Extending the Role of Architecture in Preserving and Representing Cultures Across Communities

By Bruce Ahirwe

Mentor: Aaron White, History of Art and Architecture; funding source: Laura and Martin Bendetson Endowed Summer Scholars Fund


Culture is preserved through various media such as events and recorded resources. However, little is the preservation practiced through architecture. due to overlooking the relationship between architectural design and the cultural representation, buildings’ architectures tend to miss opportunities for deeper exploration and individualized experiences beyond simplistic design concepts. Challenging the contemporary architectural designs of critical and important spaces such as libraries, memorial sites, etc., this project seeks to explore and extend the role of architecture in preserving and representing different cultures across communities.

But, what is culture?

My interpretation treats culture as a symbolic system that individuals acquire from their community, by isolating its elements, specifying internal relationships among the elements, and characterizing the whole system as a social legacy (their story). In my understanding, culture can be defined as a collection of emblematic objects, traditions and values that describes a certain community and serves as a medium of connecting members of that

Culture is acquired through tangible and intangible heritage from precedents/ancestors. It can codify acceptable conducts in the community, and serve as a guideline for language, behaviors, and values, of which combination will keep the story alive amongst the members of the community. Culture is demonstrated through historical events and traditional symbols like memorials and ancestral remains. Expressive cultural elements such as music, art, traditional dance, beliefs, rituals, tool usage, food recipes, clothing and housing architecture contribute extensively to the representation of the story, the uniqueness of the culture.

I believe that the significance and importance of culture in every community is the rationale to preserve it throughout generations.
Thus said, there is a huge potential in using a powerful tool such as architecture to sustain cultures. This research project took upon the Rwandan culture to exercise this prospective. Architectural design ideas developed from the research were merged to create Kalinga Library concept. This project not only aims to utilize architecture to represent the Rwandan culture, but also to solve the problem of libraries deficit in Rwanda.

Undoubtedly, the role of architecture can be extended to represent and preserve cultures across communities by enhancing cultural elements for the architectural thesis and design development. This practice would contribute to defining unique and personalized architecture from community to community.

3 thoughts on “Extending the Role of Architecture in Preserving and Representing Cultures Across Communities

  • October 23, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    This is fascinating. I especially love the architecture shown in the poster! Also shocked to know that Rwanda has only one public library. But beyond that, I am intrigued by the proposed relationship between culture and architecture. I always believed that one is a part of the other, which this project, of course, says. But in a bigger sense, the architecture actually freezes the culture of the moment and “preserves” it. I’d never thought about it that way, an interesting point.

  • October 23, 2020 at 6:32 pm

    I really enjoyed this poster. Not only did you present a compelling argument about how architectural styles are often overlooked as a vehicle for various elements of culture, but proposed your own way of doing so with very well-executed and visually striking models. Great job!

  • October 23, 2020 at 7:10 pm

    You present such a strong argument for an often overlooked or forgotten part of culture symbolism: architecture and the design of useful space. I think it’s so interesting how visual motifs like Imigongo can be used in so many different ways, you mention clothing and wall art, and how these images build cultural cohesion.

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