When does it become Architecture?

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

A recent discussion among a few of my fellow architects has started a bit of a controversy and I felt as though I should weigh in. There are three blog posts for reference here…. the initial post from Life of an Architect (here), a response by Coffee with an Architect (here) and Life of an Architect’s response to the response (here). So you can read the back ground information that begins to formulate the topic. I think this is an interesting discussion, not only within the profession of architecture, but for the general public as well. As architects struggle to define their current role in the world, this attempt to properly define “what is architecture” could become a very useful task.

Architecture: Definitions

I must say that I actually agree with both points of view, but quite possibly not in the way in which it would seem. I think that Architecture is truly manifested in built work. And that is the “true” definition of Architecture.  As an architect I am very interested in the processes of both design and construction. I do not like to separate them. A good architect cannot design without continually contemplating the construction process. To me, the two are very inseparable. I know that not all architects think this way. Many that I “know” or “experience” have very little concern about construction of their projects. I have yet to understand these types. Are more artist than architect? I suppose. I am unsure. But as an architect, our job should be to design with the full intent of construction and “construct-ability”. I am not saying that the design should not push the boundaries of construction, but you must have an idea about how the project could and would be constructed while you are assembling the pieces in your mind. That is what is often missing in some pure design architecture to me. And I think that mentality has also caused many in the engineering and construction realms of AEC to belittle our knowledge beyond design. This is something that needs to change……soon.  Architects should learn all they can about construction. Once we have this knowledge, then architects have a power that others in AEC do not…to create and design. As an architect, you can use your construction knowledge to expand and push the boundaries of what is possible. That is Design. That is our realm and we can excel with the proper information.

Construction: Definitions

Now on the flip side of the last paragraph, I also see a great benefit in extending architectural boundaries by designs that may never (or certainly never) get built. The floating cities, the urban sky gardens, the transforming house…all of these are Architecture also. They are a means by which we grow as a profession. The totally outlandish concepts that architects dream into existence in a overly dry meeting, over an early morning coffee or a late night drink.  These radical ideas are necessary for progress. If there were no such visionary ideas, we would still be building in the same manner as they did millennia ago. So architecture is also the dream of the impossible. And these are designs that are certain to never get built, yet they are very much Architecture. Often they are more inspiring than the designs that do get built. (A matter of opinion, I know) And there is merit in that fact… within the profession and for our perception to the world. This is a way that Architecture can interact with the “rest” of the public; the fantasies and creations that come from the minds of Architects.  This has power. This is real. And this IS Architecture.

Design: Definitions

So it seems that from my point of view that both Built and Un-Built Architecture have value to the profession and can make a better built environment.  I think that some architect may agree and some may not. But this is my position. I could go on about how architects have created our current place in the world of AEC, but that is entirely a different post. So for now……