How Culture Affects Architecture

Culture Well Preserved

I live in a one-storey house owned by my grandparents. This house is in a compound and was originally identical to all the other houses in there. However, as the years went by, the houses had undergone a couple of changes. Some owners built themselves a second floor and one of our neighbors turned their front garden into a veranda. According to Amos Rapoport, as written in House Form and Culture, “People with very different attitudes and ideals respond to varied physical environments”.  This means the differences in the changes we did to our houses may be because of the different cultures or values of each family. He mentioned that the house is not a physical structure alone but more like an institution with purpose. As such, its form and organization “are greatly influenced by the culture milieu to which it belongs.” So why is our house as it is today and why is it different from the others in our compound? There are many factors affecting architecture and surely, culture is one.

Our family has a culture which I believe is also similar to those of other Filipino families’. As a middle-class family, we don’t normally purchase fancy furniture, appliances, or decorations. Instead, we value old items my grandmother inherited from her deceased relatives. This resulted to a conservative and traditional style of our house with the dining table made of Narra wood, the old wooden piano, wooden sala sets, chests, antique vases, cupboards, and curtains.

The relationship between each member of our family is very close. One of my aunts still lives with my grandmother even though she already has a child, so does my father. This is the reason the small house was renovated to add one more bedroom, one more living room, a breakfast nook, and a bigger kitchen.

My grandmother is very generous and hospitable, values every one of us adapted as well. We often accept visitors and even let my cousins stay over whenever they like. This is probably why we have two extra beds in the house. We love to entertain guests, the reason we have three living areas and two dining sets in our humble home. One of our practices is the grand celebration of Christmas and New Year: our relatives come over to our house, we serve lots of dishes, and organize programs.

Also, everyone in the family is a music lover. There is a big space in the center living room we often regard as a stage. When we were little, we were encouraged by the elders to perform for our visitors, one-by-one we showed our talents on that “stage”. Of course, we value everyone’s achievements very much. Our living rooms are adorned by shining trophies and other tokens my cousins won during the days they joined singing contests. We also have a wall covered with graduation pictures of every member, which most Filipino families have as well.

One thing that differentiates us from most Filipino households is that we are not very superstitious. We also don’t have lucky charms on our doors or such, but we do have a large painting of the Last Supper and an altar which most Catholic Filipino families have as well.

In my opinion, the factors that greatly affected the structure and design of our house today is the way we interact among ourselves and the way we are rooted to our family’s past. I realized that we never really updated the style of our house to something more futuristic to go with the trends. This only serves as a proof how strong our family culture is and how it was successfully preserved and passed on to other generations down to mine.

Now come to think of it. The organization of space in our house is generally centralized, with the largest living room at the center and the rest of the spaces around it. Maybe the reason we don’t have a second floor is that we wish to stay close to each other, and a second floor creates a certain kind of barrier. Maybe we don’t have a veranda because no one has to “go out” and inner spaces connected to each other already suffice to the kind of relationship we have. Indeed, socio cultural forces are the primary considerations when modifying the form of a building. We could have just left the house as it was originally. However, like what Rapoport said, the purpose of a shelter or house is “the creation of an environment best suited to the way of life of a people.” The form and concept of our house, I believe, perfectly reflect our family’s culture and way of living.


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