This building is the former headquarters of the polymer corporation Union Carbide. In a contemporary documentary, it's presented as a democratic architecture because it was based on interviews with the employees and all of the office rooms have the same area and thus, everyone can regulate the environment of their room.

  1. Would a native speaker understand it's a documentary coming from the time when the building operated as the headquarters? (not contemporary as in modern)

  2. Is it OK to use architecture to refer to a single design like in my sentence?

  • 1
    In the first sentence, is "build" part of the name of the polymer corporation? If not, why is it there?
    – mjjf
    Mar 3, 2021 at 21:21
  • architecture does not take a, here. contemporary generally means of our time. This building was built by polymer manufacturer, Union Carbide, and was formerly its headquarters.
    – Lambie
    Mar 3, 2021 at 21:54
  • 1
    @mjjf sorry, that was a mistake
    – Probably
    Mar 4, 2021 at 14:36

4 Answers 4


It might be deciphered as you intend it, but it would more likely be misinterpreted. “Contemporaneous” would be better than “contemporary,” but rewriting and using more informative tenses would make your meaning clear. There is nothing formally wrong with your “democratic architecture,” but it seems odd to me.

This building used to be the headquarters of Union Carbide. A documentary from that time presented it as an example of architecture democratic in spirit because ....

  • 5
    Maybe "presented as an example of democratic architecture" would work as well.
    – mjjf
    Mar 3, 2021 at 21:23
  • It certainly would. I was not trying to be exhaustive. Indeed, I do not assert that the phrase actually used is wrong. I just found the bare “democratic architecture” somewhat jarring. Mar 4, 2021 at 1:14
  • Yep, I know you weren't trying to be exhaustive, and I agree the original isn't necessarily wrong. I left that comment as another option for the asker.
    – mjjf
    Mar 4, 2021 at 5:22
  • I would have to argue that (as a native Englishman and so British English) that to my ear contemporary is the much better word to use in this situation, I have seen & heard it used in this exact context several times whereas I don't actually remember ever seeing the word contemporaneous before and as such the use of it would be jarring.
    – EdHunter
    Mar 5, 2021 at 14:35
  • @EdHunter I admit my English is American English, and you may be correct that my preference may be due to that fact. My primary point, however, is that what is left unclear is what is contemporary with what. It might refer to the time of speaking, to the time of occupancy, to the time of design. Either word is ambiguous on its own. Mar 5, 2021 at 15:23

In this context, "contemporary" means at the same time or nearly the same time. In this case, at the same time as the building was being designed, or possibly shortly after it was named. So if the building was named in the year 1960 (I don't know the year, but just to have a year) then within a small number of years of 1960 would be contemporary. The idea is, the people who were asked for their input in the documentary would have been personally involved in the event. And the event would be recent so their memories would still be fresh.

Your use of the word architecture is correct.

  • 3
    I don't know about the use of the word architecture. How many examples can you find of a building being called "an architecture"?
    – stangdon
    Mar 3, 2021 at 21:33
  • 1
    The sentence where it is used is clearly referring to the design.
    – puppetsock
    Mar 3, 2021 at 21:37
  • 2
    You are correct about the meaning of “contemporary,” but that still leaves ambiguous about the meaning of “same time as;” it might mean the time when the building was used as a headquarters or the time when the quotation was spoken or the time when the documentary was released. Mar 4, 2021 at 1:18
  • 1
    @puppetsock If it's referring to the design, it's bad writing, because it says "This building is the former headquarters of the polymer corporation Union Carbide build. In a contemporary documentary, it's presented as a democratic architecture..." It only looks like it can refer to This building or Union Carbide.
    – stangdon
    Mar 4, 2021 at 11:29
  • The problem is not the "it"... it's fairly clear that phrase refers to the building. The problem is in describing the building as an architecture. It could be "an example of democratic architecture" or "having democratic architecture" (and the latter is still a bit off... better would be something like "democratically conceived architecture" or similar, whatever is representative of the point being made in the contemporary documentary)
    – Anentropic
    Mar 5, 2021 at 17:22

This building is the former headquarters of the polymer corporation Union Carbide. In a contemporary documentary, it's presented as a democratic architecture because it

The confusion here comes from the word "is". I would use past tense.

In a contemporary documentary, it was presented as a democratic architecture

This is regardless of whether the documentary still exists.

Alternatively: In a documentary of the time, it was presented

  • 1
    It still is the former headquarters. :) What you probably mean to say is that although you would understand what I mean, I could use more clues that the "contemporary" time ties to the 80's when it was designed and built, right? :)
    – Probably
    Mar 4, 2021 at 22:26
  • 1
    Where you're using "it's" which expands to "it is", you say "the building is currently presented as a democratic architecture (sic)" whereas you want to say something on the lines of "the building was at that time presented as a democratic architecture". This is about the "is" v/s "was" issue. Calling a single building an architecture is another problem which I have discussed separately in my answer.
    – Pranab
    Mar 5, 2021 at 18:10
  1. The word contemporary primarily means "belonging or occuring to the same time", so the usage is correct.

Having said so, "contemporary" is not a word in daily usage outside academic circles, so for example a native speaker who is not otherwise highly educated might misinterpret it to mean "belonging to the present time" at first glance.

  1. "This building is presented as a democratic architecture." seems a bit off. Perhaps you mean the design of this building was called "democratic architecture"?
  • This clarifies that you are referring to the architectural design and not the building itself, and
  • it was referred to by this term in a documentary in the past, as opposed to today.

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