The art and science of designing and constructing buildings, or otherwise architecture, has always been perceived as a symbol for the achievements of humanity. Achievements driven equally by the master skills of the architects and the wallets of their patrons. Since ancient times, architecture was flourishing thanks to the patronage of the wealthy and powerful. And those who financed the work or art, also directed its main design in accordance with their own taste and yearning for fame. Thus, architecture unites the work of many renowned and unknown master builders where each of them used his own language to convey a message, dictated by a benefactor. And history preserved many names written in gold letters, but it is often the architects’ work to have a significant impact on society and culture and to become an inseparable part of the identity not only of cities and countries, but of whole civilisations.
And while for the most part, spoken languages still relate to quite specific ethnic groups and geographic locations and up until roughly 100 years ago, specific regions, too, had their distinct architecture, the recent trends of urbanisation, overpopulation and industrial boom forced the modern concept of constructing practically, resulting in regional architecture blending into a globally universal style of building. Colonialism began to usurp ‘native’ architecture and in the mid-20th century the so-called International Style, which characterises with plane rectilinear forms, absence of decoration, and use of steel and glass, became an architectural Esperanto.
And while the architects of the last decades designed a world of sky scrapers to accommodate the needs of the modern society, creating a neutral and functioning style and often ignoring the history and culture of the city or country where it appeared, the current trend in architecture calls for the return of cultural identity by ornamentation and playing with the forms. And if the form is the language of architecture, then one of the most beloved and at the same time challenging ones – is the curve, with its mystery interpreted by architects of various cultural backgrounds.
And modernism, nevertheless its unified style, still has its prominent examples.
The JFK Trans World Airlines (TWA) terminal, designed by the great Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and built in a very expressionistic style to set the standard for how modern jet travel was perceived back in the Golden Age of travel.
Another modernist concrete poet – the prolific Brazilian artist Oscar Niemeyer – devoted his work to the curve as a symbol of the female form and his stunning buildings have become a part of the cultural heritage of the world on behalf of Brazil.
And let’s not forget the very “queen of the curve”, as named by The Guardian, – Dame Zaha Hadid – the Baghdad born Iraqi-British artist and visionary who became the first woman to be awarded with the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
The fact is that every work of architecture, from Ancient temples to even modern skyscrapers, conveys countless meanings to different people over an identified number of years, just like a novel, a poem, or a language does.
And as a recent study by Columbia University linguists predicts a plausible future of less than 90% of today’s languages enduring the next century, architecture might actually happen to play a key role in preserving cultural identity.