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  • Writer's pictureElena Breeze

Global V Local - Architectural Globalisation and its Effect on Local Cultural Identity (P2)

1. Architecture and Cultural Identity: For thousands of years, buildings have been a form of expression and communication for humans. Roman villas were built to exude an air of wealth through their size, use of columns and mosaics.

Figure 2: ‘Milan’s Duomo’ (no date) Cathedrals and churches – such as Milan’s Duomo shown above in figure 2 – convey a sense of power and fear through their towering steeples and gargoyles – of which Milan’s Duomo has a hundred and thirty-five. Architecture is used knowingly in this way, sending conscious and subconscious messages to those who behold it. Just as architecture conveys these messages of power and wealth it also communicates different cultures through its styles, materials and design: “Architecture is the result of the culture of the society” (Parvizi, E., 2009, cited by Ettehad, S., et al., 2014:online). So, when we build skyscrapers and modern architecture with no cultural links and sense of place, we are projecting this lack of identity into society; “Just as you grow into the world, the world grows into you. Not only do you occupy a certain place, but that place in turn occupies you. Its culture shapes the way you see the world, its language informs the way you think, its customs structure you as a social being” (Costica, B., no date, cited by Mirchandani, K., 2015:1).

It could be argued that – in this sense – there are buildings standing that don’t represent the current culture of a place and therefore project a false representation of the host society. However, these buildings represent our history; what we have come from. They are a constant reminder of how we got to where we are and why we are no longer living with the values or ideas that we did in the past. It becomes clear when you look at previous world conflicts that these buildings, although they don’t necessarily represent our current culture and values, still hold an important place in our society and lives. Many countries and groups such as the so-called Islamic State have targeted historical buildings in bombings as a way of abolishing part of a place’s identity. This can emotionally destroy communities. As a result, in 2017 UNESCO adopted Resolution 2347 which protects sites of cultural heritage, the destruction of these types of buildings is now considered a war crime. This reinforces the idea that just because these buildings are no longer in use or in-line with our current values they still have an important role in our communities and in showcasing our history. So, architecture plays a crucial role, not only in showcasing a place’s cultural identity but also in maintaining its culture, values and history. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said; “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us” (1943, cited by Bill Maclay, 2014). When our buildings are designed with our cultural identities in mind, they are subtly suggesting we act in ways respectful to the history and culture of the place we are in. They are an often subconscious reminder of where we have come from and who we once were and wanted to be. In this way, architecture can also trigger social and cultural change as space suggests the way in which we should act; “space has an important role in strengthening cultural change, because the expected behaviour patterns within a particular space reflects the specific cultural values” (Ettehad, S., et al., 2014:online).

In some cases, buildings have been catalysts for certain cultural movements. Architecture can make statements so bold that they result in new cultural values in a community. An example of this would be the Eiffel Tower. Constructed from 1887-1889, the Eiffel Tower was built in preparation for the 1889 World’s Fair. The main attraction of the structure was supposed to be its height. As a 300-metre-tall iron tower, it was a challenge in the field of construction at the time. However, once built, the tower took on a whole new meaning and, due to the breath-taking views that could be seen from the top, helped give Paris its identity as “The City of Love”. The Eiffel Tower is now recognised worldwide as a “symbol of love”, and a symbol of Paris. The city of Paris attracts couples from all over the world due to its reputation of being one of the most romantic cities in the world. All across the globe people who think of Paris will identify it as the home of the Eiffel Tower. When you search for photos of Paris online almost all of them include the Eiffel Tower (see fig 7).

Figure 3: Elena Breeze’s ‘Paris Google Image Results’ (2020) The structure has become a large part of the city’s identity and, as a result, its cultural identity. If architecture has the ability to reinvent a place’s identity then when we are designing and building our cities, surely we should be considering what our buildings will say about us and

our country. Constructing buildings without any reference to ourselves or the place projects a meaningless expression of who we are today.

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