Societal Trends Reflected in Architecture

It is said that the three essential things to survival are food, water, and shelter. Since the dawn of Time, architecture has been a way to ensure survival. As time drew on, architecture has become a way to ensure living. To survive, architecture must be effective in the environment in order to ensure the safety of its inhabitant. To live, architecture must push the boundaries of effectiveness, comfortability, expression, and more. We have evolved. Our shelters have followed.

As humanity has evolved, we have drastically changed the homes in which we lived to suit the various environments around the globe. I have noticed there is a trend that follows architecture no matter where it is: The buildings are reflective of the society. Architecture is a signifier of the successful communication of a community.

If we think back to early Greek times, the community infrastructure was very open and polished. Each building had intricate designs and a specific purpose to serve that all interwove within the city to create a living, breathing infrastructure. The homes of the citizens had open layouts and were centered close to each other, which fostered a healthy and collaborative living environment. Ancient Greek culture is frequently referred to as one of the most prosperous and powerful human settlements. The ancient Greeks worked together and collaborated and were open to change and to each other. The buildings reflected and supported this way of life.

In the dark ages, humanity had given themselves a definitive hierarchy. Certain people were more important and/or valuable than others. Whether this segregation be through age, race, class, religion, sex, etc. it was very clear that people were divided. The architecture supports this new-found split amongst people. Castles were formed, crowded city streets littered with cramped homes and dirty people popped up around Europe. The trend of division and isolation had already been implemented in the social matter of life for years at this point. People had been divided and defined to serve only one purpose and had been assigned similar roles and/or stereotypes that people could not break out of.

In stark contrast, early 20th century style homes serve the purpose of division. Each room within the house has a specific purpose. Walls divide the rooms to clarify that each room is separate and defined in a particular manner. Only certain things may be done in certain parts of the house because that’s the way it was assigned. Similarly, how humanity had communicated with itself had already been like this for a while.

In the 21st century we can now communicate with anyone on the planet within seconds. The globe is connected for the first time ever. Humanity is more connected than ever. We have become open, transparent, informed, and bright individuals. As a result, our architecture has quickly followed suit. Floor plans are more open, with more windows and less definition in what the spaces in the home are used for.

Architecture’s trend to follow the interpersonal communication habits of humans throughout history proves that architecture is just another form of art and communication, not unlike the body or written language. How we interact is a reflection into our homes/shelters and this proves that we need a solid foundation of communication in our everyday lives. My suggestion would be to pay attention to the homes of those you know and see how they interact. Does their home reflect their personality?

Nick Peters