We Shape Our Buildings and Afterwards, Our Buildings Shape Us

We Shape Our Buildings and Afterwards, Our Buildings Shape Us

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optical illusion africa african

What do you see? What is above the woman’s head? What element is the backdrop? Researchers showed this image to people from East Africa, almost all of those took part in the experiment said the lady was balancing a box on her head, in an African culture where there are few angular visual cues, the group of people is seen sitting under a big tree. On the other hand, Westerners are used to corners and rectangular architecture, thus they are more likely to visualize the group of people in an indoor space and to interpret the rectangular shape above the lady’s head as a window opening.

The studies showed the influence of different culture and environment can have an effect on our visual perception, this theory was first explored by Robert Laws, a Scottish missionary working in Malawi, Africa, during the late 1800’s.

Winston Churchill’s epic statement, “We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us,” is a fantastic observation of the architectural phenomenon, illuminating the fact that physical architecture is a static artifact and continues to transform us long after construction.

We Shape Our Buildings and Afterwards, Our Buildings Shape Us

Coupled with Churchill’s famous quotes and the illusion above, does a person who comes from a third world posses the same creativity in architecture compared to say, someone whom was brought up in a historically rich city such as Paris?


  1. Gravatar
    December 11, 2007

    Roman / Doric columns ARE an eye sore. Especially when they coupled with wooden houses. It’s like living in an architectural birth defect.

  2. Gravatar
    Jonathan Gross
    February 14, 2008

    To you they may be anachronistic architectural elements, but to someone from Malaysia, they could be stand-ins for trees–very important in creating a sense of safety.

  3. Gravatar
    Shi Ying
    February 26, 2008

    Not to forget, to the ‘tasteless’ the diameter of each of the columns are equivalent to their belly size, thus, reflecting how rich they are. That’s why my friend admitted her dad needs 6 roman columns in their driveway.

  4. Gravatar
    September 16, 2008

    roman column is not a part of malaysian culture. So there’s no reason why we should be proud to have it in malaysian houses.

  5. Gravatar
    May 18, 2009

    amazing…we have the same problem here in the Philippines…I thought the colonial mentality that western architecture is much preferred than our very own tried-and-tested, sustainable tropical architecture is only a problem found in my country…I see that there is also this type of problem in other places as well…I am an architecture student in the Philippines struggling against this mentality…

  6. Gravatar
    Tommy S.S.Eisenring
    August 5, 2009

    I am a doctoral candidate in sociology at UNM Makassar, Indoensia. The thesis/ dissertation I am writing is about “social construction by architecture”, which is a part of study of architectural sociology. This article remind me of what Chirchili had ever said 64 last years, in case of debate among parliamentarian about whether they need to build a new building or renovate the parliament building what demand by war: ” We shape the building, but finally the building is shaping us”. Interesting article, cladding

  7. Gravatar
    December 6, 2009

    This foto from the slum near a luxury building was taken in my city, Sao Paulo, Brasil. It’s really a classic foto, very often used when talking about social… inequality?! sorry, not very good english…

  8. Gravatar
    sara khaled
    March 18, 2010

    you can’t say every country in the 3ed world beause i think egypt have alot of historically rich city such as giza,louxer,alexandria

  9. Gravatar
    August 24, 2010

    This is really quite an interesting post, but talking about ‘social inequality’ of that photo from Brazil, I feel really astonished that someone would put a luxury hotel with pools on each level/balcony next to a slum. And the thing that’s really on my mind, is how come they haven’t given anything to the slum. Yet, for all i know, i could be completely wrong.

  10. Gravatar
    jeneish justus
    September 16, 2010

    who is the architect of the building in sao paulo?who is the architect?

  11. Gravatar
    October 3, 2012

    we have that phenomenon in indonesia, in my current place, theres a hotel and shopping center side by side with slum area, which is literally very close that my friends dorm was “below” the buiding

  12. Gravatar
    Gustavo Poggio
    March 15, 2014

    Does a person who comes from a third world posses the same creativity in architecture compared to say, someone whom was brought up in a historically rich city such as Paris?
    Genetically of course! And of course on what’s both of them think Architecture is.

    • Gravatar
      Tengyuen Ngan
      March 16, 2014

      Yup, their definition of what is architecture is different.


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