Architectural History and Theory

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Architecture has always been a vague form of art with its true meaning of what architecture constitutes, fluctuating in favour of multiple viewpoints. This may be a resultant of a shift to suit socio-contemporary needs, context or merely the existence of pre-existing or new technology. Consequently, a rift has occurred creating the debate on whether 'true' architecture lies more firmly with which domineering characteristic; aesthetics, functionality; or spiritual or emotional conveyance. It is vital, also, to not ignore that these aspects do not exist independently; that there are endless combinations and permutations of how prominent each characteristic may be to each other, thus one aspect may exist to be as important as another. This creates the possibility of one just as they all may be equally important, as well as the possible notion that none may be important at all. Within this essay, it will be argued that architecture is the latter; that a balance of three is a prerequisite and that simultaneously, all three do not determine what is architecture, similar to how light is both an energy and matter. Additionally, it is necessary to question under what criteria does architecture have for each of the above characteristics, under what circumstances this criteria may continue to change throughout history and what enables another to judge how any form of architecture may fall under these categories.

As society becomes more advanced and technology becomes an increasingly prominent aspect of society, functionality of a building becomes a fundamental aspect of architecture. Buildings become more accessible, simple to manoeuvre within and become more comfortable to live, work or simply dwell within. Offices and houses become more easily built to become 'user-friendly' and continue to be with evolving technology available to humanity. However, if a building is purely created to act functionally, discarding all values of aesthetics, can it be considered architecture? The saying "all architecture is building but not all building is architecture" accompanies Melanie Dodd's "We are surrounded by buildings, yet few of these will find their way into architectural journals, and in the case of houses, few are even designed by architects," which begs the question how does one distinguish whether architecture must serve a purpose. Consequently, this may question the functional integrity of 'architecture' such as the Parc de la Villette where the criteria for functionality can be judged. Another building that can be questioned is House T by Japanese architect Hiroyuki Shinozaki[1], a building with no ceilings and no walls built from complete accessibility for a couple. A house designed for living in the small spaces of Japan, surely this complete the prerequisites of functionality. If so, does this building need to be examined from an aesthetic point of view? As a house with a basic exterior, whether an immediate examination of the exterior quality the house to be claimed as architecture is debatable, culturally and socially. This debate may occur as from a western point of view, architecture is more commonly viewed by society through an immediate view of a building, in comparison, Japan is a far more smaller country where society is much more condensed into a specific location creating smaller spaces for homes thus alienating the society to procure a more functional preference creating a rift between whether the building is architecture. Furthermore, it becomes questionable to ask under what criteria does the functionality allow the structure to clear as architecture as much of the building can be argued as purely for aesthetics. Again, under what standards does functionality afford the term 'architecture' and by whose standards?

John Ruskin once stated, "If he is not a sculptor or painter, he can only be a builder."[2] Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner famously declared, "a bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture,"[3] thus if the bicycle shed was to simply be painted red, would the shed be considered architecture? Aesthetics can be immediately assumed to be the crux of architecture. Again, with reference to the Parc de la Villette, it can be determined to be a form of architecture as it represents the modern cognitive psychology aesthetics within contemporary society with a unique twist to cater to the public eye. Again with reference to Pevsner, "architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal,"[4] reiterating the necessity for a building to be visually pleasing to be consider architecture. However this notion of the bicycle shed not being architecture is flawed with the London's Architecture Foundation 2011 competition[5] to design a bicycle shed completely overthrowing Pevsner's statement forcing a reconsideration of whether architecture is classified as a battle of aesthetics. Withal to this, it is indispensable to contrast the influences from culture and society that determine a building's visual criteria. Culturally, Westerb architecture such as the White House (US) or Sydney Opera House (Australia) would have vast differences to grand structures such as the Taj Mahal (India) or the Himeji Castle (Japan) which greatly differs in aesthetics. Whilst both differ in visual presentation, both can be considered architecture, but under whose decision? It can be argued that any diverging culture or society may view a structure of another society as beauty simply because of its difference in aesthetic tendencies. However, whether difference or uniqueness blindly means beauty is debatable. Rather, it can be determined that the beauty of a structure exists within the capsulation of the history of the society and culture of the context of which the structure was built thus physical appearance, despite the claims of many including Pevsner, aesthetics does not act as a primary determinant to define what architecture is.

