Architecture and Style

By David Williams (he/him)

We encounter countless buildings throughout our life, each with its own style and a team of architects who made it possible. David Williams examines what inspired the designs of yesterday and what factors will shape the buildings of tomorrow.


Frank Lloyd Wright said “the mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our own civilisation.” Architecture is the art and technique of designing a building; each building has a different style with its own unique characteristics. And much like other arts, and culture itself, we can observe how architectural styles have evolved.


Religion has inspired numerous architectural styles. While the design of the building varies, the common characteristics of each place of worship is a prominent presence and large interior space for worshippers to gather. Other styles were marked by technological and engineering advancements. When the Roman Empire set up their villages and towns, they built aqueducts to bring water on cementlined channels with a slight downward slope into the cities for baths, fountains, and latrines.


Some styles were inspired by an architectural style from centuries before. Neo-classical and gothic revival were the dominant architectural styles of the 18th and 19th centuries. They took their inspirations from the classical architecture style of the ancient Greeks and the gothic styles of the 12th to 16th centuries. The reaction against the overtly decorative styles of the previous few centuries is what inspired modernism. Encompassing the famous sub-genres of Bauhaus and the international style, modernism emphasised that “less is more”. Modernist architects focus on the functionality of the building rather than what it looks like.


But what motivates an architect’s design choice today?


Architectural graduate Clare says that after they have seen the client brief and assessed the site, the rest of the design process is up to the architects. “Initial plans go through numerous stages of refinement, and we don't fully start to look at the overall volume until some sort of internal plan and site plan has been created.”

For me, emotional experiences are the ones that I remember the most so I'd love to be able to be in a place that I don't just remember for the way it looks, but for the way I felt in it too.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. “Pinterest is actually a great place to start if you have an overall theme of what the building is to be like.” Her favourite architect is Peter Zumthor. “I've always loved his work, and the way he uses atmosphere to generate emotion. For me, emotional experiences are the ones that I remember the most so I'd love to be able to be in a place that I don't just remember for the way it looks, but for the way I felt in it too.”


A key factor that helps architectural styles evolve is the context in which they find themselves being designed and built. One issue that will shape the design and construction of buildings in the future will be climate change. Buildings, both in their construction and operation, are major contributors to global CO2 emissions. According to Architecture 2030, a nonprofit group geared towards transforming the sustainability of the building industry, buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions – 11% of that being building materials and construction. We are all, regardless of where we live, going to bear the brunt of climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world is getting warmer faster than it should, and that will have drastic effects on our atmosphere and environment. We have already seen the kinds of impacts it is having on the world. In June and July this year, Canada and the North-western United States went through a crippling heatwave, with British Columbia recording a temperature of 49.6˚C on the 29th of June. In New Zealand, Westport recorded record flood levels, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate. These events are only going to get worse.


But, the architecture industry is beginning to change. Structures designed to bear the brunt of climate change and be more energy-efficient are gaining prominence. Earlier this year, in response to criticism, Te Kāhui Whaihanga/The New Zealand Institute of Architects stated “We agree that climate change and sustainability, alongside health and safety and our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, are some of the most urgent issues of our time, and that a high level of competency in these areas must be maintained by architects throughout their careers.”

“Te Kura Whare is an example of the Tūhoe connection with Te Urewera – nature. The disciplines and standards that emanate from nature to shape our people are brought to life in our Living Building,"

Clare says that architects are always looking years ahead to see how their designs will help lessen the impacts of climate change. “When an architect's main focus is climate change and sustainability, the main things they will consider is how a building will adapt to its environment – passive ventilation and technology allows for parts of a building to change under different circumstances. This is known as a ‘living building’.”


The best example of a living building in New Zealand is Te Kura Whare, the headquarters of Ngāi Tūhoe. Located in Tāneatua, an hour and a half outside of Tauranga, the building first opened in 2014 and has gone on to receive worldwide recognition for its sustainable and environmentally friendly architecture. It is net zero for energy and water. 100% of the water they use is collected and treated on site and all of their electricity comes from the 357 solar panels attached to their roofs.


In 2017, Te Kura Whare was officially certified as a living building by the International Living Future Institute, a non-profit organisation who is working to create an ecologically minded world through buildings, products, and communities. Kirsti Luke, CEO of Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua, said “Te Kura Whare is an example of the Tūhoe connection with Te Urewera – nature. The disciplines and standards that emanate from nature to shape our people are brought to life in our Living Building.”


Style can be influenced by anything. Architects throughout history have designed their buildings according to religion, material advancements, historical, and even personal inspirations. But, the biggest outside influence that humanity will face in the next 50 years will be climate change. As Clare told me, “The future is determined by what we do with it currently.” We must learn to live, design, and build within our means and not treat the world like an endless supply of resources. We must build a better world for those to come