Can Architecture Mean More Than Pretty Buildings?

In an age filled with the evolution of studies to face global issues, what of the artists and engineers who ply their trade in the art of building our cities and towns?

Architecture is a subject that is rare to public discussion. In fact, the entire field seems to fade into the back of our minds as a mere luxury of excess. Those who would spend their time mulling over the nuances and history of the built environment are simply an elite few who have succumbed to the boredom of financial comfort, and can be found sipping from oddly curved wine glasses as they sneer at artistic impressions in some museum or the other. This is the architect.

It is a given that architecture has been a field that has attracted the more hipsterish amongst us. Even I can attest to the effort it takes not to roll your eyes during a visit to any architecture department at a university.  For the most part architects have always struck me as individuals who attribute more importance to their work than its actual impact. Every year there is the touting of some or other design as “world-changing”, when in fact it is simply innovative or creative and deserves its good share of applause, but no Nobel prize.

But perhaps architecture can take a new found importance and lease on life in a time where its most relevant.

The “Urban space” is quickly becoming the “Human Space”

Urbanisation is, and has been, taking place at the fastest and largest rate in human history. In no other time has the idea of living in  a city captured the minds of ordinary people around the world more than now. It’s within this context that the aspiring architect now sees themselves. The greatest challenges facing urban environments in this era are mostly our grapple with the practicality of the mega city.

If you were to describe the largest cities in the world right now no doubt your answer would include New York, London, Tokyo and Paris. Now besides the inclusion of London and Paris, you’d be right. But what most people don’t tend to consider are the cities that are growing the fastest.

Take the case of African and Asian cities. Since the rapid economic rise and growth  of these two regions, urbanisation has sped up to rates that can only be described as unsustainable.Nigeria, Africa’s largest country by population size, continues to see trends in city growth outpace most projections.

China, which had an urbanisation development so large it was recorded as one of the largest migrations of mammals in world history, already houses 54% of its population in urban cities with ten of those cities with populations stretching beyond ten million people. Keep in mind that all of this is in context of the fact that by 2030 projections see the worlds urban population at five billion.

So what does this all have to do with architects? Everything really.

The urban space is the architects playground. It is the primary space of activity for most architects and the birther of the field. How then can the  modern architect ignore the fact that urbanisation is a development that no other field deals with more directly.

It is through innovative design, planning and engineering that we are going to face the burden of trying to house millions more people every year.

Furthermore, similar to the world wide popularity of cities like Paris and London, architects are now able to form an urban identity for their spaces in ways that are as of yet unthought of.

Examples of architects that are working on projects that embrace the potential for the field to do good are already abundant. Take the case of Makoko district in Nigeria.


An entire slum built on the banks of Lagos’ lagoon, this collection of villages symbolises the issues facing cities in regards to informal housing developments. So how is it that architects can affect such a problem? Well, take the program by local architect Kunle Adayemi to build a school in the community.


makoko floating school


This innovative design and approach ensures that the community has a future, but also has potential applications elsewhere, as cities fight back the effects of climate change.

Another architectural development that has peaked global interests is the work of Alejando Aravena in Chile. Aravena received the Pritzker prize (architectures biggest prize) this year for his social housing design. As a response to the earthquake that ravaged much of the nation in 2010, Aravena undertook designing a social housing construct that would allow Chileans to both afford and expand on social housing.


This approach, and its global acclaim, have placed the social responsibility of architects back in the spotlight, and has even indicated the need for creative approaches to housing.

These projects, and many more in their liking, indicate that architecture can no longer be the chosen profession of the secluded elite. If the field is willing to contribute more, it must emphasize the importance of inclusivity, sustainability and  above all else, humility.

Architecture can capture the mind in a way that is most apparent in society, by also capturing our physical environment. But it is of paramount importance that architects become more in tune with the realities of this physical space, for the betterment of both the field and our world.






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