As declared within the Seven Lamps of Architecture, "architecture is the art which.. contributes to...mental health, power and pleasure,"[6] in other words, architecture is judged by the emotional provocation created by a building which can be supported with Johann Goethe's "Architecture is "frozen music"… the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music."[7] While the sentimental value of buildings tend to fall as a lower priority to much of society, it is nonetheless crucial within architecture. Buildings such as the Taj Mahal to encapsulate a spiritual atmosphere that act as a testimony to the society which records the culture of society at which the structure was built which can resonate the societies religious standings even in current modern society informing a strong sense of importance to the building, similar to the pyramids built in Ancient Egypt. This alone can be argued to distinguish a building as architecture rather than a plain building of worship. Notwithstanding to this ideal, it is much prominently apparent that it is only through evident the emotional response of a building is a resultant of both the physical aesthetic and function of a building. Both the unique design of the Taj Mahal and the designed allocation of the building work to recreate a strong sentimental response deserving the claim "jewel of Muslim art in India "[8] by reinforcing the sacredness of Shah Jahan's and Mumtaz Mahal's tomb within the building. Thus emotional provocation alone does not suffice to classify a building as architecture without a response from the physical and functional characteristic of a structure.

Extreme poverty within Bălţeşti, Prahova County has forced people to construct their own homes, statistically concluding that only 2% of civilians had consulted an architect for a piece of 'architect'[9]. Such luxuries can obviously be distinguished from the slums of the poor, which proper reinforced and functioning homes- clearly allocating them under the term 'architecture'. Albeit conversely, it can be argued under whose views can these houses are pieces of 'architecture' and the slums aren't. Here, the basis of what criteria of which is 'architecture can be explored primarily through the views received from these buildings. From both poor and rich, the designed houses may seem like architecture as a result of their economic contextual influences. However from a first-world frame of reference, one may deem the homes of the slums as architecture. Though the architect's building may be aesthetically sound, both suffice with the function of housing thus the difference is the emotional provocation derived from both buildings. Perhaps from the viewpoint of excessive experiences with buildings designed by architects, the emotional struggle of the families can provoke a strong sense of melancholy causing the building to act as a record of strife, allowing the building to be classified as a form of architecture. However, in hindsight, this would mean that there becomes a biased opinion influenced from the ethnocentric divergent statuses of different countries which could be interpreted that 'true' architecture only exists amongst third world countries and the poor. Thus the notion of emotional manipulation being the most dominant substance to defining architecture becomes flawed.

All in all, the most distinct and just conclusion that can be drawn from the argument is that all three characteristics of physical beauty, function and emotional substance are as equally important to defining a building as structures of architecture. Says so Vitruvius, “All these must be built with due reference to durability, convenience, and beauty,” and Wotton, "Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight," men of different times yet sharing the same conceptual notion.

However, it is more just to say that what 'true' architecture is none of these aspects but rather, an earnest desire to engrave one's or society's existence into history, with the three characteristics of beauty, function and "delight" as tools to aid in the recreation of one's context. It is now imperative to question what purpose do identifying these characteristic serve. A building may be pleasing to the eye, but what purpose or logic does a building serve to be classified architecture serve if it is visually pleasant? If a building can act functionally for a specific party, can it be reasonable to be considered architecture when another may find the functionality of the building troublesome thus for what purpose would a building with function as a primary core element serve if it is considered architecture? If a building can invoke a strong emotional response, so what if it is considered architecture? Alas these aspects alone may not derive the true definition of architecture, it important to realise that to claim all three define architecture is simply naive, as they alone or even together simply do not serve a purpose to the society of today or the future.

