Architecture: The Basics

the thinker, contour line drawing, an architects impetus

One of the first questions I was ever asked by my professors in college was “What is architecture?” It is quite a loaded question, really. Asking this question tends to obligate a person to pause, examine their subconscious response, and potentially weigh it against a more objective definition.  First off, let’s scratch any pretense. Asking, “What is architecture?” is like asking, “What is the best cheese?”  There are far too many savory and delicious cheeses (each best when paired with different things) to determine an answer. And really, can there be any doubt that the best cheese is mozzarella? Seriously, it’s the mozz; you know it.

When asked to define architecture, the majority of those in the field would only give you an opinion which would reveal their personal bias’s. If you ask an architect, he/she will often take a hit of their tobacco pipe, point to a building they like and pretentiously say, “THAT is architecture” and expect you to perfectly understand (and maybe give him/her a high five). Another answer might be to define architecture by deductive reasoning. ie.”This is NOT architecture, therefore…blah-de-blah…” These are humorous responses, but ultimately unhelpful.

I say all this as an introduction hoping to open your mind enough for you to bear with me as I propose…

An Architect’s Impetus’s definition of architecture:

Architecture – (noun) An constructed work that meets these essential qualifications:

  • inhabitable (otherwise it is sculpture)
  • functional (otherwise it is useless)
  • effable (otherwise it is indefensible)
  • efficacious (otherwise it is a failure)
  • designed (otherwise it is an accident)

I also subscribe to the definition that architecture is the art of building. Not only do architects design a floor plan, but we also design how the building is to be constructed. Some would argue that this is simply engineering. I disagree. An engineer would only be concerned with the aesthetics of a piece insomuch as it pertains to its function. An architect will care about its effect on people emotionally. It is one thing to design a wall to function as a wall, but another thing entirely to design a functional wall that also generates empathy, either by its placement, scale, or materiality. That is the power of architecture.

I hope my rambling enlighten and possibly helps you formulate your own definition of architecture. Please write me a comment with your thoughts!





  1. I love those bullet points because they really define the elements of what makes architecture architecture. And its true that architects are more than engineers because they provoke emotion, but more than that, I think they also solve problems, whether design or functional, very creatively, which engineers don’t have the creative mind to do.

  2. Kelli

    I think engineers are often extremely creative in their solutions. Example: one such structural engineer is Cecil Balmond who works with Rem Koolhaas on a lot of designs. While architecture is certainly a distinct pursuit from engineering, that does not necessarily make it a “higher” art form than engineering. The two are interdependent.

    I really like the bullet points as well. Thought provoking post!

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