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Architecture as a Social Practice Essay

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Updated: Feb 9th, 2021

There are several reasons why architecture is a social practice. The first reason is that architecture is the means through which societies organize spaces. Many of the functions that underpin a society’s social functions take within the spaces designed through architecture. This spans all socio-economic functions and political functions. Secondly, architectural design tends to follow the general forms described by the opinion leaders in society. The opinion leaders influence the commissioning of architectural projects, which in turn define the way that society views itself. It is very easy to know the social organization of a society by observing its architectural choices and uses.

For instance, a society defined by financial segregation will have areas frequented by the wealthy and those patronized by the poor. Thirdly, architecture is an emblem of the social aspirations of a society. For instance, the statue of liberty speaks volumes about the aspirations of the people of America. In almost all countries, the landmarks are architectural compositions speaking about the aspirations of the people there.

The fourth reason that makes architecture a social practice is that it defines the languages of societies in very distinct ways. Due to the size of architectural projects, there is a tendency to use the process of design and construction metaphorically to present ideas. One of the commonly used phrases, “drawing board”, has strong roots in architecture, but is a popular phrase used to mean planning or strategy phase.

Architecture cannot afford to disengage from the social forces shaping society such as globalization. What will drive the social project in our current context will be the forces of globalization expressed as commoditization, or the forces of affirmative action which will seek to right historical wrongs and bring to balance the competing social and financial interests. If architecture pursues commoditization, where its impact only reflects the desire of the bourgeois, then it will participate in the social project as an agent and an opinion leader, but as a collaborative force.

On the other hand, a purely affirmative stance will reduce the participation of architecture to activism, which again will not be ideal. The best disposition for architecture is to engage in a social project by referring to the rich heritage of this discipline and rediscovering the values that underpinned the practice of architecture.

My role as a designer in the world at large transcends the technical outputs that are primary to design. Technical outputs include the design solutions to the technical challenges that the client presents. They manifest in blueprints, bills of quantities, and technical proposals. I see my role as a social practitioner because of the influence of architecture and design in defining the use of space. There are social and economic consequences for every work of design that are usually not clear at the beginning of a project. However, there is an increasing need to figure out how my work as a designer affects society. I am aware that there are social, economic, and cultural consequences of design.

I see myself as someone who shapes not just physical forms, but also mental perceptions through design. In a sense, this is the creation of reality, a truly transcendent role for any person. Designers can create very new cultural patterns based on the uses and perceptions they instill in people that interact with their design. They also open up new opportunities and make the world a different place, and hopefully a better one.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Architecture as a Social Practice." February 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/architecture-as-a-social-practice/.

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