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Culture, History, etc. and BUILDINGS (1)

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These days, a lot of what you hear about, or read about on the internet as justification for why a certain building is the way it is, is culture and history. These two words are repeated a lot in many architecture articles that get published. They are usually used in the sense that having a building mimic the culture and history of that particular location is a good thing and would create an excellent building that people could live in. Of course, people writing those articles don’t take the effort to explain how it exactly does that, nor why one would take such an approach to design buildings. This is beginning to irritate me.

I can understand that culture might affect a building via its internal planning – how spaces should be planned with respect to any cultural/privacy concerns that the client might have, or even some of its ‘form’ like the size of windows, their location, etc. which is perfectly fine. However, sadly, that is never the case. It is always “the form” or the shape of the building that is the executive presenter of whatever cultural “concept”, or any other type of silliness the project might use to explain its shape. 

As I was browsing ArchDaily – as I do – I ran into a project in The Philippines that  inspired me to write this. This project set a new record for me in the amount of non-sense any project text could possibly have.


The problem with this type of bullshit is two things. First it says a certain ‘thing’ about a project, which is not true, and cannot be proven, and it doesn’t try to prove it. And second, it doesn’t even try to make an explanation of why such a ‘thing’ should decide what this building must be like, or that using this approach would make up for a good building, or good architecture, or whatever the purpose of architecture is.

Design Concept:
Weaving as Core Concept

The Philippines is known for its hybrid of cultural identities. The descendants hailed from different countries, eventually forming intricate layers of diverse characteristics which now define Filipinos. Their distinctiveness, therefore, lies in that hybridity – they are a unique tapestry of interwoven cultures.

Weaving is a manifestation of coming together to bind, intertwine and strengthen materials. With the help of many interlaced threads, a single thread can form part of an extremely stronger fabric, as evidenced in many artifacts of vernacular culture: strands of Buri thread can form a banig; otherwise delicate Jusi Fiber can form an intricate Barong Tagalog; and a united people can overthrow unjust leaders. This symbolism of coming and standing as one– weaving together different parts to form a coherent and strong whole – is applied in different levels of design proposals to serve as a constant reminder of their collective strength as a country.

Ya ya. The article is giving us some information about threads, and how weaving more threads together makes a strong fabric. After that, it suggests that this ‘symbolism’ has been applied in ‘different levels’ throughout Buensalido Architects’ design proposal.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, one of the things with such prototypes is that they start explaining a certain idea that is supposedly connected somehow to where the building is located, or its use, and then go on to suggest that the building has been designed according to that idea.


In this case that ‘idea’ is weaving threads around each other. I think it looks more like a pile of pancakes than threads, which would have been impossible since you can’t have buildings made out of threads, people will fall out of it, and you don’t want that to happen.

Even if they really ‘looked’ like threads, were they really woven together to form a stronger fabric? And what does weaving threads together have to do with Philippine’s hybrid of cultural identities? Would such a design really remind people of that? Will anyone looking at the building spontaneously say “Oh look Sonny Boy, doesn’t that building remind you of the rich cultural identity our country has!”? No it would not, which leaves that whole article as nothing but a big lie.

The other thing about such prototypes is the question of why would you want to do that? Why would you think such an approach will make your building any better? Or that it will make people’s life easier and more enjoyable when they’re using the building? IT. WONT.

Architects who write such stuff about their buildings probably don’t believe in it themselves, but think they can convince client with it, take his money for doing such a stupid building, and get away with it. It’s a bit like my previous post, The Emperor’s New Clothes if you may. Somebody needs to be that kid and tell those people that they’re not helping humanity in any way at all, but are just wasting their resources.

I’ll cover other similarly misused concepts such as history and ‘hunting the past’ in the second part of this post. Until then.



  • I lol’d immensely while reading the concepts either for Burj Khalifa or that building in Philippine.. It’s just too stupid, that makes it so funny. Really nice article :3

  • says:

    Yes, it’s a very sad situation. Buildings should be able to justify their existence by what they are and what they do. Buildings that have no reason for existing can’t do this. What is this building anyway? Oh. ‘Artist’s [sic.] Center and Performing Arts Theatre’. Right. That explains a lot. It’s a cultural ornament anyway.
    But what’s I find even sadder, and even more condescending to clients, the architectural media audience and the general public, is when architects use such bullshit cultural associations to give a false sense of “belongingness” to buildings that were designed according to more logical, universal criteria anyway.
    My favourite example of this is Burj Khalifa. It’s a big building and, regardless of whether or not it’s necessary, sustainable, good-value, useful, or even pretty, Burj Khalifa is an outstanding technical achievement. Like many other supertall buildings currently being proposed, it has a triangular section so that wind loadings can be countered by a lighter and more efficient structure. It’s simply the best way of doing it and that should be all the justification needed.
    Instead, here’s what gets said about the structure.

    Organic Inspiration

    “Like petals from a stem, the tower’s wings extend from its central core. No stranger to Middle Eastern design, architect Adrian Smith incorporated patterns from traditional Islamic architecture. But his most inspiring muse was a regional desert flower, the Hymenocallis, whose harmonious structure is one of the organizing principles of the tower’s design.”
    I would be happier knowing that my building would not blow over, rather than knowing it looked like a plant and, in any case, “Dubai’s not the only place with plants”. I’m sure I’ve said that somewhere before. =)