Architecture & Interiors

Architecture Can Change A Nation

By Uzoma Aliche, Guest Contributor

“Architecture is always the will of the age conceived as space – nothing else. Until this simple truth is clearly recognized, the struggle over the foundation of a new architecture confident in its aims and powerful in its impact cannot be realized; until then, it is destined to remain a chaos of uncoordinated forces.” — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” — Frank Gehry

“At its most vital, architecture is an agent of change.” — Charles Correa

Architecture has been defined in many ways—by the dictionary and by various authorities. However, one description that readily comes to mind was a definition I first heard about two decades ago when I took my first design class in my sophomore year of college at Abia State University, Uturu, Nigeria. “Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and nonbuilding structures,” and this is the definition and meaning that has resonated with me over these years. In most descriptions of Architecture that I’ve come across, two words have almost steadily appeared in most of them—Art and Design.

Contextually speaking, the subject of design is described as the creation of a plan for the purpose of construction. On the other hand, art is defined as the conscious use of creative imagination in the production of beautiful objects. However, in the interpretation of both designations, the words “creation” and “creativity” appears. Creation is “the act of producing or causing to exist.” Creativity is “the state or quality of having the power of causing to come into being.” They are one and the same thing. Hence, underscoring the importance of creativity is as a “skill” for design and architecture. Creativity pushes architects to think outside the box when it comes to designing creative and functional spaces.

Think outside the box—Be creative

Architecture is a reflection the of art, culture, perception, character, and story of a people captured in time and space reflected in buildings and other infrastructures. Fundamental to this is the use of materials and form patterns to tell a story. Deep thinking Architects with passion and zeal know that the impact of their design goes beyond building houses. These houses shape our mood, thoughts, actions, and general development either positively or negatively. It is astonishing to think that the simple placement of shapes and forms, a mere play of light and shade can spark and act as a catalyst for change in our lives. Architecture is an agent of change. As the saying goes “change is the only constant in life.” Architecture is a compelling contrivance that can deliver change.

Ancient Roman Architecture is an example of how Architecture can change a nation and indeed the world. Although the Roman Empire is now ended, one can still see how this empire shaped almost all of Europe through her arts, architecture, and engineering. Roman architecture borrowed a lot of their concepts from the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persia. The introduction of concrete by ancient Rome ushered in a new way of design for Architects and a new way of building for builders and construction engineers—then and now. With the discovery of concrete, architects would begin to work infrastructural wonders, bringing about a dynamic change in the world of architectural design and building.

Pantheon, Rome, Italy

Concrete was stronger than marble, and it could be shaped when wet and reinforced with other materials such as steel or iron. This allowed the Romans to build wider spanned ornamental domes and arches. Although used by Greek, Arches were first used by the Romans to support their underground drainages. They were also used as decorative ornamentations referred to as triumphal arches. Dotted throughout modern-day Europe, these were used to celebrate important events. Some examples of Roman structures built with their early form of concrete (i.e., pozzolana cement) were the Appian Way, Roman baths, the Coliseum and Pantheon in Rome, and the Pont du Gard aqueduct in south France.

Without the creative ideas of Ancient Roman Architects (e.g., Apollodorus of Damascus, Argelius, Lucius Cocceius Auctus, Decriannus, Hyginus Gromaticus, Heracleides, Hermodorus of Salamis, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, etc.), our concept for the modern society—as experienced through arts and architecture—would not exist. Not only did they shape the then Roman Empire, but also, they influenced and are still influencing today, our concept and understanding of architecture and a functional society. From the ruins of Palmyra in Syria to the Amphitheatre of El Djem in Tunisia, the Diocletian’s Palace in Croatia, the Tower of Hercules in Spain, just to mention but a few. There is hardly any modern-day Architectural design or concepts that do not incorporate—at some level—concepts, elements or materials from the ancient Roman Empire.

United States Supreme Court, Washington, D.C., USA.

