Kenneth Frampton: What is Architecture?

  • 12 Jul 2014
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  • Architecture News

We caught up with Kenneth Frampton earlier this week at the event to announce the finalists of the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP) in Santiago, Chile. Beyond asking him about the MCHAP jury’s selection process, we took a moment to ask our classic ArchDaily question: what is architecture? Listen to his answer in the video above, or read the transcript of his answer after the break.

What is Architecture?

Normally, we don’t make a distinction between architecture and building. But I think it’s important to recognize that there are these two words in almost every language. And architecture with a  capital A has always been about public building (more or less). Although, of course, very fine architects design very sophisticated, defined, beautiful houses for high-class, bourgeois class, here and everywhere else… but when it comes to the question of extremely poor people, or the mass invasion of urban areas, the whole long-standing problem of favela, barriada, which goes back a good 60  years already, 70 years even, you know architects cannot do very much about that. It’s a demographic, economic, social, political problem. But architecture is impotent from that point of view. It’s more like building, it’s spontaneous building. People building their own houses, which I suppose is what happened during the medieval period and so on. So I think that in the end, one has to discriminate. I’m not saying that one cannot do social housing that has strong architectural quality. Sometimes we ask of the architectural profession demands which the profession by itself cannot meet. So I think that to distinguish between architecture and building, and I suppose finally “what is architecture?” I think architecture guarantees the public realm that kind of political and cultural importance. There’s a philosopher, Hannah Arendt, who coined the term “the space of public appearance.” I think architecture is ultimately about the space of public appearance, like this space for example, and this building.

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Kenneth Frampton: What is Architecture?" 12 Jul 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 Jan 2015. <>