Q+A: Is there still room for nationalism in contemporary architecture?

Jun 13 • Q+A • 1370 Views • 2 Comments on Q+A: Is there still room for nationalism in contemporary architecture?


Two individuals, from various professional backgrounds, and from different parts of the globe, give answers to our question of the week. Plus a book which answers the question.


Shalini Pereira is an interior design and architectural consultant based out of Gurgaon, India. She also writes about design, food and travel through her blog All Things Nice:


I believe good architecture needs to interact with everything around it as well as the society for which it is built. It should go beyond aesthetics and function and create a dialogue with society, otherwise it is static. It is because of this, that I think Nationalism is still relevant in contemporary Architecture.


This is especially important in developing countries such as India, because the built environment, especially public and institutional buildings, can be used to reinforce national identity, national pride and also represent what we as a nation are striving to become. A physical representation connecting us with our past as well as our future, highlighting our successes as well as our failures, and symbolising the hopes and dreams of the growing middle class and its determination to succeed and make its mark.


The idea of nationalism in art and architecture has been around since the nation’s struggle for independence and has taken two forms, one somewhat more revivalist in nature, aiming to conserve tradition and the past, while the other more modernist form which rather superficially incorporated ‘Indian’ elements that would be easily recognisable and appeal to the masses. This was nationalism in its infancy. But in India, which was a colonial state for so long, there are many facets of its society’s psyche that are at play, such as, westernisation, modernisation as well as a desire to preserve cultural heritage. As India matures, a definitive move from a blind acceptance of western style, to a growth of a national consciousness is being seen and felt. I hope that with time, a more intelligent, introspective form of architecture will develop that can capture the imagination of Indian society.


In India we have a lot of historical monuments that pay homage to the past, but we need more buildings, whether institutional, government or even museums that capture the essence of India today and of tomorrow. And this is where I believe nationalism in architecture is so important.


Michael Smith is an Architect and blogger based in Melbourne Australia. He writes at The Red and Black Architect:


Within an increasingly interconnected planet and the continual ‘globalisation’ of industry, societies and culture, it is easy to suggest that nationalism is quickly becoming irrelevant as an influence upon contemporary architecture.  


In the Australian context, nationalism within Architecture is very difficult to isolate. As Architect Robin Boyd famously wrote in his book the Australian Ugliness, “There can be few other nations which are less certain than Australia as to what they are and where they are.” This criticism from the 1960’s still rings true over half a century later.   


Recently a competition was run to design a hypothetical new official residence for the Prime Minister of Australia. The winning projects were all very well resolved modernist rectilinear forms, made from locally sourced, but visually generic materials. There was not much readily identifiable as Australian to the eye. However in my view, in specific government buildings such as this one, nationalism and the ideals from the nation it represents, should be a fundamental pillar.


Within the vernacular residential architecture I am far more of an advocate for regionally grounded design rather than conforming to a nationalised ideal. The perfect Australian example of this is the Queenslander house. This building formula responds to the tropical Queensland climate by elevating the house, and incorporating timber louvres and slats to maximise the cooling breezes.


In countries where a predominant national style occurs routinely, it tends to be due to either the country being of a small and consistent geography and culture, essentially a single regional architecture, or having a highly restrictive or dictatorial government. As an extreme example of this North Korea restricts its citizens to having one of 28 approved hair styles, I can only imagine that the housing options are just as nationalistically uniform.


In summary, yes there is room for nationalism in contemporary Architecture, but it should almost always take a back seat to regional considerations, not only geography and climate, but also the cultural environment.


For the Canadian perspective, a sample chapter of the book  “Architecture and the Canadian Fabric”  by Rhodri Windsor Liscombe has been posted.  Mr.Windsor Liscombe is Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The sample chapter can be read here. Special thanks to Mr.  Windsor Liscombe and Kerry Kilmartin of the UBC Press for allowing us to post these links.



So what do you think?

Is there still room for nationalism in contemporary architecture?

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