Saturday, March 15, 2008

42. What is architecture?

This week I went through a selection of interviews by some famous and slightly famous architects. As I read, I looked at how they defined architecture during the course of these interviews. Below are some excerpts from those interviews where they answer the question "What is architecture?" . Though they are all taken out of context, it gives a candid insight into how they think about architecture and what they believe it to be.


I think architecture is about ideas in the first place. You don’t get to design until you have an idea. That idea has to be somewhat comprehensive. There’s always a client asking for a building. If you’re an architect, you’ll design the building. But if you’re a dutiful architect, you first have to question why the building is required. The architect has to take responsibility to participate in the rationale of the building and not just to design. The architect can either say we don’t need this building and walk away, or maybe we need a different kind of building. That’s why I don’t have a lot of clients.
Architecture requires the critical questioning of many things—it’s not just a thoughtful carrying out of a client’s wishes.

architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, by definition. But, as a multi-disciplinary field, our ideas have to be comprehensive; I think architects – at least those inclined to understand the multi-disciplinarity and the comprehensive nature of their field – have to visualize something that embraces all these political, economic, and social changes. As well as the technological. As well as the spatial.

I wrote some years back, architecture is a political act, by nature. It has to do with the relationships between people and how they decide to change their conditions of living. And architecture is a prime instrument of making that change – because it has to do with building the environment they live in, and the relationships that exist in that environment.


Architecture is handcraft. Architecture is art. Most of all architecture is framing human life. With architecture comes a great responsibility of trying to understand the human nature.

I’m convinced that architecture has to be functional, durable and beautiful. Furthermore it’s very important to me that my architecture reveals a clear and understandable concept – tells a simple story. I don’t believe that “less is more”, but I enjoy when simple and beautiful geometrical shapes solve all challenges in a project. Architecture doesn’t have to be difficult and I don’t think that innovative architecture has to look like something exploded.


What is architecture really? It is taking our world view, how we exist, how we deal with each other in a civil society, and it concertizes it, it makes it permanent, It makes it evident. The social act and the aesthetic act comes together.

Architecture is a public act: It can only finally be about our social space: connections between people, a public space, the connective tissue.


Architecture is a sensuous art, because it is perceived with the senses.
If you like a house or an inner space, perhaps a living room or a church, it is something you feel, not something you think. Of course, the mind comes into play too, as it is through experience that we understand how buildings work, and so there is a certain empiricism at work. But the most important thing is emotional understanding. This cannot always be rationalized or summoned at will. It is often just there.

Architecture is partly based on the sense of touch. Materials used in architecture are the equivalent of notes for the composer. I work with all materials, and like them all. The interest lies in finding ever-new ways to put the notes together – to achieve a specific final sound.


I consider architecture a discipline, not a profession. Considering the classic periods of architecture, architecture was more or less confined to the sacred and political power. Architecture represented a spiritual device and now it is considered that it should merely ornament our lives.

For me architecture’s role is to elevate the profane with the sacred. If you succeed in making architecture, the sacred has to prevail. That means that in the most profane or the most pragmatic program, the program always has to succumb to this period of the sacred whether it is a small house, a cathedral or a temple.


Architecture seems to be entrenched in two equally unfertile fronts: Either naively utopian or petrifying pragmatic.

We believe that there is a third way wedged in the no mans land between the diametrical opposites. Or in the small but very fertile overlap between the two. A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective. In our projects we test the effects of scale and the balance of programmatic mixtures on the social, economical and ecological outcome. Like a form of programmatic alchemy we create architecture by mixing conventional ingredients such as living, leisure, working, parking and shopping.


Architecture is formed by forces outside the architect's control, You're at the mercy of endless vagaries. There is the constant back-and-forth between the intended idea and the reality.

Architecture is the most materially cumbersome and geographically fixed form of cultural expression. How can it represent a moving target, such as new media or other urgent cultural and social issues?

SCOFIDIO: Architecture is everything technology is not: inert and geographically fixed. The best role for architecture, outside of smart design, is to be a supple shell for the continuous updating of the building's nervous system.

Architecture is nothing other than special effects. With Blur, the technology was extensive, expensive, and very complicated--both hardware and software--but our intention was to sublimate the technology into only and simply effect. It was like a magic trick. A great effect that took a lot of artifice--and few asked how it was done.

Architecture carries with it an external program. We do, however, always find ways of integrating our independent agendas into the program and the work.


Pink Pumpkin said...

There are so many definitions for "architecture." However, many people don't realize the complications involved practicing the profession...

Anonymous said...

Thank you!
I'm writing the Thesis about Italian architecture and Ambrogio Frangiolli - Italian decorator, architect and
painter. Your post helps me to understand something.. :)

Anonymous said...

Very insightful post

Centennial College said...


Useful information about "Architecture" . But just check out an Architecture Program

Anonymous said...

very nice effort ... hope dis is taken a step further..

Anonymous said...

These passages are all strong, but I'm disappointed that you neglected to provide their sources.

Conrad Newel said...

Sorry about that, if you need any specific sources just let me know and I can see if I remember where I got them from and send it to you.