The instrumentality of architecture as an agent of change and a major contributing factor to nation-building cannot be overemphasized. Architecture can transform society, it can give a nation its national identity. A country that embraces Architecture as a tool for change is seen on a grand scale as progressive. A modern-day example of architecture as an agent can be seen in the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in particular, are typical examples of the progressive use of architecture as an urbanization tool to transform the constituent Emirates of the UAE.

In the nineteen sixties Dubai was a small fishing community. It was also a trade route between Oman and Iraq. The architecture of that era adapted well to its harsh arid climatic conditions characterized by high temperatures, high humidity, and low rainfalls. Walls were built thicker. Alleyways and walkways connected buildings. Courtyards with water bodies were used to accentuate architectural designs. Wind towers were constructed and exterior windows where few—indirect windows were used to tackle dust-laden winds. These characterizations helped keep the houses chill and dust free.

Dubai—The evolution of a society

In the nineteen seventies, a combination of the oil boom, sophisticated technology, and visionary leadership saw a change in infrastructural development. During this time, the foundation for what is now known as modern-day Dubai was laid. Abu Dhabi, the capital, and the other five Emirates are not far behind. This new architecture displays a combination of tradition and advanced technology. The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque (Abu Dhabi), the Burj Khalifa (Dubai), Burj Al Arab Hotel (Dubai), the Emirates Palace (Abu Dhabi), the Landmark (Abu Dhabi), Etihad Towers (Abu Dhabi), Palm Island (Dubai), to mention a few, are architectural masterpieces that have changed the skyline of the UAE. The UAE have found their voice, and the instrument of choice for expressing themselves is their architecture.

Architecture is the iconic tool that the UAE is using to show their urbanized progressiveness and futuristic development. Let us go on a photo journey and see some of these architectural masterpieces that the UAE is using to express themselves:

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE

Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai, UAE

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Landmark, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Palm Island, Dubai, UAE

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said that “Architecture is always the will of the age conceived as space—nothing else. Until this simple truth is clearly recognized, the struggle over the foundation of a new architecture confident in its aims and powerful in its impact cannot be realized; until then, it is destined to remain a chaos of uncoordinated forces.” Mies was saying that “…the will of the age… nothing else” is what makes the difference. The UAE had a will to become a progressive and near-futuristic society of the age via architecture, and they achieved it. He was saying here that unless there is clarity of understanding, the establishment of a new architectural order will struggle. Hence, there is the need to study and understand the emerging order in other to establish it firmly. This is where the artist and the scientist in the architect meets.

Architecture—A Tool for Change

Changing nations, one structure at a time.

Architecture has, and still is, changing nations by amplifying the cultures and values of the people through their built-up environment. One of the fundamental principles of Architecture is the ability to self-correct over time. This scientific method aligns with the principles of evolution—the crystallization of ideas over periods of time. The newer ideas are incorporated into newer designs, thus sparking newer concepts. Architecture as a vehicle for national change can be achieved using two primary methods of approach—indirect and direct approach.

Indirect Approach

In the Indirect Approach, when an Architect is employed by a client to design a building or buildings, the architect in the ideation state draws on several concepts to forge something that reflects current and emerging trends to appeal to the requirements of the client. This idea or multiple ideas, if successfully replicated over several projects, has the potential of creating a new reality, culture, and order. By indirectly replicating concepts and ideas, similar and sometimes dissimilar, the Architect through his designs has the potential of setting the foundations for a new or emerging culture, will, or way of life, forever seared in this architecture.

Direct Approach

Architectonically deliberate—A futuristic skyline

Through the Direct Approach, the architect consciously decides to create a new order toward an envisioned future with the sole purpose of creating a new national identity. This approach involves five principal steps: (a). Documentation; (b) Synthesis and Analysis; (c). Goals and Objectives; (d). The Plan; and (e). Execution and Revision.

