Within the world of the Arts, the discipline that unites the technical principles of construction and the aesthetic maxims of Art to create spaces destined for the human habitat is known by the name of Architecture. However, perhaps before reviewing some of the most famous quotes promulgated by the most famous architects of all generations, it is important to briefly review the evolution of their concept.
Concept of Architecture: yesterday and today
In this way, it is possible to begin by emphasizing that Architecture is an inherent discipline to man, since he has felt the impulse to modify his environment, or build structures that allow him to improve his habitat. However, with regard to Architecture as a discipline, even though all peoples and cultures have had their own visions and realizations in reference to construction, in the West, the beginning of Architecture as a discipline in ancient Grace is related.
In fact, the word Architecture itself, according to the different etymological sources, originates in Ancient Greek, based on the union of two voices: ἀρχ- (translated as chief) and τέκτων (whose meaning can be interpreted as builder). Therefore, in principle, the word Architecture was developed in the language to indicate who directed or led a construction, as well as those who worked in it.
However, it should be noted that one of the roots on which the word Architecture is created in ancient Greek is not only related to construction, but also has meanings that relate it to Art. In this way, the voice τέκτων was also linked to the root τεχνή, a voice from which the words technique, but also art or creation are generated. Therefore, it could be said that in its etymology, the word Architecture not only referred to the head of a construction, but could also be associated with the concept of the “leader of creation” or “the one who handles the technique of art”.
Since then the concept of Architecture has not changed much, as architects continue to be seen as the professionals destined to design and direct the construction of buildings. However, it could be said that the artistic component was incorporated more strongly into Architecture in each generation, achieving its full and total marriage during the Florentine Renaissance, where it was no longer just a question of constructing large monuments or buildings, but that these had to be harmoniously integrated into the urban landscape, while constituting in itself an ornament for the city.
Nowadays, Architecture is considered a discipline in charge of conceiving artistic and functional spaces, where man can live, but in a way where harmony and art provide him with inspiration and aesthetics, because it is not only a matter of inhabiting a space, but also of making life and interacting with it. Therefore, even today, Architecture continues to be a discipline in which Direction, Construction, Technique and Art continue to be hand in hand, and closely linked when it comes to conceiving spaces for human life.
However, the best way to get an approximate idea of what Architecture really is and intends to be may be a brief revision of some of the phrases, pronounced by the most famous contemporary architects, with respect to their own conception of Architecture. Here are some of them:
William Morris (1834 – 1896)
Architecture encompasses the consideration of the entire physical environment that surrounds human life: we cannot escape it while we are part of civilization, because architecture is the set of modifications and alterations introduced into the earth’s surface in order to satisfy human needs, excepting only the pure desert.
In this phrase, pronounced by the famous British architect of the end of the 19th century, William Morris, during the conference The Prospects of Architecture in Civilization, pronounced before the London Institution, in 1881, can be understood as a clear definition of contemporary Architecture, understanding that this discipline isn´t only in charge of constructing buildings, but that it is a discipline that builds taking into consideration both the environment in which the building will be erected and the needs of the individual who will inhabit it. Therefore Architecture is the science that unites environment and humanity.
Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814 – 1879)
Architecture is the art of building. It is composed of two parts, theory and practice. Theory comprises: art itself, the rules suggested by taste, derived from tradition, and science, which is based on constant and absolute formulas. Practice is the application of theory to needs; it is practice that folds art and science to the nature of materials, to the climate, to the customs of an era, to the needs of a period.
On the other hand, this phrase of the 19th century French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc may reveal another important aspect of Architecture: how this discipline combines theory and practice, as well as art and technique, since on the one hand, every architect will need to have concepts, aesthetics and artistic guidelines, while at the same time he will have to be widely trained in technique, which allows him to handle the elements and materials, because Architecture is not only about conceiving spaces, but also involves being able to build them, to materialize them.
Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965)
Architecture is beyond utilitarian facts. Architecture is a plastic fact. (…) Architecture is the wise, correct, magnificent play of volumes under light. (…) Its meaning and its task is not only to reflect the construction and absorb a function, if by function is meant that of pure and simple utility, that of comfort and practical elegance. Architecture is art in its highest sense, it is mathematical order, it is pure theory, complete harmony thanks to the exact proportion of all relationships: this is the “function” of architecture.
Also, this definition of Architecture on the part of the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier makes evident the artistic sense of this discipline, which not only concentrates on building spaces that man can inhabit, from a utilitarian sense, but also aims at making Art born in the visual space, through the handling of materials, the knowledge of proportions, the application of mathematical and physical properties.
Finally, a technical and scientific discipline, which focuses this knowledge to be able to materialize artistic products in the space. That is why Le Corbusier maintains that Architecture beyond a construction discipline is a technique that makes plastic creations.
Nikolaus Pevsner (1902 – 1983)
A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral, a work of architecture (…) the term architecture applies only to buildings designed for aesthetic appearance.
For its part, this phrase of the critic and theoretician of Architecture, the German Nikolaus Pevsner, places on the table another important aspect: not every construction is an architectural fact, since if the very definition of Architecture is taken into consideration, then for a physical space to be considered conceived by this discipline it has to conjugate in it the aesthetic intention, beyond the mere utilitarian fact.
Consequently, Pevsner points out the need to differentiate between buildings, which will be erected with certain materials to serve man in some of his needs, and architectural works, which besides serving for the habitat or performance of some human function, is born from the first moment with an aesthetic intention, since it will not only be used, but will occupy a space and an environment, with which to interact in harmony.
Luis Barragán (1902 – 1988)
The ideal space must contain within itself elements of magic, serenity, enchantment and mystery. I believe these can inspire the minds of men. Architecture is art when an atmosphere of aesthetic emotion is consciously or unconsciously created and when the environment arouses a sense of well-being.
However, the aesthetic fact of the architectural work does not only occur in the façade of the building, but as the famous Mexican architect of the 20th century points out, it also implies how the elements, materials and volumes are arranged in the space that will be inhabited by man, taking into account not only the functional being, but above all presenting itself as an artistic space, which can inspire in the human who inhabits it sensations of serenity, harmony and above all wonder and creativity.
In this sense, it would reaffirm what the definition of Architecture has already highlighted: that in addition to being functional, Architecture seeks to bring Art to the daily life of man, as well as to seek its maximum possible welfare.
Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965)
The house must be the case of life, the machine of happiness.
Finally, a phrase that can summarize the meaning of Architecture, its techniques, intentions and hopes is this other sentence, also pronounced by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, in which this professional pointed out how the ultimate aim of Architecture, or at least its main impulse, is to build spaces, so harmonious, functional and aesthetic, that they provide happiness to the human who must or chooses to inhabit them. In this sense, Architecture will not construct buildings, it will manufacture spaces that give happiness to the human being.
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October 31, 2019