Theory and Criticism
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity

My name is Naina Narsai and I am a masters' student in architecture at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

Last week we had our first thesis proposal presentation and my topic title is 'Architecture: The bridge towards Humanity'. It proposes and asks the question of whether the primary aim of architecture is not for the built environment to enhance the human mind and body: An architecture whose primary client is humanity and whose form celebrates all of humanity regardless of differences in age, gender, religion and race.

South Africa is a multi-racial country, so I think that the topic is relevant to the environment I live in. However, the lecturer that gave me feedback criticed my topic as being naive, idealistic and utopian. She maintains that architecture is a dirty business and architects do the best they can, and that what I propose is unattainable except on a small individual scale.

I would really appreciate any comments or suggestions that could help me move forward as I am quite confused at the moment.

Naina Narsai
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity

Anyone who says "architecture is a dirty business" must have had some severe disappointments in the past and very probably was 'naive, idealistic and utopian' herself.

The problem with proposing a thesis on "an architecture whose primary client is humanity and its form celebrates all of humanity" is that such a statement is idealistic and utopian (Utopia means 'nowhere').

The problem is that every human is born into (a) a specific culture with a specific language, (b) specific environment and (c) specific climate.

This means that you cannot have one single form of architecture for (a) the whole of humanity, or (b) for the whole of the world.
The Internationale Style was one attempt and it failed miserably, condemning and degrading millions of people to nightmare lives in "concrete chickencoops in the sky." And this "social engineering" is still causing serious cultural problems.

Yes, "Architecture for Humanity" (as an abstract), but you have to create separate forms of architecture for humanity WITHIN a specific culture, WITHIN a specific environment and WITHIN a specific climate.
Frank John Snelling
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity
hi Naina,

First of all, I feel this topic that you have chosen is very much the need of today, and to a large extent sensible, because there are few holy/religious structures where the thought of humanity is concerned.

The Lotus Temple in New Delhi is one such example where only one form which is so inspiring is a place for anyone and everyone. So in this case it does bridge the gap between different religions in and around the world. I feel today people have lost the sense of humanity of which architecture can, to a great extent, be the medium to bridge the gap and bring everyone together and closer to each other.

Also refer to he book "Sacred Architecture," where illustrations have been given from the past til today. It shows the way in which modern buildings are losing the essence of sacredness or rather deteriorating humanity. I think initially you could do more elaborate research on the need of such an architecture. Since I'm also doing a similar kind of research, I would be greatful if you could also help me, though my topic is a meditation resort.

My main concern is a place for enhancing humanity.

Bye, regards,

Shobha Narayan
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity
Thanks guys =+)

Yes, I agree that a single style of architecture cannot be sufficiently suitable for everyone as relevant architecture needs to be contextually located. After a lot of reading I have decided that perhaps in discussing a humane architecture with consideration to the place of architecture in today's society, my thesis will move in the direction of sustainability in the evryday life, with regard to creating a low key, accessible architecture that is easy to build and understandable for people in communities such as townships and areas that have become derelict.

Sustainability will consider the physical conditions to create environments that are cost-effective as well as the psychlogical impact of creating humane environments which also part of the idea of sustainable environments.

Shoba, perhaps you could look at 'Opportunities for relevance: Architecture in the New South Africa,' which deals with the result and necessity of architecture that involves community participation and contextuality; also:

'Spaces of Hope' by David Harvey

'Spaces of global cultures' by Anthony D. King

'Architecture For People: Explorations In A New Humane Environment' by Mikellides, Byron.

The theory of architecture: concepts, themes and practices, by Paul-Alan Johnson

Community and privacy: toward a new architecture of humanism by Serge Chermayeff.

These are some of the books I am looking at, I have not read them all yet but I hope they can help you in some way.
Thanks for the responses,


Naina Narsai
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity

A thesis for "Sustainable and renewable community architecture" may be what you want?
Frank John Snelling
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity
Hi Frank,

Yes, I think that is what my thesis is heading towards. The only problem in South Africa with using the word 'community' is that it immediately evokes the concept of township architecture- the predominantly black areas that were created during the apartheid regime.

My concern is that sustainable and community involvement in design and architecture does not necessarily have to be in a township, so I have found a site that desperately needs rejuvenation to better the lives of people living there, which is not located within a township =+)

Thanks; if you have any other suggestions, I'd be most grateful, thanks a million,

Naina Narsai
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity
Naina, Yes, I can understand that the word community could be linked to the all black townships of the Apartheid Era; so perhaps you can consider using the word village in place of community?

In essence, all urban areas are broken down into smaller units, generically called local communities; but they can be viewed as "urban villages". :)))

If you are thinking of rejuvenating a rundown area (look at my entry on the new topic "slums"). then you may like to look at the work of urban renewal which has been done in New York.

Recently, I found an MA Architecture course in (urban) Regeneration at the Oxford Brookes University in Britain which you may like to look into, if only to observe the parallels. :)))

There is a similar need for urban renewal in Britain today which is not being helped by the introduction of American style "out of town megasize shopping malls". But the most need for urban renewal comes from the rundown of factory industry in Britain.
Frank John Snelling
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity
Great, I will have a look at it, I've found a site which is actually quite large, with blocks of flats just plopped down surrounded by supposed 'green space'- but these spaces are not designed, hence they do not work as social spaces and are simply neglected, not used and littered.

The site fulfills the need for densification in terms of number of people living there, but is a completely inhumane environment.

My thesis will take the direction of community participation in attempting to rejuvenate an existing environment and create a socially sustainable space.
Naina Narsai
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity
Naina, Sounds like a good site to work with. The problem with blocks of flats surrounded by empty unused ground is that because the land is not directly attached to the blocks of flats other than at ground level; then the people in the flats above the ground floor are distanced or disassociated from the ground and so most people in flats regard the empty ground as nobodys' or no mans' land and so do nothing and the empty ground become wasteland.

I suggest "a mixed use" plan. İn other words have some spaces for all of the people in the flats for communual activities like sports or play areas; and other areas which are individual fenced off spaces for use as (flower or vegetable) allotments by any flat tenant who wants to grow things.

There also needs to be a collective agreement by all of the flat tenants to both respect individual areas and to help keep communual areas tidy. :)))
Frank John Snelling
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity
i m a student of final yr architecture.and i m doing my thesis on somewat related to wat u did.
my topic is basically "sustainable lifestyle"
it will be greatful if some help is needed from ur side
Ayesha Khan
Thesis: Architecture, the bridge towards humanity
Ayesha, A "sustainable lifestyle" is one which is social (as opposed to anti-social), moral (as opposed to amoral and immoral)and economic (as opposed to uneconomic).

I say this because in recent years the term "socio-economic" implies that morality is optional. A view that has been reinforced by the modern mantra that "All forms of behaviour (good, bad and ugly)are equally valid".
Frank John Snelling


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