Architecture is often a reflection of culture and as it is plain to see, architecture varies from culture to culture such that as you travel around the world you see things change from one style to the next.

Some boundaries are obvious. You fly over some mountains and bam...totally different place. But more often that not its a more gradual change.


  1. Is there a field of study related to architecture and how it changes between cultures (and how it acts where said cultures overlap)?

  2. Is there a way to model this along imaginary/fantasy world borders?

  3. Are there any resources you would suggest to dig deeper into this topic?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As a side note, in reality, most borders are imaginary $\endgroup$
    – Seth
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 20:25

3 Answers 3

  1. The closest field of study I can think of is called vernacular architecture. It is the idea and study of how non-professional architects design and build structures in their local region throughout the world. There are also some outlying studies and books written about anthropology and architecture, which may be worth looking into, but I wouldn't say there is a specific field of study about this. I may be wrong.

  2. This is tricky because there are so many factors that affect the spread of culture (architecture). Vernacular architecture relies a lot on the climate, geology, and materials available in a given area. For example, you wouldn't likely see adobe homes in a temperate forest, or igloos in a non-arctic region, even if the two areas are bordered and culture can freely spread between them. Likewise, the political nature of the culture matters greatly too. Are they nomads, with no permanent settlements? Then you might see their architecture, such as it is, bleed into surrounding areas more rapidly. How militaristic is the culture? How forcefully would they impose their culture on conquered poeples? Alexander seemed to impose Greek culture to those he conquered, more so than the Romans imposed Roman culture. Mongols were both nomads and militaristic, but that doesn't mean that everyone they conquered moved into yurts. Any models to consider the spread of architecture would have to consider many such factors.

  3. I haven't seen the inside of this, but this Atlas of Vernacular Architecture of the World seems like an interesting resource. You can also search online for other maps of vernacular architecture.


Architectural history, like most human history, is largely tied to human migration patterns. Traders bring home ideas and aesthetics as they travel. Conqueror's impose architecture as they colonize new realms. Romantic flashbacks as old sites are re-discovered and mirrored again (Think the greek/roman feel of many older european museums and government houses)

There are lots of resources on architectural history and influences freely available on the web, and a lot of it is very interesting.


Urban Planning / Urban Design

Keep in mind that almost any older city is a blend of different cultures. Tunis was Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman, Traditional Arab-Islamic, and Modern, and there are elements of all of those infused. Istanbul is another great example.

Well as an urban planner in the Gulf, we had to do just that. Our goal as part of Abu Dhabi 2030 [skip to about 2:00] was to create an Arabic city of modern cultural heritage. This included blending the modern structures of the West and Asia with traditional heritage design of the Bedouin.

The answer to your boundary lines is that there likely won't be physical boundaries. You start to see a mix of the two cultural architectural traditions throughout the urban fabric. For example, a metro station that uses mashrabiya design from the tenth century for passive shading in the desert heat. Elsewhere along the beaches we instilled the designs of traditional dhow (fishing boats) sails into the covers of buildings such as the Formula One Race track.

The latter is very much 'modern meets tradition,' but this can also happen with two parallel cultures. The gulf culture prefers high separation to public and private space. So tall modern complexes had unique blends of design alterations to continue this blend of west meets middle-east.

To learn more about this particular combination of cultural design smash-up (Western vernacular with Arabic colloquial), you can visit the projects we did. Otherwise, any Urban Planning book (my favorite is Cities of Tomorrow) will give you a historical perspective of how the architectural and spatial vernacular of cities were arranged.


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