In the field of Architecture, there is a tendency for a constant debate regarding what is Architecture, no one can say with certainty, but most of the times people in the field will say what it is with a strong sense of assurance and very few facts to support it.
Well, I do not believe them.
With most things, Human beings tend to obsess over the subjects that matter the most to them, we tend to focus on the small details and due to that, miss overall portions of that same subject. It has come recently to my attention that if I indeed want to proceed in this field there is a need of a definition for Architecture, even if it is not entirely correct, for that is almost not the point, it is a matter of having it and spreading it. Correct as a concept does not exist on its own, correct is what the people in the room make of it.
I need this for my sanity so that I can go beyond the small details and ideas that I find so important, but I cannot seem to find one. Every dictionary contains a different definition, and every person seems to hold more than one meaning at different times of the day, it is insane even to try to get a hold of a definition that would please more than three people at once, but in the end, what does this interminable inconclusiveness mean?
I have decided to make one, my definition of architecture, one that I can defend rationally and positively, one that is open to outside conversation but is also strong enough to stand on itself. Alas, it was in this process I found my core to be polarised entirely between two extremes, they exist in the same coin that I call architecture, but they are mortal enemies. My current way of viewing architecture in percentage wise considers Architecture 50% art and 50% technical, for I believe we are artists that need to produce functional art, for a building that isn't functional and needs to be, is a failure, and a work of art that isn't beautiful, meaningful or not interesting is also a failure.
"Architecture is merciless: it is what it is, it works or doesn't, and you can see the difference." - Jacques Herzog in a lecture at Columbia University
It is of the utmost importance that the madness of the new avant-garde architectural movements of this day and age that still exist in their infancy and thus do not possess a name, stop, the end of the profession is near if we lose sight of who and what we are.
It is my view that the role of Architecture is one of responsibility towards society, for it is one of its principal designers and engineers, we are not just artists, and we are not just technical professionals, we are both. It is precisely because of that, we, as a group of people have a responsibility to respect both sides of the coin. Architecture, as is currently, can be everything, and that leads to the troubling truth that it can also be nothing at the same time, we can go to a museum and call an object that is in no way a functional space, an architectural piece. I worry that the field has caved in on itself and is now digging everywhere to find a way out, the issue? We are digging in every direction when we should be digging up where the sun is, where we once were before, stable and sure of ourselves and full of meaning and correct theory behind our every action. Want to see something "cool", go to a museum or a Blockbuster movie on a Saturday night. We do not make cool things, or edgy things, at least we should not, we should make useful things that are smart and responsible, we should be critical about it, for if we are not, we hurt everything around us. To me that means we need to cast aside our ego and grandeur wishes to be seen through what we make and focus on designing not just the built environment, but an intelligent built environment.
"Architecture is not just a matter of technology and aesthetics but the frame for a way of life – and, with luck, an intelligent way of life." - Bernard Rudofsky
Architecture as a definition, in the sense of what it means in our language is most of the times described as the design of buildings, the design of the built environment, the design of spaces for us and other entities, and yet, even though that is indeed how the general public thinks of us, that is usually not how we view ourselves anymore.
It is very easy to call an object or even an idea architectural. The hard part is the process of proving it and showing the truth behind it. Could a piece of paper or stacks of staples be architectural in the sense they belong to our field? In my view, no. Why? Well, these objects are in no way architectural, they simply do not create spaces. Put a scale figure next to the objects and suddenly things evolve, we are giving it context and injecting a new scale and perception towards it, are they now architectural? Yes.
Sou Fujimoto at the 2015 Chicago Biennale playfully showed us that same thing by utilising the most common objects like the ones mentioned above to show that anything can be architecture, but it, in my opinion, it is the scale figures that bring it to the realm of architecture. So, is the answer to our problem scale? Do we merely need to insert the "correct" scale and our issues are averted? Alternatively, does it go deeper than simply scale? If we look again at the example mentioned above, we can see how something so simple, change its definition and the way we view it, does it make any sense that simply scale decides what is and what isn't Architecture? Perhaps it is not the action of inserting scale in the way of putting white figurines next to objects but our perception of it that matters, it is how to view it in the sense of how to position it in our space, it is the meaning we give it that makes it what it is.
Let us simplify, a cave is a space and so is an abandoned house, but both don't serve as space for there is nothing to serve, none is a home, none is useful in the sense they are not performing anything except the fact that they exist in space, they are space but don't serve as space. Now put an animal living in the cave and a family living in the house, suddenly, these spaces become homes, their meaning change, not the space physically although specific alterations do occur, it is the meaning we give to it that is actually altered, in other words, it matters not what it is, its size, shape, colour and position or more importantly nowadays, its aesthetic, but as long as we perceive something like a space and give it a meaning.
