The Power Of Architecture In Building A Nation

“The greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s efforts, than the inspired flash of a man of genius.” – Victor Hugo.

History has always regalised architecture as a reflection of the society that existed during those periods, highlighting the values, pinnacle of success and eventual downfall of civilizations with time. Architecture has helped us to understand our ancestry through the very structures that form the urban fabric of where we live. A constant outlook on the built environment, supported by modern day psychological and environmental research has helped to understand the effect of architecture on people in ways that are quite novice and novel. This actually brings about another food for thought question in our minds – How powerful is architecture exactly in helping build a nation?.

The answer lies in the statement that perhaps architecture is not just a building. Architecture is a lot more than a building with exemplary aesthetic implications.

Relation between architecture and nation building

At its roots, architecture exists as a means to create a physical environment for people to live but there is more to what meets the eye. It’s ingrained within our culture and mirrors our reflection as well as our outlook on the world. Mahatma Gandhi had once said that a nation’s culture resides in the heart and in the soul of its people. And I believe that architecture is truly a means to convert these intangible emotions into a physical form. Nation-building implies an act of bringing a vision of national identity to reality using the power of the state. Philosophically dissecting the term – nation + building; even nation is a type of architecture as it is the vision of many individuals that is provided a concrete or brick manifestation. Otherwise we couldn’t have titled the expression as nation-building.

To narrow down to the skeletal level; a nation is considered stable when its society is stable. And a society can be deemed stable when the welfare, safety and efficiency of their habitat is met. Here an architect comes into limelight as a designer of a society's built environment. It is this plethora of built habitat that helps deliver an identity to the nation; thereby driving a nation towards its magnum opus.

Many a times the role of architects is often dampened in comparison to that of engineers yet what many fail to understand is that designing and constructing buildings whilst being constantly reminded of past architectural flaws is how architecture can help build a strong nation. Deriving meaningful solutions and being proactive about omniscient problems is vital to effective nation building. And this is something that architects are taught to deal with from start.

Just like how blood flow and muscles help breathe life to an otherwise bare bones skeletal system, it is the integration of heritage and cultural identity associated with a society that defines a nation as truly unique and innovative. Assimilation of these qualities in architecture harbors a sense of self-identity and pride within a community which yet again reflects the strength and resilience of culture – qualities essential for building a concrete nation.

Supporting the human body metaphor; lungs represent abode of nature with the various interlinked green and blue open spaces forming the network system like that of the human body. Mere provision of comfortable and secured spatial solutions in an effort to decrease consumption is of course helpful yet a conscious effort to sensitize architecture is vital if national stability is the intent. Intentional architectural design proactively based on minimizing negative environmental impacts of structures whilst enhancing efficiency in its utilization of resources are vital not just for a nation's welfare but also the key to future generation's survival. Additionally architecture of today reflects what must be built tomorrow.

Architecture differs from other disciplines due to its innate ability to merge with other disciplines which is extremely essential in order to holistically design a habitat for mankind. Architecture appears independent yet it is connected with various spheres of disciplines in ways that we fail to recognize or accept for the matter. It is this conflux of disciplines that makes architecture stand out. And with frequent instances of zoonotic infections affecting man, the latest being Covid19 global pandemic due to fluctuating nature – urban sprawl interface, it is imperative that we as architects learn to be inclusive of other aspects of learning as well. This when supplemented with the existing standards and regulations for architecture in order to produce a strong and efficient nation.

Architecture is considered timeless because of its inherent quality to reflect a particular point of timeline through a congruence of art and science. This increases the cohesiveness of a society which is an essential quality that promotes a sense of unity among public. The ability of an art form as diverse and intellectual as architecture is a sheer proof of the significant role that it plays in empowering a nation. Architecture is purely about thinking out of the box and that is exactly what makes a difference. To cite an example to demonstrate the point would be Project Book Stop - headed by the WTA Architecture and Design Studio, which champions the concept of a pop-up library that encourages public to leave a book of their own at a designated space in return for getting to take another home. This cyclic concept of design imbibes the qualities of caring and sharing among people; an indicator of how powerful a tool architecture is with regards to making or breaking a nation. This is also why major monuments and structures of historic relevance are rebuilt in event of a disaster.

Studies reveal that architecture does have a profound impact on societies at a personal level as well. Occupants that work in well-designed spaces have been known to take lesser sick leaves, be more focused and goal oriented towards contribution to their work places. Sterile, concrete landscapes and unimaginative xeroxed buildings are a source of higher stress levels whereas spaces with a mindful connection to nature have been known to psychologically influence humans and help feel relaxed, content and engaged as well. These are yet again intangible emotions that can’t be easily quantified so to speak – the emotion of walking into a space that makes you feel right at home tends to resonate on a whole different level of sub consciousness. Architecture is not just intellectual understanding of art and science but it is psychological connection that a user harbors with a space itself as well.

