What are some of the reasons to bother studying architecture history?
Well, to answer this, ask yourself: why bother studying history?
The answer to the questions above is ambiguous, certainly.
Still, if you were to gather a sizeable sample of people and ask for their thoughts, you will probably get responses that range from “to better understand our past” to “preparing for the future.”
When you slip in the word “architecture” into the question, you actually aren’t changing the fundamentals of the topic much at all because architecture is indeed a fundamental part of history.
Think about ancient Egypt.
What comes into your mind’s eye? For most, the pyramids will be looming above all else.
Think about the Romans.
What do you see now? The Colosseum?
Now the Incas – are you seeing that famous citadel resting high in the mountains, Machu Picchu?
Clearly, architecture is an essential component of history. There are numerous reasons why architecture history is important and forms part of an architecture study program.
1. It Defines Us
It is difficult to deny it; architecture is the soul of civilization, eternally accompanying its presence, standing as a testament to many a fallen society for millennia after the designers of such buildings have long passed.
To archaeologists, these structures are a godsend – troves of valuable information that brings human society a little bit closer to its heritage.
To the naturally inquisitive, they are a source of awe and insatiable wonder.
To architects, they are a source of inspiration and creativity.
Studying the role of architecture in human society is pertinent to understanding all of the fundamental ways we have interacted with – and continue to interact with – the buildings around which our lives revolve.
2. It is Indicative of Culture as a Whole
Many civilizations have spilled incredible amounts of time, resources, and creativity into their structures.
This dedication to them states no less than an infatuation with the purposes, symbols, and religious significance they have held.
Sure, countless structures such as ancient homes, barns, and other function-based buildings have long turned to dust.
However, the structures that stand – such as the Pyramid of Giza and the Colosseum – provide incredibly valuable data to historians, enthusiasts, and architects alike.
Data about cultures that are the most relevant characteristics of their collective identity, from pastimes to government styles and religions.
3. Thousand-Year-Old Structures That Still Stand – Something Was Done Right
History does tend to have a bias for which buildings it wants to show us. Naturally, today’s society is only allowed to look at the best and strongest buildings humans have built.
Those that were not so structurally sound?
Well, the world may never know.
While construction technology today is lightyears ahead of what humans had access to thousands of years ago, those buildings that have transcended the test of the elements to remain such iconic structures today were clearly made by highly intelligent people.
Reverse engineering these structures through non-destructive methods is a priceless way to reconstruct some of the design elements that have enabled them to stand unfettered against the toils of time.
4. Architecture History is a Source of Inspiration for Modern Architects
Innovation is built through incremental improvements of what already exists; architecture history is a lot like art history in this respect.
There is a world of difference between cave paintings and 19th-century realism paintings. Similarly, there is a world of difference between the Pyramid of Giza and the Burj Khalifa.
Although the Pyramid of Giza is a marvel in its own right, the more impressive attribute and its contemporary buildings are what they have done to inspire further development in subsequent structures.
Architects can always expand upon existing buildings they like by emulating desired attributes and modifying other details to invent entirely new and compelling designs.
5. It is a Timeline of Trends
Because the history of architecture is a timeline of trends, those trends can be extrapolated to help predict the future.
Architecture is one of those occupations that is continually adapting at the forefront of a changing world. It is crucial to understand your place in society as your job’s nature rapidly fluctuates with every passing year.
What types of buildings will be in high demand twenty years from now?
How are designs evolving to satisfy changing needs and tastes?
To answer these questions, critically analyzing the development of architecture over the past century will serve as an incredibly useful skill in predicting the future.
6. It is Fascinating
This point may seem like an unnecessary conclusion to the list of reasons to study architectural history. Still, it is a reason that everyone should be able to get behind regardless of the desired career path.
If you do not intend to study architecture history for any of the reasons above, you should still consider learning a thing or two about it for the sake of your satisfaction.
It is a subject that will pull you deeper and deeper the more you learn about it until you realize that it is an ocean of inherent human truths, tales of thousands of societies’ successes and downfalls, and complex manifestations of limitless creativity.
It is a vast subject to learn about, so pick a few of your favorite civilizations and start from the beginning. You will find yourself intimately involved with the subject matter after a short while.
After all, it is a narrative.
Whatever subcategory you choose to learn about, there will be war, prosperity, victory, and defeat – just like history; because architecture history is history. It is into the things people build that they place their ideologies.