However it does may possible do justice if the definition of 'true architecture' is how strongly portrayed does a building relay one's historical context, using these three characteristics of aesthetics, "commodity" and "delight" as a vessel to judge how great a building inscribes social, historical, religious and even political context into the building. Through grand monuments such as the Himeji Castle, the pyramids of Egypt and the Pantheon of Rome, all present a record of history of the culture, society, lives, technology, politics and beliefs of the time. Frank Lloyd Wright declared "All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable."2 Henry Ladsworth Longfellow claimed, "painting and sculpture are but images, are merely shadows cast by outward things on stone or canvas, having in themselves no separate existence. Architecture, existing in itself, and not in seeming a something it is not, surpasses them as substance shadow,"2 again men of vastly divergent era who share a common ideal of architecture; that architecture is a means of engraving humanity's existence into history.

Himeji Castle records political hierarchy of the time; how there was one political figurehead during the Edo era of which it was built which can be seen by the advanced defence system of the building in order to protect the feudal lord . From its advanced defensive design, it records the political turmoil and threat of enemy invasion apparent within the socio-context of the time at which the castle was built. From the levels of the castle, it can be determined the number of people living under the rule of the shogun, thus the extent of power he had. Such combination of exemplars help unveil the historical value of the building and human values and context engraved at the time, through the intertwinement of design, function and emotional spoils of the building. Again, the three characteristics serve only as a means to capture historical value of the building. Thus this building, which is undeniably a solid exemplar of architecture, aids to reaffirm the concept that 'true' architecture is; how rather than a simple judgement of aesthetics, functionality or emotional provocation, it is the incubation of history context and values through the three determinants of aesthetics, functionality or emotional provocation.

Hence, it becomes fundamentally clear that 'true' architecture does not mean a competition of aesthetics, functionality or sentimental provocation. There is simply no basis for judgement as thus is inadequate to be the defining point of architecture. However, it is more obvious to accept that architecture is a photograph of the past; the historical context of which at the time the building came to providing means for an inquisition on social, political and religious context and values using the aspects of aesthetics, functionality and sentimental provocation as a basis of judgement. Simply put, it is how closely a building can capture the hearts of a large audience and how such concepts and can resonate and flow through the rivers of time.


[1] HOUSE T, by Hiroyuki Shinozaki. | METALOCUS. 2014.HOUSE T, by Hiroyuki Shinozaki. | METALOCUS. [ONLINE-BLOG] Available at: [Accessed 12 April 2014].

[2] Architectural Quotations. 2014.Architectural Quotations. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 April 2014].

[3] The American Institutes of Architects (AIA), 2008.Architecture: Celebrating the Past, Designing the Future. 1st ed. 1735 New York, NW Washington, DC 20006: Visual Reference Publications.

[4] An Outline of European Architecture (Harmondsworth: Penguin, [1942] 1957), p. 23.

[5] Dodd, M. Dodd, 2012. What is considered architecture?.Architecture Australia (AA), vol. 101 issue 2, p67-72.

[6] RUSKIN, J. Ruskin , 1989.Philobiblon-Transylvanian Journal of Multidisciplinary Research in Humanities, Volume XVIII (2013) No. 2: Arhipera and the Ethics of Social Architecture. 1st ed. Mineola, New York, U.S.A.: Dover Publications. p12

[7] REES, N. Rees. (1809), Friedrich von SCHELLING.In Brewer's Famous Quotations. 2006. London: Orion Publishing Group. p 394.

[8] Taj Mahal - UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 2014.Taj Mahal - UNESCO World Heritage Centre. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 April 2014].

[9] Niculae, L.NICULAE, 2013.Philobiblon-Transylvanian Journal of Multidisciplinary Research in Humanities, Volume XVIII (2013) No. 2: Arhipera and the Ethics of Social Architecture. 1st ed. Cluj-Napoca, Romania: Cluj University Press.