Architectural Identity

Michel Clemence Leon Martens

Published Jul 14, 2020

What makes architecture fit its context, and what makes architecture, some may say, be misplaced? The reason why architecture relates with its context is, for one, partly based on its pure aesthetic expression. What does the building communicate to the observer, and is this the same “language” as the building’s context? The context of a building is defined by multiple characteristics, such as the landscape it is in, as well and other buildings surrounding it. The connection of a building with its context is often clearly visible. It is even clearer when a building disconnects with its context, at which an observer may feel that something is wrong. This distinction between a building and its context on a visual level results from a distinction on deeper level: the level of identity.

Identity is what connects people from a certain area, region or country. The similarities they share makes them different from other people of other areas, regions or countries. This identity can therefore be seen as a historical development of an area, region or country. Certain historical events may have influenced these people, and therefore everything that is created by them.  Architectural identity is just one part of this idea of overall identity. Influenced by societal events on a political, economic and cultural level. In addition, this is given strength by more tangible aspects such as building materials and building techniques. For example, Art Nouveau buildings –an architecture with a strong expression– first developed in Belgium. This was the result of the fast industrialization of the country, combined with certain developments in society, as Belgium was recently declared as an independent nation. This movement of liberation and anti-conservatism, mixed with new material-techniques such as cast-iron and glass, identify Art-Nouveau architecture. Although this architecture may have disconnected with its direct context, aesthetically, it did connect with the context on a deeper level, with developments in society and in industry.

Similar developments are currently taken place with the use of 3D concrete printing. This innovation represents not only the use of digital fabrication and technical innovations, but also the philosophy of the current design-spirit. Aiming to increase construction efficiency while decreasing material-use and the labor required to build. An interesting feature of 3D concrete printing is the fact that it can be applied in multiple countries and regions independent from their identity. This implies that this new technique is part of a more global identity, which is wider spread than only an area, region or country.

Nevertheless, it is not the hope that similarities in architectural expression, and similarities in the current perception of design will result in one, overall, identity. It is differences in history, culture and ideas which determines variety in architecture. To remain related with context as well as with new material-techniques, elements that define a region’s identity need to be taken into account, for now and in the future, in order to relate to the past.


Cambridge Dictionary, 2018. “Identity.” [Online]  Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/identity [last accessed 2018].

Compaqnet, 2018. “Art Nouveau.” [Online]  Available at: http://users.compaqnet.be/architectuur20/artno/index.htm [last accessed 2018].

Design Studio Architects, 2013. “Design Studio Architects.” [Online]  Available at: http://designstudioarchitects.co.uk/what-is-architectural-identity-part-i/ [last accessed 2018].

Jashari-Kajtazi, T., Jakupi, A., 2017. Interpretation of Architectural Identity through Landmark Architecture: The case of Prishtina, Kosovo, from the 1970s to the 1980s. Frontiers of Architectural Research, 2017 (vol. 6, no. 4), pp. 480-486.

Jensma, F., 1994. Art Nouveau in Brussels; De 'Flower Power' van de Negentiende Eeuw. NRC, 17 Februari.