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Architectural Definitions

There is no preferred, perfect or precise definition offered for each of these concepts. In each case a cluster of partial or rough definitions is offered, their relevance or 'truth' depending on the context in which they are used. Either way, it is possible to see each of these definitions as the basis of a small discussion on each of these subjects. Other definitions can be added 'as time goes by'.



a)   Architecture is the representation of social institutions through  the medium of built form.


This is literally true, in the sense that with an individual design, the  client’s brief or program is a diagram of the relations within an institution; how the institution is organized and the relation between its component parts. It is this program which the architect realizes or materializes as a building thus representing in built form the nature of a particular institution. Collectively, of course, one can therefore say that architecture represents social institutions.


b)    Architecture is a similarity of form between a large number of buildings irrespective of their function.


Again, literally true. How else would we recognize that an architecture exists in the midst of a great many buildings unless there was some similarity of form between a number of them?  That is, some characteristic which links them together and which turns them from an aggregate into a recognizable group. While all the buildings will in some way be different from one another, there will be common features which some of the buildings share.


c)    Architecture is the historically-derived information used to characterize the form of material objects called buildings for particular times and places.


This makes a clear distinction between architecture and buildings and clears up that age-old problem of defining the difference between them. Architecture is this sense is information derived from past experience which is used to shape buildings. This definition also relates to the idea of architecture as a similarity or relation of form between material things. In other words, architecture is not a thing, but a relationship between things.


d)     Architecture is a general language of form from which architects select and combine for particular institutional contexts.


Architects do not invent new forms for every new project, but rather, customize a set of commonly available forms derived over time from the work of other architects.  This typical set of forms emerges from a collective process of selection and combination of forms within a given geographical or discursive area. Over long periods of time, the process creates a typical or conventional set of forms, called a ‘Style’. The elements of the style are combined for particular projects.


e)   Architecture is an autonomous, self-regulating, self -organizing system having its own medium of expression and formative  rules.


Both the medium of architecture and its end product are built form. Buildings are material objects whose shape is manipulated to suit programmatic or formal ends. Architectural forms are grouped into styles which emerge, develop and decline through the dynamics of communication and exchange between architects who select and combine conventional forms for many projects. Both the character and the number of stylistic elements available to architecture at any time is a function of the cumulative selection described above.


f)     Architecture is one cultural system amongst the collection of other cultural systems which make up a society.


Society is a constellation of cultural systems each having its own material or medium of expression and the formative rules by which these media are manipulated to represent or adapt to some referent event or other. In a sense of course, all cultural systems (institutions) reflect or represent each other by adapting to changes taking place within other cultural systems.


g)    Architecture is the exchange of experience between architects which produces a set of ‘essential’ forms (a style) drawn from a  mass of actual work.


Architects through a process of mutual selection and combination of each others work are in effect exchanging experience throughout the architectural system. This collective enterprise establishes sets of conventions called styles. The forms so exchanged are not unique to nor specific to particular buildings, but are general purpose forms which can be applied to any design situation.


h)    Architecture is the making of Place.


A definition of the phenomenological concept of ‘place’ is that of an unique combination of forms particular to a locality and time; a clear and distinct set of spatial and physical characteristics. But then this is also the definition of a building or work of architecture. While the language of forms the architect uses to create place may be typical or conventional, they are combined, modified or customized to suit the unique context in which the building – the built institution - will arise; a context made up of time, place, social and cultural conventions, finance and the surrounding environment. Place in other words, is made up both general and particular elements. 


i)          Architecture is Buildings.


Architecture is a collective enterprise involving the sharing of knowledge or experience between architects. The medium of that exchange is built form; architectural elements which appear in a large number of different buildings. Architecture can only be understood by looking at a large number of buildings since it is only then that one can see the similarities between them. And those similarities – a relationship between the buildings - are architecture.


j)       Architecture is not Building


One must not confuse the physical fabric of the building with the information which gives it particular characteristics. Information which is selected and transposed from other, previous architectural works. Architecture cannot be found in single buildings. These can only be regarded as particular statements or messages drawn from or combined out of a general language or code and imposed on the physical form of buildings, giving them a social meaning.


k)         Architecture is 'Frozen Music'.


Yes. Beautiful










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