2 minute read


OverviewEarly Humans In Europe, Antiquity: Egypt, Greece, Rome, Middle Ages, Modern Era

Architecture is the crystallization of ideas. Architecture has been defined many ways—as shelter in the form of art, as a blossoming in stone and a flowering of geometry (Ralph Waldo Emerson), as frozen music (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), man's triumph over gravitation and his will to power (Friedrich Nietzsche), the will of an epoch translated into space (architect Mies van der Rohe), the magnificent play of forms in light (architect Le Corbusier), a cultural instrument (architect Louis I. Kahn), or inhabited sculpture (sculptor Constantin Brancusi). The architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable framed a rather clinical definition, saying architecture is a "balance of structural science and aesthetic expression for the satisfaction of needs far beyond the utilitarian." Most people in the early twenty-first century—users, that is, as opposed to designers and critics—seldom think of architecture as anything more than a mute utilitarian container. Yet architecture is a form of nonverbal communication, as was recognized by many builders in centuries past. Architecture speaks volumes about the values and priorities of the designer or architect, and of those who built it. This view of architecture has been voiced by many commentators but was expressed particularly well by the nineteenth-century critic John Ruskin, who pointed out in his preface to St. Mark's Rest (1877) that nations "write their autobiographies in three manuscripts—the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the other two; but of the three, the only quite trustworthy one is the last."

Accounts of military exploits and written expressions of theory and practice are records of ideas often subtly worded to shade the values of a time and culture; architecture, in contrast, is fundamentally driven by the most essential economic pressures. Architecture therefore is a truly revealing cultural artifact. In contrast to all the other durable visual arts, architecture comes into being only through the coordinated efforts of client, architect, builder, and scores of workers, and therefore—since it requires such a formidable financial investment—caprice and personal whimsy are normally restricted, replaced by the pressures of what is truly important in the culture of client, architect, and builder. Architecture is a "bottom line" art form. Moreover, who people are and what they do is influenced, if not determined, by the architecture around them. As Winston Churchill suggested in speaking to Parliament in 1944, "we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us."

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Anticolonialism in Southeast Asia - Categories And Features Of Anticolonialism to Ascorbic acid