I believe that culture is the underlying web of beliefs, thought processes, customs and traditions that eventually gets reflected into how we humans think and respond to certain situations. It trickles down in what we wear, what we eat, what we talk and ultimately what we build. Together, it becomes one intangible aspect that connotates a certain place and ultimately that place starts to get defined by its culture. Whenever we think of a certain place, we end up talking about the lifestyle, its character, feel of the place, architecture, history and many such subtle nuances which hint at how that locale has developed over a period of time and how it has evolved for being what it is now.
Traveling to different countries has definitely made me study and reflect that how this culture defines a particular place and how that culture makes an impact on our minds rather than the actual place. A few examples listed below can be helpful in understanding the different lifestyles of people and how it binds them across generations and retain the enigma!
A country that is bound by rich traditional values, very much embedded in Buddhist beliefs, an extremely tight-knitted set of guidelines and in a very laidback lifestyle. This common thread is strongly seen in the harmony and homogeneous texture all over. The powerful character of the lifestyle of people, their daily rituals, their dresses, their mannerisms, architectural style and the food stayed somewhat same throughout. With its various types of temples, monasteries, Dzongs (Fortresses) and Stupas, in a riot of spectacular colours, situated among the bountiful natural backdrops, Bhutan comes across as a quiet spiritual country having a life of its own and a peacefully divine aura around it.
Even though scattered across a very large area, we automatically associate Europe with its millennial history, the changing reigns, the rise and decline of Greek and Roman Empires that left monumental architectural traces and defined the course of building technology. We recognize the continent by its magnanimous Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine Cathedrals, the opulent grand Baroque buildings, the stylish Victorian, Tudor and Classical Palaces of the kings and the well-kept landscapes and arcades. Juxtaposed to all this grandiose and splendour, architecture also comes forth in the simplest and most modest ways. The narrow cobble-stone streets snaking their way with 3 storey buildings stacked tightly on both the sides offer a diverse palette of vistas. Preserving that culture and making a space for newer thoughts and concepts and exceling in it as well, making it vibe with the tourists. A smooth blend and the intermingling of the age-old traditional values along with the ultra-modern technologies is what keeps Europe ticking day by day.
A country at the southern tip of Europe speaks a different language of its own. Being under the Moorish rulers for more than 5 centuries, a direct influence can be seen in its lineage, language, food, beliefs and architecture. Many structures and palaces stand testimony to this way of life and surprisingly this culture has trickled through up till today and that’s why Spain postulates its own charisma. A beautiful blend in the lifestyles can be seen throughout the country and leaves us with a trace of the intermingling tastes. The harmonious ways in which Christian and Moorish styles have been juxtaposed in most of the parts in Spain is really beautiful and thus, we are always in a subtle confusion when it comes to define Spain with a particular culture. Rather, it could be better defined as a very rich specimen that has borrowed, adapted, evolved around multiple cultures and offers a plethora of streetscapes for any wanderer across its enigmatic lands.
Deeply rooted in Hinduism, with enigmatic stories related to Ramayana, the residential and temple architecture revolves around the timeless beautiful courtyards, intricate carvings, detailed doorways and entrances, heavily ornamented roofs, all significantly portraying mythology. Laid around a variety of evergreen trees, shrubs and flowering plants, occasionally with water bodies and small fountains coalescing, the ambiance is extremely intimate and cut off from the outer world. Catering to the hot and humid climate, the courtyard planning serves the purpose of cross ventilation and pulling in plenty of light into the interiors. The people follow a conservative lifestyle involving daily rituals of praying and offering food to the Gods and preserving the tradition now as well. Built in a vernacular style, using stone, bricks, bamboo and thatch, the Bali houses still hold true to their culture and heritage. Even with an upsurge in tourism and the need to be as contemporary as possible, the island retains its age-old history, ethos and essence beautifully, and engulfs one completely into it.
A product of the modern world, the United States is a classic example of modernity and well-planned urban fabric. The lifestyle and the culture dates back to not more than 400 years and thus borrows tinges from a variety of colonial rulers that existed before the independence. A Neo-Classical Architectural Style is very much seen in the colossal buildings portraying the Roman and Greek theories of design whereas the medieval American buildings based their concepts on Art-Deco, Less is More and Organic architectural concepts. The modern buildings though are a series of towers comprising of offices and commercial activities. The distinctly distinguishing urban downtown areas from the suburbs and a thoroughly well-planned street system talks about a stringent set of guidelines which can be seen throughout the country. The independent thought process underlying the lifestyle of the people and the well spread land mass has given the luxury to provide the suburbs with separate service and utility systems, thus creating a culture that boasts of luxury and meticulous planning, which is a repetitive phenomenon, thus giving a homogeneous flavour.
A country that has seen a plethora of historical events, invasions by Mongols, Mughals, Arabs, British and other European Colonies, along with the inherent rulers in different parts since centuries is bound to have a different architectural influence in different areas. With a variety of kings and their Hindu beliefs in Southern part of India, the temple architecture has evolved tremendously that percolates even in the household areas that have sacred and elaborate worship spaces inside. Thus, the culture reflects the historical imprints. In the northern and Central Indian subcontinent, intermixing of ideas, concepts and lifestyles acquired through lineage is evidently seen in Tomb, Temple, Palace architecture as well as the common man dwellings. And also, India has been trying to keep up with the Western World stimuli, as a result of which we have metropolitan cities developing that are a crossover in between these hugely individualistic styles and life patterns. Thus, culture here in India, has become hybrid in many ways, and striving to keep a balance of the age-old beliefs and traditions with the contemporary societal norms.
To conclude, culture of a place becomes a thread that instils in us the character of the place, that binds us to a particular set of beliefs and norms, that we come to recognize them as a part of our lifestyle that would otherwise be incomplete. And architecture actually becomes a very good testimony to stand across time and centuries narrating these cultural nuances in a perfect yet peculiar way. And most importantly, the astonishing characteristic of culture is that it is always in a state of change, absorbing the newer fluctuations in the society, while at the same time retaining some of its old beauty and thus remaining quintessential.