The Future of Identity

Globalisation and Architecture

Identity image

Introduction

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It is reasonable to believe that individuals and communities identify with architecture and urban form, but this fact in itself is unremarkable. What is not clear, however, is how significant architecture and urban form are in the totality of how individuals and communities shape their identity in the current condition. By seeing architecture and urban form as a part of the greater phenomenon of identity we can advance our understanding of the impact that changes to buildings and places have on communities.

Identity is the foundation to a sense of belonging. It is the means by which people locate themselves as members of communities and groups and how they define their place in society. Identities are not singular, nor are they stable. New patterns in population movement, developments in transport and advances in electronic communication have loosened traditional ties between residence and identity. There has been a move from the “community sociality”, (A. Wittel 2001), of physically localised connections, to an increasing “network sociality”, (A. Wittel 2001), of informational, ephemeral and often temporary associations. Further to these classifications, global capitalism can be said to have created identities of “resistance”, (M. Castells 2004), – forms of identification more explicitly defined and proactive than previous generations. Any study of how architecture and urban form participate in the formation of identity must be seen in the context of this shifting global condition and must include a speculation on its future direction.

There is a lack of research to date that tackles new forms of cultural identity and looks at how these changes are transforming the shape of British towns and cities – through specific examples of real streets, squares, buildings, etc. – as they change in light of globalising forces. We often hear in the news about problems of mass immigration, cultural tensions, fluctuating identities, community breakdown, etc., but almost never about how the design of buildings and cities might be contributing, resisting or mediating these changes, or how they in turn are coming to be changed themselves.

Aims and Objectives

Building Futures aims to carry out an in-depth research project with the following aims:

  • Discover how significant a role the built environment plays in the formation of personal and community identity.
  • Discover the effect of immigration, network socialisation, ease of travel and the spread of global capitalism has on place attachment.

The project seeks to discover both the significance and nature of architecture and urban form as a part of the identity of individuals and communities. It will question whether ‘place attachment’ is still a valid concept, and should look in detail at our changing notions of cultural identity, as well as concepts of place identification and community belonging, through examination of sample locations and communities in British towns and cities. The aim is not merely to look at new building proposals and urban interventions, but also at how existing and historical urban forms are being occupied and transformed by different groups for different purposes as a result of globalising forces.

Key Questions

  • What concepts of cultural identity are indeed useful or viable today?
  • What or who are the major influences on the construction of ‘place identity’ in local, regional and global contexts?
  • What kinds of further changes are globalising forces likely to provoke?
  • How is our built environment likely to change as a result?
  • Can traditional notions of public space and urban form still hold any sway in the formation of individual identity, or have they become redundant?
  • How far can stylistic decisions help to embed architecture into a community identity?
  • Is ‘community’ indeed still a valid notion given the emergence of such complex cultural and globalised contexts?
  • What kinds of opportunities are now being made available in these complex cultural contexts that may not have been available previously?
  • What can individuals or community agencies bring to bear upon the shaping of the built environment within a globalised context?

Contact

For further information about the project, its progress or to enquire about being involved, please contact us at BuildingFutures@riba.org

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