Bridging the Gap: Lessons Contemporary Design Can Learn from Traditional Architecture

A fascinating interplay exists between tradition and innovation in the evolving realm of architecture and design. While contemporary design often seeks to push boundaries and explore new horizons, invaluable lessons can be learned from the time-honoured principles of traditional architecture. Traditional architecture, having been adapted over many years in specific regions, has evolved to respond effectively to climatic conditions. Elements such as courtyard planning and window-to-wall ratios are born from centuries of adaptation and understanding of local climates. Drawing from these principles, contemporary design can create structures that are not only visually appealing but also environmentally responsive. Let’s delve into what contemporary design can glean from its traditional counterpart.

Sustainability and Eco-consciousness:

One of the most significant lessons contemporary design can learn from traditional architecture is the ability to make the most of local materials and resources. Adopting frugal strategies inspired by traditional architecture can significantly impact the sustainability of contemporary structures. By embracing these inherently eco-conscious practices, contemporary architects can create visually striking, environmentally friendly, and energy-efficient spaces.

For instance, at the Gangtok Hotel, we use a blend of locally sourced materials such as indigenous stone, coupling them with modern construction techniques, and passive cooling strategies, which reduce environmental impact and enhance the overall quality of the built environment.

Inspired by the region’s rich cultural heritage, Gangtok Hotel’s design ethos intricately weaves elements of local architecture into its facade. The hotel features a blend of locally sourced materials and modern construction techniques. From the intricate wooden jaalis to the distinctive battered walls and a harmonious interplay of wood and indigenous stone, every architectural detail pays homage to indigenous craftsmanship, fostering a deep sense of connection with the local culture.

gangtok hotel
Gangtok hotel

Cultural Identity and Belonging:

Traditional building practices are closely linked to a community’s cultural values, beliefs, and lifestyles. This deep-rooted connection to heritage adds richness and authenticity to architectural design. By investing time in studying and understanding local culture and vernacular architecture, we can design buildings that are deeply rooted in their context. This aspect is especially important in public buildings to inculcate a sense of inclusivity and belonging.

The Soaltee Hotel’s renovation in Kathmandu showcases a deep respect for Nepal’s building traditions. By incorporating elements like Newari windows and intricate woodwork, the design pays homage to Nepal’s architectural legacy while finding contemporary expression.

Craftsmanship and Detailing:

Additionally, traditional architecture emphasises craftsmanship and attention to detail. Many traditional buildings showcase exquisite craftsmanship, intricate ornamentation, and meticulous construction techniques that exude timelessness and elegance. From intricate wooden jaalis to carved wood motifs, both Gangtok Hotel and Soaltee Hotel showcase the beauty of traditional craftsmanship. Contemporary architecture can build on the tradition of paying attention to the smallest of details, adding a layer of sophistication and refinement to the overall design aesthetic.

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Soaltee Hotel Basement
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Soaltee Hotel Basement

Human-centric Design:

Traditional architecture places a strong emphasis on human comfort and well-being. It prioritises human-scale design and a harmonious relationship with nature. Contemporary design can benefit from this human-centric approach by creating spaces promoting well-being and strong connection to the environment.

The Ritz Carlton in New Delhi exemplifies this through its central courtyard inspired by traditional Indian architecture. This space, surrounded by lush greenery and water features, creates a serene and inviting gathering atmosphere. Contemporary designers can prioritise human-centric design, creating spaces that promote well-being, connectivity, and a sense of community.

Ritz Carlton Internal Courtyard
Ritz Carlton Internal Courtyard

Engaging Communities in Master Planning:

Traditionally, building was a community activity that catered to the needs of the entire community. Today too, engaging with communities and understanding their aspirations is crucial to ensuring culturally rich designs. Culturally suitable master planning focuses on creating environments that enrich lives and foster a sense of belonging. By crafting experiences that connect people to their roots and to each other, master planning becomes a tool for creating value and enhancing the human experience.

The dialogue between contemporary design and traditional architecture offers many opportunities for mutual enrichment and inspiration. By embracing sustainability, cultural heritage, craftsmanship, and human-centric design from traditional architecture, contemporary designers can create aesthetically pleasing spaces that are socially, culturally, and environmentally responsible spaces. Through this synthesis of innovation and heritage, architecture continues to evolve and shape our built environment for the better.