What is architecture? Architecture is the process of planning, designing, and constructing buildings and other structures.
This definition is the simplest way to explain what architecture is. But architecture is much more than this simple definition.
First, let’s talk about why we need to answer this question.
Why is it important for every architect and architectural student to know what architecture is?
The answer to “What is architecture?” will significantly impact your architectural career.
It’s a very challenging question to answer. It’s a philosophical question with no absolute answer, but it does make you think. How you answer this question will affect your career.
- If you are an architect, answering the question, “What is architecture?” will assist you in outlining your designs.
- If you are a student, looking for different definitions of architecture will help you eventually come up with your own.
Let’s step back and look at “What is architecture?” from different points of view. This search might help you figure out what architecture means to you.
Architecture beyond its basic meaning
What is architecture? Architecture is more than just steel, concrete, and glass.
Architecture can be a way of thinking, a problem-solving method, or a narrative of a civilization’s past, present, and future. That’s why architects have different ideas about what architecture is and how it should be defined. Also, the average person’s view of architecture can vary from person to person.
We can define architecture as something thoughtfully made by people for people.
Let’s dig deeper into what this means.
Architecture by People
Different architects have very different ideas about what “architecture” means.
Some architects, like Peter Zumthor, think that architecture is an experience for people. Zumthor’s style of architecture might be the best example of phenomenology, which is based on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and says that sensory and experiential qualities are the most important in architecture.
So, Zumthor thinks that the only way to understand a building is to experience it in person.
Know more about Peter Zumthor
The style of architecture by Tadao Ando might be the best example of the “haiku effect.”
Ando’s style emphasizes nothingness and uses empty spaces to show how beautiful simplicity is. His work is known for its creative use of natural light and structures that follow the natural shapes of the landscape.
Architects can even disagree about what makes a good design.
Watch this short film about how Tadao Ando uses light in his architecture.
“Less is more” was a phrase Mies van der Rohe often used.
To him, this meant that design is beautiful when it is so simple that it can’t be made any simpler and still serve its purpose. This philosophy is vivid in his architectural designs, like how he made the “German Pavilion” for the International Exposition in Barcelona in 1929. You can’t take even one of the building’s walls.
Find out more about the German Pavilion in Barcelona
But some architects, like Robert Venturi, have the opposite view. Venturi used to say, “Less is boring.”
With which architect do you agree?
Architecture for people
Architecture has the power to change communities and people’s behaviors.
It can change how people interact with each other, make businesses more productive, help communities and neighborhoods, improve health, and even lower crime rates.
Architecture is here to solve the problems of humanity. For instance, architects must determine how to deal with potential disasters, such as climate change, and existing problems, such as areas with low living standards.
So, we can say that architecture is building with thought to help people live better lives.
And that is the difference between architecture and a building.
What is the difference between architecture and a building?
If architecture is simply a building, what makes it a building? The skilled laborers who spent countless hours putting up the building?
If that were the case, then everything constructed would be considered architecture, which not even the most skeptical person would say. It’s obvious to say that architecture is more than just building structures.
So, what makes architecture different from a building?
My opinion is that architecture is different from other buildings in three ways:
- In architecture, we design the building with human interactions in mind.
- In architecture, the form should convey a specific concept or philosophy.
- In architecture, we think about the time factor, the context, and the purpose.
To sum up, I would say that architecture is the design of a building with thought and intention.
So, in this sense, is architecture a form of art?
Is architecture an art?
Architecture is not completely artistic, so I would not call it pure art, which it is not. But I would not call it “pure science” either.
Architecture is significantly more than both of these. Architecture is the right balance of art and function. To make great architecture, you need to find a way to combine artistic sensibility with scientific methods when designing buildings and their surroundings.
Architects research and develop ideas for buildings on multiple levels using scientific methods.
These levels include understanding the environment, history, style, and infrastructure of the area, as well as figuring out what the users need in terms of interior products, structure, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, technology, and security systems.
The orchestration between art and science requires discipline in both lateral and linear thinking.
- Lateral thinking utilizes analogies and links ideas across a spectrum to create something creative.
- Linear thinking is a step-by-step idea that keeps us grounded and leads to a specific result.
What are the differences between architecture and interior design?
As an architect who owns an interior design studio, here’s how I see it:
Architecture is like designing a car for a specific use, and interior design is like painting and decorating the car from the inside to make it personalized, aesthetically pleasing, and more optimized for us to use.
An architect would spend time thinking deeply about what makes a car a car and what the true purpose of this specific car is.
On the other hand, an interior designer would consider how to make the car’s interior more pleasing to the eyes and how to maximize the space inside for the passengers. What kinds of fabrics should we use? What colors look good together? and so forth
Now, let’s ask a question that might help us figure out what architecture is. How many kinds of architecture are there?
The whole society, not just architects, decides on different types of architecture based on the needs of its various institutions.
Architecture can take many shapes and serve many different purposes. Architecture can be for the people, like with public buildings; it can show power, like with religious buildings; it can show wealth, like with luxurious homes; or it can be for the community, like recreational architecture.
The architect’s job is to figure out how to reach the goals set by society.
So, let’s imagine that a perfect society exists (Utopia). How would architecture look in such a society?
Architecture in Utopia
What is architecture in the ideal world (Utopia)? I think in a utopia, architecture would be more accurately seen as a part of mental health since it plays a significant role in society’s happiness.
And bad architecture would be seen as a crime against the mental health and spirit of the people in the long run. If we better understood how bad architecture affects our lives negatively—how it can make us feel terrible and lead us to be our worst selves—we’d make it illegal.
But so far, no politician who said they wanted to make cities more beautiful has been elected or even thought to be sane. So, this idea has stayed in Utopia until now.
Architecture also lets us see the past.
Architecture as a record of humanity
What is architecture? Architecture can serve as a little time capsule of human history. It tells us what people thought, felt, and believed, as well as what they feared and worried about throughout history.
Architecture tells the story of a civilization’s past, present, and future. Architecture is how we learned about ancient civilizations. For instance, how did we know about the Pharaohs and their culture? We knew about their civilization from their pyramids, temples, and other buildings.
And, just like ancient Egypt, this is all that will remain of us in the far future.
Architecture in the future (The world of AI)
AI is starting to change various fields drastically, including architecture.
For example, a new wave of architects—I’d call them “Midjourny architects”—uses tools like Midjourny to create design ideas based on written prompts. But I wouldn’t call it architecture because, as we’ve already discussed, architecture is much more than just a building or a design.
Architecture takes a lot more work in terms of development, optimization, and considerations.
But the field of AI has a lot of promise for architecture’s future.
For now, you can use AI as a great starting point for your design projects and use it to generate a starting point for your concept.
As a result, AI is shifting architects’ thinking from visual to written.
There is also virtual reality (VR), and the demand to design buildings in the VR realm is growing.
When making a building in virtual reality, there are no rules, restrictions, considerations, or bearing loads to calculate. The only thing that rules VR is imagination, so what kind of architecture will it make?
Architecture as a way of life
I would go one step further and say that good architecture is a way of life.
Everyone is the architect of their own life, and the project they are working on is their own life. What do you stand for? How do your habits right now affect your life in the long run? What skills do you need to build to get closer to your goals?
Find the answer to what architecture is. Think about your purpose, goals, and values, and then design your life around them.