Architecture is the art and science of
designing buildings. A wider definition would include within its scope
the design of the total built environment, from the macrolevel of town
planning, urban design, and landscape to the microlevel of furniture and
product design. Architecture, equally importantly, also refers to the
product of such a design.
According to the earliest surviving work on the subject, Vitruvius'
On Architecture, good building should have Beauty (Venustas),
Firmness (Firmitas) and Utility (Utilitas); architecture can be said to
be a balance and coordination among these three elements, with none
overpowering the others. A modern day definition sees architecture as
addressing functional, aesthetic, and psychological considerations.
However, looked at another way, function itself is seen as encompassing
all criteria, including aesthetic and psychological ones.
Architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, including within its fold
mathematics, science, art, technology, social sciences, politics,
history, philosophy, and so on. In Vitruvius' words, "Architecture is a
science, arising out of many other sciences, and adorned with much and
varied learning: by the help of which a judgment is formed of those
works which are the result of other arts". He adds that an architect
should be well versed in fields such as music, astronomy, etc.
Philosophy is a particular favorite; in fact one frequently refers to
the philosophy of each architect when one means the approach.
Rationalism, empiricism, structuralism, poststructuralism, and
phenomenology are some directions from philosophy influencing
The importance of theory in informing practice cannot be over
emphasized, though many architects shun theory. Vitruvius continues:
"Practice and theory are its parents. Practice is the frequent and
continued contemplation of the mode of executing any given work, or of
the mere operation of the hands, for the conversion of the material in
the best and readiest way. Theory is the result of that reasoning which
demonstrates and explains that the material wrought has been so
converted as to answer the end proposed. Wherefore the mere practical
architect is not able to assign sufficient reasons for the forms he
adopts; and the theoretic architect also fails, grasping the shadow
instead of the substance. He who is theoretic as well as practical, is
therefore doubly armed; able not only to prove the propriety of his
design, but equally so to carry it into execution".
The difference between architecture and building
is a subject matter that has engaged the attention of many. According to
Nikolaus Pevsner, European historian of the early 20th century, "A
bicycle shed is a building, Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of
architecture". In current thinking, the division is not too clear.
Bernard Rudofsky's famous
Architecture Without Architects
consolidated a whole range of structures designed by ordinary people into
the realm of architecture. The further back in history one goes, the
greater is the consensus on what architecture is or is not, possibly
because time is an efficient filter. If like Vitruvius we consider
architecture as good building, then does it mean that bad architecture
does not exist? To resolve this dilemma, especially with the increasing
number of buildings in the world today, architecture can also be defined
as what an architect does. This would then place the emphasis on the
evolution of architecture and the architect.
Architecture first evolved out of the dynamics between needs (conducive
environmental conditions, security, etc.) and means (available building
materials and construction technology). Prehistoric and primitive
architecture constitute this early stage. As humans progressed and
knowledge began to be formalized through oral traditions and practices,
architecture evolved into a craft. Here there is first a process of
trial and error, and later improvisation or replication of a successful
trial. The architect is not the sole important figure; he is merely part
of a continuing tradition. What is termed as Vernacular architecture
today falls under this mode and still continues to be produced in many
parts of the world.
Early human settlements were essentially rural. As surplus of production
began to occur, rural societies transformed into urban ones. The
complexity of buildings and their types increased. General civil
construction such as roads and bridges began to be built. Many new
building types such as schools, hospitals, and recreational facilities
emerged. Religious architecture retained its primacy in most societies.
Architectural styles developed and texts on architecture began to be
written. These became canons to be followed in important works,
especially religious architecture. Some examples of canons are the works
of Vitruvius and Vaastu Shastra in ancient India. In Europe in the
Classical and Medieval periods, buildings were not attributed to
specific individual architects who remained anonymous. Guilds were
formed by craftsmen to organize their trade.
With the Renaissance and its emphasis on the individual and humanity
rather than religion, and with all its attendant progress and
achievements, a new chapter began. Buildings were ascribed to specific
architects - Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci - and the
cult of the individual had begun. But there was no dividing line between
artist, architect and engineer, or any of the related vocations. At this
stage, it was still possible for an artist to design a bridge as the
level of structural calculations involved were within the scope of the
With the consolidation of knowledge in scientific fields such as
engineering and the rise of new materials and technology, the architect
began to lose ground on the technical aspects of building. He therefore
cornered for himself another playing field - that of aesthetics. There
was the rise of the "gentleman architect" who usually dealt with wealthy
clients and concentrated predominantly on visual qualities derived
usually from historical prototypes. In the 19th century Ecole des Beaux
Arts in France, the training was toward producing quick sketch schemes
involving beautiful drawings without much emphasis on context.
Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution laid open the door for mass
consumption and aesthetics started becoming a criterion even for the
middle class as ornamented products, once within the province of
expensive craftsmanship, became cheaper under machine production. Such
products lacked the beauty and honesty associated with the expression of
the process in the product.
The dissatisfaction with such a general situation at the turn of the
twentieth century gave rise to many new lines of thought that in
architecture served as precursors to Modern Architecture. Notable among
these is the Deutscher Werkbund, formed in 1907 to produce better
quality machine made objects. The rise of the profession of industrial
design is usually placed here. Following this lead, the Bauhaus school,
founded in Germany in 1919, consciously rejected history and looked at
architecture as a synthesis of art, craft, and technology.
When Modern architecture first began to be practiced, it was an avant
garde movement with moral, philosophical, and aesthetic underpinnings.
Truth was sought by rejecting history and turning to function as the
generator of form. Architects became prominent figures and were termed
masters. Later modern architecture moved into the realm of mass
production due to its simplicity and economy.
However, a reductive quality began to be perceived in modern
architecture by the general public from the 1960s. Some reasons cited
for this are its perceived lack of meaning, sterility, ugliness,
uniformity, and psychological effects.
The architectural profession responded to this partly by attempting a
more populist architecture at the visual level, even if at the expense
of sacrificing depth for shallowness, a direction called Postmodernism.
Robert Venturi's contention that a "decorated shed" (an ordinary
building which is functionally designed inside and embellished on the
outside) was better than a "duck" (a building in which the whole form
and its function are considered together) gives an idea of this
Another part of the profession, and also some non-architects, responded
by going to what they considered the root of the problem. They felt that
architecture was not a personal philosophical or aesthetic pursuit by
individualists; rather it had to consider everyday needs of people and
use technology to give a livable environment. The Design Methodology
Movement involving people such as Chris Jones, Christopher Alexander
started searching for a more inclusive process of design in order to
lead to a better product. Extensive studies on areas such as behavioral,
environmental, and social sciences were done and started informing the
As many other concerns began to be recognized and complexity of
buildings began to increase in terms of aspects such as services,
architecture started becoming more multi-disciplinary than ever.
Architecture now required a team of professionals in its making, an
architect being one among the many, sometimes the leader, sometimes not.
This is the state of the profession today. However, individuality is
still cherished and sought for in the design of buildings seen as
cultural symbols - the museum or fine arts center has become a showcase
for new experiments in style: today Deconstructivism, tomorrow maybe
Buildings are the most visible
productions of man ever. However, most of them are still designed by
people themselves or masons as in developing countries, or through
standardized production as in developed countries. The architect remains
at the fringes of building production. The skills of the architect are
sought only in complex building types or those seen as cultural and
political symbols. And this is what the public perceives as
architecture. The role of the architect, though changing, has not been
central and never autonomous. There is always a dialogue between society
and the architect. And what results from this dialogue can be termed
architecture - as a product and as a discipline.
From: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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