The impact of culture on architecture

Architecture allows us to create spaces that are functional according to a society’s ideas, customs, and social behaviour. In other words, according to culture.

There is no denying that culture has a significant impact on architecture. Throughout history, there is example upon example of its influence. Buildings like the Colosseum, Taj Mahal and Big Ben or traditional homes like the rock houses in Turkey, Igloos of the Artic and turf houses of Iceland underpin this notion.

But in 2023, one could wonder if culture is still a strong conductor in modern architecture.

The answer is: Most definitely! However, the story just got far more interesting and diverse.

Practically speaking, architecture is brimming with purpose. It’s our shelter from the elements, it is place we gather, cook, live, dream, love and work.

But it is impossible to do all these things in a space, year after year, and not form an emotional connection to the brick and mortar that surround it as well. Almost, as if memories are encapsulated within its walls.

The genius loci – the spirit of place – is something we talk a lot about when it comes to the character or atmosphere one can experience in a building. Could it be that culture makes up its corner stone? Irrespective of your own cultural background or religion, there is a sense of appreciation and respect that spills over when confronted with the genius loci of the pyramids, the Roman ruins or any historical site or monument.

From indigenous to colonial and everything in between

What does a typical home in South Africa look like? In a country with 11 official languages and a young, yet very rich cultural history it is impossible to single out one type. From the resourceful and regenerative indigenous architecture of the Xhosa, Zulu, and Venda cultures to the vernacular designs of the Cape Dutch – and everything in between – modern architecture of South Africa today draws inspiration from all of it and more. African architecture is exquisite, to say the least, and its time has just begun.

Architecture tells stories

Architecture tells stories. Stories about us, who we are and where we come from. Some of these stories are from long ago with influences from other countries and cultures, whereas many stories are new and contemporary. And behind-the-scenes culture is always shaping these stories.

With every family that moves in and every renovation that takes place, the story is enriched. Architecture can help preserve and add flavour to cultural nuances as time goes by, making it more interesting and practical for this day and age without needing to hold on to any negativity of the past.

But at the end of the day – you – the homeowner (and your family) are the authors of the story. And whatever you do, make it your own.


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