"Architecture is an expression of values – the way we build is a reflection of the way we live." - Norman Foster in The European
If we dislocate ourselves from this time and space and reject everything human, all of its culture society and traditions, all of their accomplishments and the physical changes we have inserted in our planet, if we erase ourselves, and instead of looking at us in an egocentric way we look at some other species, out there in space, they have their social order, their ways and they exist in a time and space, and if they have physical and bodily needs, then they must also have the thing called Architecture, the alteration or adaption of something physical to create a useful space.
Would this not be common for every species that adapts a space for a better living, isn't architecture born from the need to adapt a space towards our needs? I find this to be the essence of Architecture, and the rest is just extras we have inserted into an already complicated field.
Architecture is the alteration of space to better perform in syntony with its users' needs.
"Architecture is about serving others through the design of the built environment." - Kevin J Singh
It is of the utmost importance that the madness of trying to insert meaning into everything stop, architectural movements of this day and age that still exist in their infancy need the freedom to be experimental and have the space to make mistakes at will in order to find and found the next schools of architecture, the end of the profession is near if we only continue doing what we have been doing.
It is my view that the role of Architecture is one of responsibility towards society, for it is one of its leading designers and engineers, we aren't just artists, and we aren't just technical professionals, we are both, and it is precisely because of that, we, as a group of people have a responsibility to respect both sides of the coin. Architecture, as is currently, has stagnated into tool originated design and populist architecture, and that leads to the troubling truth that we are just not moving forward enough to redefine what we are and thus what society is, we can go to a museum and see and feel architecture theory proposals and provocations, but that work is just not being reflected in the real world. I worry that the field has caved in on itself and is now afraid of digging out of the hole that it made, we are stuck due to the unmovable scholars and traditional schools as with financial restraints, we should be digging up where the sun is, where we can be closer to daylight for our profession, stable and sure of ourselves and full of energy to discover what's next. Want to see something "technical", go to an engineering office, or go look at bridges.
"It is the artist's duty to find poetic meaning in things."
Anish Kapoor, Interview to the Guardian
We shouldn't be stuck making boring buildings that reflect a boring society, it can't all be about costs and efficiency, we need to try and make things that matter to our senses, we should make useful things that are meaningful, we should be creative and sometimes even childish about it, for if we aren't, we hurt everything around us by not moving forward. That means we need to cast aside our ego and grandeur wishes to be seen through what we make and focus on designing for our senses and our experiences so that we can improve humanity as a species.
Anish Kapoor with the Cloud Gate in Chicago even though he is not an Architect showed what architecture could be, it's not just about space in the physical attributes but more about what space can give us in the sense that it isn't required to be functional, it is required to be art in the sense that provokes some reaction from the public, in the end, it is for the public, and it will react however it wishes. The object is not functional in the traditional sense, and yet it still serves as a landmark for the city of Chicago. This functionality isn't physical in a sense a door, or a hospital perform certain operations, but in a sense we give it the meaning of something, it is us that make it Architecture, and that piece didn't just pop out of nowhere before it there were hundreds of trials that didn't make it be the piece, even though no one is giving them meaning they are still architecture for they served their purpose as research, it matters not if it's completely useless now, for they still added up to something.
Architecture is the discovery of humanity through physical methods, it is the things that we make that describe us no matter what piece may come next, it is part of us and we part of it.
After this inner discussion I find myself agreeing with both sides, perhaps then, it does make sense that in the end there isn't a definition for Architecture, our societies and civilizations are continually evolving, our language as well, perhaps it's fitting that this definition is constantly evolving as we evolve, for better and worse, not that we know what better or worse is since that tends to be an incredibly perspective based issue as well.
Architecture in the end for me is not everything but isn't just buildings as well, there is always room for growth, but we should not be foolish and ignore our core mission to society, we can alter it, but that is something to be done carefully.
I find myself looking at this task as an impossible task, it is impossible to define something that is continually changing due to our ever-changing nature, our societies and cultures are always on the move, and thus, so are we. We can define certain things in the universe such as compounds and physical truths that are bound by what they are, for they don't change, on the rare occasion that they do change that alterations implicate an immediate change of name and definition, such is not correct to humanistic ideas based on our preconceptions, architecture is not a universal truth in the sense that is specific thing, or another, but is an ever occurring discussion that requires all members of society to be part of, only so that it truly reflects what society needs and is.
Dear reader, whatever side you choose, or even if you do not agree with either, I would like to ask you the following thing, should we not have a definitive definition of what architecture is, should we not understand what architecture is before we are even allowed to practice it? In the end, there are more risks to architecture than just grabbing a brush and trying your luck as a painter, for if people do not like your paintings, they move on, but a building tends to stick around a bit more.
I hope this introspective into the war waging inside me where I see my brain against my heart has maybe helped you, and fortunately it continues as strong as ever, I believe that is a good thing, for only with constant discussion and change lies the true meaning of Architecture.
For now, this is what I answer to the question of what is Architecture.
Architecture is the reflection of society by physical means, it is what society needs, whether that is housing blocks or a political statement through an Architectural piece, it is as broad as we let it be, and it will always exist as long we do.
Lourenço Vaz Pinto