There are countless definitions of architecture. For some, it’s an art form that shapes the buildings and structures that surround us. Others focus on the power of architecture to improve society and build better communities.
“[Architects] design experiences, not just rooms; situations, not just spaces; relationships, not just furniture; communities, not just real estate developments.”
- Richard Franson
Put simply, architecture is about creating the spaces and places where we live our daily lives. Look around you: all the features of your environment that were shaped by human hands – houses, streets, even entire communities – are evidence of architecture at work.
But architecture is also so much more.
The design of your surroundings may not be something you usually notice, but it can have a powerful impact on your life. In fact, the built environment can control our behaviour without us even realising it.
Think about street layouts, fences, roads without sidewalks or highways that slice through neighbourhoods. All these physical structures (and many others) affect our movements – and where we can or cannot go. Throughout history, these same features of our towns and cities have been used to create architectural exclusion to prevent some people from accessing certain places, to cut off wealthy neighbourhoods from poorer ones, or to separate racial groups.
Take a look at this aerial view of the Nomzamo/Lwandle township just east of Cape Town. It’s separated from the wealthier communities of neighbouring Strand and Somerset West by a visible buffer of open land, as well as fencing. Can you see how certain features of our surroundings can be used to segregate and marginalise people? Image credit: Google Maps
In South Africa, the damaging legacy of architectural exclusion is still being felt today. During apartheid, our built environment was deliberately designed to separate groups of people based on race. This influenced where you could live, how long it took you to get to work, the modes of transport you could use, and how far you needed to travel to go about your daily life.
Here’s the good news: today’s young architectural professionals can use the power of architecture to leave a better legacy for future generations. By designing and organising spaces, structures and materials that respond to the needs of our modern world, young architects like you can create new built environments that enhance, not harm, the lives of the people who live within them.