Architecture: Using Buildings to Enhance Your Setting

A is for Architecture
A is for Architecture

Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!

The first thing we’re going to look at in the A-Z’s of Worldbuilding is architecture.

I’m going to use a loose definition of architecture, rather than a strict one, and we’re going to look at all structures in general. 

So, when it comes to structures, keep these things in mind:

  • What resources are available for building? Trees for lumber, stone, or just earth?
  • What is the ground like? Is it suitable to build on the ground or underground? Will a foundation be required? Or will buildings need to be elevated, either in trees or on stilts?
  • How can the geography of the building location be used to the builder’s advantage? Are there caves that can be used as homes? Hills in an area that tends to flood?
  • Is there water nearby? No one is going to settle permanently where water can’t be found.
  • Is it hot or cold, wet or dry?

Certain accommodations will need to be made depending on the seasonal temperatures.

Hot climates mean people will either build underground, or build so that plenty of air can circulate. Builders in cold climates will build in locations where there are windbreaks. Wet climates require more durable materials so they do not deteriorate too quickly.

  • Are there any styles of homes reserved specifically for certain members of society? Think ‘castles’.
  • Are there any shapes considered significant to the culture’s history? Is there a reason why a society would only construct square buildings, or even round ones?
  • Are there any shapes considered sacred to the culture’s history? Are these shapes embraced for use and placed in homes or at crossroads as talismans? Or are they shunned, considered taboo, only for use in temples or shrines or by royalty?
You might like this post, too:   Plants: The Beauty & Function of Nature

Don’t limit yourself to only these considerations, though.

This is only a sampling of the sources you can draw on to make your world look as unique in your reader’s mind as it does in yours. Don’t be afraid to look at real life cultures in similar climates and settings as your story – see how they’ve built things, especially palaces, temples, and cathedrals. You certainly can build everything from scratch, but you don’t by any means have to.

Original photo used in header image by veggiegretz.

My intention is to turn the A-Zs of Worldbuilding into a workbook after the Challenge is finished. If you’d like to stay notified about that, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. Please make sure and select the A-Zs of Worldbuilding option!

51 thoughts on “Architecture: Using Buildings to Enhance Your Setting

    1. You’re welcome! There’s so much I honestly haven’t even touched on (or CAN touch on without writing a massive book) in this series, but I can at least give people a start!

  1. Great post. Climate and terrain are the two things that I regularly forget about unless they play a major role in the scene. In truth even when they are not necessary they can really enhance the immersion of the reader. I try to imagine what I would see, touch and hear in my character’s spot.

    A-to-Z Challenge 2014
    Mighty Minion of Co-Host Nicole Ayers
    @Safireblade on Twitter

    1. It’s pretty common for whoever’s sitting across from me at NaNo write-ins to look over and see me typing with my eyes closed, because that’s what I’m doing – seeing the story from my character’s POV and figuring out what’s around them.

  2. I’ve been taught to use all your senses in your descriptions and I believe that this can be utilized when you describe your surroundings too. Architecture has a certain feel to it. Touch it. is it rough? smooth? Sometimes, if it’s ruins it can have an earthy smell. I wouldn’t recommend tasting it, though. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your views! <3

    Jamie Dement (LadyJai)
    My A to Z
    Caring for My Veteran

  3. I have arrived on a really warm sunny day which is not always the case in Britain, A good start well done and I will call again soon.

    I am patrolling backstage sort of so like a certain White Rabbit from another world I must go. . . . .

    Rob Z Tobor

  4. Great post!!! I will say that when I world-build, I really get crazy. There’s one series where we live inside the tentacles of a giant jellyfish. Also, we have a shortage of trees for the lumber of our ships which fly and need something lighter anyway, we use dried sea weed. Who knew that stuff was so durable?

    All great points! All great points!

  5. Wonderful theme and a great start! Worldbuilding is so incredibly complex, and I’m looking forward to hearing tips from another person in love with SF and the craft but not necessarily entrenched in the industry.

    1. Thanks! I do keep up with the industry, since I want to be picked up by a publisher one day, but I definitely don’t make my writing decisions based on the industry. I write what I love, period!

  6. Took me a while to figure out how to find your A to Z posts, but I’m here now, albeit a day late!
    Although I don’t write stories where world building is a requirement, it’s still handy to get tips on what to look out for. Thanks for sharing your vast knowledge. 🙂

  7. Like sd, I don’t world-build in my writing, but I thought the questions were good to think through why the existing architecture in my existing worlds is as it is – little details that can be tossed in for authenticity.

    1. While non-spec-fic writers don’t have to worldbuild as extensively as those who do write speculative fiction, there’s still little facets that apply to all writing! Glad you’re finding them! 😀

      Thanks for stopping by, Shel!

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