, one of inimitable character which is identifiable and becomes the one must-visit attraction to know the full history of the region. A very fine example of this is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao by Frank O. Gehry. Such structures are starkly different from the rest of the historic landscape but are responsible for increasing tourist turnout in cities that would otherwise not be very well-known.
Tourism is also why there is a need for maintenance and repair of historically important structures. A prevalent practice, in this case, is urban redevelopment or retrofitting. This involves restoring a building’s character in a way that is historically accurate but can now be used as a different space altogether. This is a very common practice in India, where our large forts are now being retrofitted to serve as luxury hotels or getaway marriage destinations. This increases the revenue being obtained from the building, as well as gives it the recognition it deserves from people who visit from across the world by providing a real-life experience of the grandeur of royalty. The tourism industry is capitalizing on the hyperlocal nature of architecture to increase its revenue.
In today’s capitalist world every brand worth its salt has to learn to channel consumerism in their favor. Advertising gimmicks have managed to convince consumers to focus on WANTS disguised and marketed as NEEDS. Especially in the public sphere, architecture needs to evolve to support this lifestyle, and be a part of it. Outdoor spaces in a city/town have to be moulded in a way that fosters a feeling of belonging, excitement, and gaiety rather than claustrophobia and anxiety. Architecture has to be marketed like a brand itself, and its consumption has to be highly encouraged in today’s age of virtual existence.