Nation building in the Indian context

Indian architecture has always been myriad and subject to a plethora of external influences that have not only reflected in the structure but also infiltrated the societal strata as well. The nature of Indian architecture has always been fluid and ambiguous to date. The influence of western and European culture on our nation is a notable example to this context cited above. From designing iconic monumental architecture to the 'architecture of indulgence' – the change is evident. However indulgent architecture gives a very wrong reputation with respect to the importance of the discipline of architecture in the eyes of the public. These crucial crucibles of architectural innovation – weekend homes, restaurants, malls, resorts etc. do tend to trickle down to the various levels of society although it may seem to touch a sliver of our population only.

The term ‘Architecture’ and ‘Architect’ has always been novel in the vocabulary of common folk of India unlike ‘engineering’ or ‘engineer’ for that matter. Since its inception in India; as early as the 20th century onwards, architects have always fought to differentiate themselves from engineers; only to have fallen prey to the titles of lifestyle producers – handpicked to provide luxury for those with a golden spoon. And this has only degraded the quality of architecture and further the societal values of the nation. The slums of Dharavi, Mumbai vs the metropolitan city of Mumbai represents the stark contrast of the above statement as an example. The culture, traditions and values for which India has always been renowned for seem to have been replaced by trademark features of the West. And it is indeed ironical to see foreign tourists coming to India to learn more about our heritage; only to be with a reflection of their culture and architecture.

The first few decades post-independence resonated vibes of synchronicity in the way both architects and a developing nation approached architecture and nation building with respect to their common aims. However while Post Independent era was about enumerating the traditional culture of our Indian society; to deliver an understanding about what India means as a nation, the present reflects a shifted focus to an architecture that fails to contribute to determining their physical structure – such as highways, flyovers, telecommunications networks, etc. Architecture now appears purely statistical and target oriented – ticking boxes off a checklist such as GDP, adhering to IGBC norms etc. Since economic liberalization, architects are largely pandering in unprecedented ways; creating something that could be termed as Architecture of Impatient Capital. This is precisely why it is time we question the nature of focus that architecture must have towards nation building in a contemporary Indian society.

The transitional affinity towards development of structures largely inclined towards economic profits creates architecture that is whimsical, industry driven, and focused on materialistic pursuits. This then, by extension, is a critical issue for practioners due to the flimsy reflection that gets mirrored by the society as well as highlights the blaring truth of architecture largely being driven by patrons than architects; latter often being muted in most contexts. This transformation in the nature and role of architecture is a clear reflection of the arc of political change within the nation.

The reality of real estate being the today and a probable tomorrow of architecture need to be elaborated, researched and explained just like the architecture of Pre Independent India so as to negate vice forces for the greater good of our built and natural environment. And it is here that the role of architectural education comes into via developing appropriate capacity and training the novice architect generation in the various streams of engagement with practice, etc. Media also has equivalent role to support the former as well however sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case for now.

To genuinely dissect the issues that we are dealing with now would be that the present architecture appears to be fluctuating between an extreme sensitivity to the past or a complete denial/rejection of it. This further becomes a matter of dilemma where architects become confused on how best to address a project that suits the present context but at the same time not compromising the culture and heritage of our nation.


Architecture is both art and science intertwined with yet again a plethora of subjects which offer architecture a powerful edge over others. Modernist architecture style was always based on the foundation theory that good architecture can lead to a better society. Yet a controversial argument would be that the two need not be necessarily linked and former can be an image of latter. However there is a reason why it is quoted that architects have a social responsibility and good architecture is an offspring of the same. Because architecture is extremely capable of affecting the social quality of living. Architects have the power to decide the type of impact that architecture can have on a society. If doctors have the power to give or take life, then architects have the power to determine the quality of life an individual may lead in this world. This is exactly why we as architects must be careful of the power we wield over my other professions in comparison.

Robert Kaplan once quoted 'We shouldn't try to fix a whole society; rather, we should identify a few key elements in it, and fix them.' And this is exactly that architecture must be about. Without use of force, a sense of shared identity, culture and community must be created to bring cohesiveness within a society. Only this will help build a strong and stable nation. And if done right, architecture is truly capable of the same. The entire concept of nation-building stands failed when the nation fails to reflect its cultural heritage and instead relies upon foreign embodiments.


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  • Dalvi, Mustansir. “Building the Nation: What’s Shaping India’s New Architecture?” Scroll.In, 15 Mar. 2016,
  • Jubany, Helena. “The Social Responsibility of Architects.” DesignIntelligence, 29 June 2011,
  • O.Sproul , Anthony. “Architecture’s Role in Nation-Building: The Palestinian National Library.” Https:// 0c923edd118e/Etd_pdf/7e2a884fa17e918d9b1cbd67ed78158b/SproulArchitecturesroleinnationbuildingthepalest_col.Pdf, 2003,            
16 December 2021
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