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What is Architecture?

What is Architecture? How do we explain what architecture is as a job, a practise, and an idea? Recently, I’ve been talking a lot about this with coworkers, and I’ve also seen a few posts in different forums about it. So I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring and try to say what I think the real meaning of architecture is. I think this will be a controversial point of view. I know I’m probably about to make a lot of people mad. Me think it’s important for me to say right away that I don’t think some of the things I’ll talk about below are less important; they just don’t fit my preferred definition of architecture. (Yes, that’s a capital letter)

What is Architecture?

Design is not the same as building.

This may sound strange coming from someone who likes to design, but design is not the same as architecture. Design is a part of architecture, but it is not architecture itself and does not cover all of it. I say this because a lot of architects and designers like to talk about building things. But architecture isn’t just about design. Design seems to be everywhere and in everything these days. For example, ads for toothbrushes talk about how nice the design of the toothbrush is. So, design is a part of the bigger idea of “A” architecture, but it can’t be considered architecture on its own, even if it’s the design of buildings or other structures. Architecture is more than that. I probably could write a whole post about this idea alone, but I need to move on.


Planning is not the same as building.

Again, this idea is very close to architecture and is almost certainly a part of making architecture, but it is not architecture by itself. I agree that architects should be involved in planning things like master plans, how land will be used, and how cities will grow. These things help build our cities and regions and shape how they are built and planned, but they are not Architecture by themselves. I am in no way saying that these efforts are worthless or don’t add to the built environment or architecture. That would be a bad idea, but again, they are not buildings. So please don’t tell me that urban planning and master planning are the same thing as architecture. I understand and can hear you. But according to my definition, they are not architecture. Instead, they are related to architecture. They are used to make Architecture.


Research is not the same as building.

You might be able to see a pattern here… Again, though, research is not architecture. Architecture is not the study of architecture, theorising about architecture, or writing papers about architecture, design, or development. Elements that only exist on paper will not be Architecture under my new definition. This may be one of the most controversial things I write about today, but I truly believe that these ideas are not architecture. Do they make architecture better? They do, of course! Are they both about architecture? They are, of course. Do they make things better and add to the process of building? Yes. Do they help the practise in any way? Yes. Do they move the profession forward often? Yes. But are they buildings? No. I’m sure that’s a slap in the face to a lot of people. But please don’t give up on me; I’ll get there.


Building is a part of architecture.

This idea means that architecture is about more than just building things. It is more than just designing and building something that people can live in. For something to be Capital “A” Architecture, it has to be more than just the physical act. Now, I know that may sound lofty, smart, and maybe even a little bit arrogant, but I truly believe that is what Building is all about. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not sure how much capital “A” architecture I’ve made so far in my career. I’ve done my fair share of work that I wouldn’t call architecture by my own standards. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t worked hard to make it.

It doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it on every project. But that isn’t always possible because of budgets, clients, sites, building codes, and all the other things that can get in the way. To get through all of that and still make “A” Building, you need a very skilled hand and mind. So, as I talk about all the things that Building is not, I think we can start to get an idea of what it is.

What is Architecture?

The idea that “A” Building is more than just building or constructing is important, but I think that at its core, it is still about building. Architecture is something that has to be built and come out of the ground into the real world. I say this because that part of Building, which is dealing with budgets, contractors, tradespeople, material shortages, and changes, is necessary and important for something to be considered or called “A” Building. I know that might make some people angry.

But that, to me, is the best way to describe Building. It doesn’t mean that any of these other things don’t help the field of Building, the study of Building, architectural research, or the growth of Building as a profession. With my statement and definition, I’m not saying that any of these things are wrong, but I do think that the definition of true Building should be narrow.


Everything is Building?

I was reading one of the online discussions about this topic last week, and it seems that the current trend is to broaden and expand the definition of Buildingt o include all kinds of Building- or design-related practises, skills, and elements. I can see why you want and tend to do that. We’d like to make our umbrella bigger. But I would say that in reality, this hurts our status as professionals who work in Building and try to make it better. I think that the broadening of the definition has made us feel less in control and less important in the world because we say things like “Oh, that’s Building” and “That’s also Building” and “Everything is Building.” And when everything is Building, it’s not that special, to be honest.

Buildinghas been undervalued and underappreciated by society because it has been turned into so many things. So, my point about this idea still stands: we should narrow the definition of Building to one that gives us real control over the built environment and “A” Building. We might get more out of clearly defining what we mean by “Building” and what it really means. I know this might not be a very popular view, but I’m taking a stand and making a point. (This give myself room to change my mind in the future.)

I could have theoretical conversations about this topic for hours and hours. As long as they were polite and not based on emotion. I know that when it comes to how they define Building, people can get very sensitive, personal, and emotional. So, please share your thoughts in the comments… I guess you can give it to me.

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