A. Documentation: The architect determines the current state of the nation by comprehensively documenting various aspects of it. First, by recording the current state of the nation’s physical and social infrastructures (i.e., the physical and social-cultural composition of her people). Second, it’s housing stock and current policies. Third, it’s economic infrastructures. Fourth and lastly, by reporting the nation’s available natural and human resources.

To have a comprehensive and credible picture of these situations, this must be done starting from the grassroots to the highest echelons of the government structure. While people may believe that the function of an architect is limited to buildings alone, on the contrary, architects are heavily involved in urban planning and almost every aspect of planning any built-up environment.

B. Analysis and Synthesis: The post documentation stage involves processing of collated data. Through Analysis, the architect separates the assembled materials into constituent elements that make sense. Through synthesis, the architect combines the constituent analyzed data with new data for a more complex whole that forms the bedrock for future sustainable design. The purpose of doing this is to understand and create a clear and critical path towards a feasible design proposal that is aimed at integrating and harnessing available resources to achieve a goal.

Analysis and Synthesis—The Yin and Yang of Sustainable Architecture

C. Goals & Objectives: This is when the architectural team, or design team, defines what the design process intends to accomplish, and how to go about it after sifting through the wealth of synthesized information that has been gathered. Markers will be set up by way of goals and milestones for the life of the design project. At this point that the big goals will be broken down into manageable forms.

D. The Plan: With the goals and objectives in place, the architect now devices a plan. The plan is a roadmap, a critical path to success that is drawn up and scheduled by the architect to give guidance for the journey towards the goals and objectives—a pathway towards the architect’s vision. Assignments will be issued at this stage. Checks, balances, and accountability are essential here.

E. Execution and Revision: During the execution phase, for this design to succeed, constant revisions and updates is an absolute necessity. All fields will be analyzed, and the original plans regularly updated. At this stage, its effects on the initial design will also be assessed. There will also be a need to continually evaluate and reexamine the project as the plan plays out. This is necessary to bring any design plan completion successfully.

The purpose of architecture, as defined by the architects Mies van der Rohe and Frank Gehry, is to capture and understand the trends of the times of a people, to forge a better future through design. The difference between the two approaches discussed is their scope. The indirect approach uses architecture and design to influence change on a smaller scale. The direct method is the deliberate use of data to affect change using Architecture on a more grandiose scale. However, the principles for creating a functional design is the same.

Architecture ignites Urban Development

Architecture as a vehicle for nation building aims at integrating the history and cultural heritage of the people with modern trends and technological breakthroughs. The process of using Architecture as an urbanization contrivance amplifies the strengths of the society while reducing or sometimes eliminating its weaknesses. It is a symbolic portrayal of the progressiveness of a nation. The resultant effect is a creative, functional, rejuvenated, and sustainable built environment that shapes and changes the lives of its inhabitants forever. This visionary and futuristic process creates an avalanche of credible data which can be used by future generations.

The ripple effects of architecture as a platform for national change are endless. We have taken a stroll in time to Rome and seen how Architecture helped shape the then world. We saw the advances that ensued after the discovery of concrete—this was a time for architectural, construction, and engineering advancements—redefining and repositioning the Roman Empire as a vanguard of architectural and technological advancement. We have extensively surveyed the progressive and optimistic outlook it has created for the UAE and its constituent Emirates. The UAE is not letting up—they remain an evolving hub for futuristic designs and unimaginable construction wonders—the share resolution of a people to voice their progressiveness and futuristic output via Architecture and neo-urbanization measures.

In summary, we can say that Architecture can unquestionably change a nation. If you survey most countries that are characterized as advanced, you will notice that their urban ambiance is usually delineated by remarkable Architectural sundry marvels. Hence, underdeveloped nations, if they are not doing so already, should consider deploying architecture as a tool for nation building. New and efficient architectural designs with reduced negative urban and environmental impact, but improved efficiency and usage increases productivity, improves welfare and wellness, safety, security, and our general well begin. This of course leads to the molding of sound minds which will lead to an improved economic situation and more. Architecture as a tool for nation building works—understand it, embrace it, utilize it.

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