How Architecture Informs Culture and The Way We Live

Nov 8, 2017 3:30:00 PM / by Irene Kanthan


Thaddeus is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A BFA major at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, he is studying abroad in London this semester.

In this week's post, Thaddeus pays special attention to the architecture and culture in the cities he visited over his fall break abroad.


After my fall break, I wanted to expound a bit more on some things I have learned as an American (or U.S. Citizen) abroad. While being in London has definitely been a culture shock, I have always felt as though this city, in particular, is still rather familiar to me as if I was traversing a city in the United States.

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Fall2017_From Thaddeus Kaszuba - Amsterdam - People riding about the Canals to roam the city.jpg

While Amsterdam is typically known for being a safe haven for more "adult activities," one friend of mine referred to it as an "adult theme park," the city itself still has a historical core that can be found in its architecture. The U.S. has had much more opportunity to expand rather than centralize due to the vast space the country encompasses. However, visiting a city where efficient use of space is of vital importance was an extremely eye-opening observation for me. There has always been a stigma in the U.S. that everything in Europe is smaller - or people live with less "things." But I have noticed that cities on this end of the world are not small, but rather strategic. Every piece of the city's layout worked around these canal routes as a way in which to move supplies quickly as a shipping lane for the city, and for other adjacent countries. In the U.S. we don't have the same sort of strategic use of space, and many of our cities in history have been based on sea imports and exports.

I think our idea of architecture and city layouts in the U.S. are inspired by many cultures, and yet not one culture dominates the way a city looks. This sometimes gives cities in the U.S. an eclectic mix, as well as the complication, of finding one aesthetic to establish one way of how a city operates. Now, of course, cities in the U.S. have been built by many of the same origin cultures that I am experiencing on my travels, but there is a different adaptation to U.S. architecture, rather than a uniform aesthetic that you may find in one European city.

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Fall2017_From Thaddeus Kaszuba - Barcelona - Mountain architecture in Montserrat.jpg

In Barcelona, the city itself I learned was built around (and actually above) the same schematics as the first ancient city on the Catalan coast. This inspired much of the architecture to have a very gothic and historic feeling to it. The farther outside of the city you travel, the more modern houses and businesses take hold of the aesthetic, in such places like Montserrat for example. But Barcelona itself seemed to be a modern city with modern progressive people, living within the same architecture in which the city has established dating back to B.C.

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Fall2017_From Thaddeus Kaszuba - Barcelona - A mix of old and new plaza architecture at Placa de Espanya.jpg

I am always curious in examining architecture because it very often informs the culture of the city in ways that regular holiday tourists might not be conscious of. And I think visiting cities in Europe has given me a profound respect for how architecture and people interact with one another throughout their day.

This experience of understanding culture and architecture has been a breath of fresh air from examining cities in the U.S., which are much more concerned I think with dazzling you, rather than creating spaces where people can thrive, or take great pride in being outside and interacting in the city. Over here, home seems to be the city itself, rather than where you dwell within the city.

Thanks Thaddeus!

Thaddeus's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA London Program

Topics: London, England, Barcelona, Spain, Cultural Differences, Fall Break Abroad