121 Definitions of Architecture

121 Definitions of Architecture

There are at least as many definitions of architecture as there are architects or people who comment on the practice of it. While some embrace it as art, others defend architecture’s seminal social responsibility as its most definitive attribute. To begin a sentence with “Architecture is” is a bold step into treacherous territory. And yet, many of us have uttered — or at least thought— “Architecture is…” while we’ve toiled away on an important project, or reflected on why we’ve chosen this professional path.

Most days, architecture is a tough practice; on others, it is wonderfully satisfying. Perhaps, though, most importantly, architecture is accommodating and inherently open to possibility.

This collection of statements illustrates the changing breadth of architecture’s significance; we may define it differently when talking among peers, or adjust our statements for outsiders.

A note: In an age that is particularly enamored with capturing ideas in 140 characters or less, it is tempting to take these remarks out of context. Yet many are part of a larger, nuanced conversation. Sources and/or context are included for each definition. 

1. "Architecture is definitely a political act." - Peter Eisenman in Haaretz

2. "Architecture is unnecessarily difficult. It's very tough." - Zaha Hadid in The Guardian

3. "Architecture is by definition a very collaborative process." - Joshua Prince-Ramus in Fast Company

4. "Architecture is a way of seeing, thinking and questioning our world and our place in it." - Thom Mayne in his Prtizker Prize Acceptance Speech

5. "Architecture is the art and science of making sure that our cities and buildings actually fit with the way we want to live our lives: the process of manifesting our society into our physical world. - Bjarke Ingels in AD Interviews

6. "Architecture is merciless: it is what it is, it works or doesn’t, and you can clearly see the difference." - Jacques Herzog in a lecture at Columbia University

7. “Architecture is always related to power and related to large interests, whether financial or political." - Bernard Tschumi in The New York Times

8. "Architecture is a good example of the complex dynamic of giving." - Jeffrey Inaba in World of Giving

9. "Architecture is too complex for just one person to do it, and I love collaboration." - Richard Rogers in The Guardian

10. "Architecture is the most powerful deed that a man can imagine." - Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos in Volume

11. "Architecture is an act of optimism." - Nicolai Ouroussoff in The LA Times

12. "Architecture is an artificial fact." - Mario Botta in Perspecta

13. "Architecture is full of romantics who think that even relatively small changes to the built environment create the aspiration for a better society." - Mark Wigley in Surface Magazine

14. "Architecture is for us, the public, and it is going to get scuffed." - Alexandra Lange in Design Observer

15. "Architecture is the work of nations..." John Ruskin in Stones of Venice

16. "Architecture is always dream and function, expression of a utopia and instrument of a convenience." - Roland Barthes in "Semiology and Urbanism"

17. "Architecture is an expression of values – the way we build is a reflection of the way we live." - Norman Foster in The European

18. "Architecture is the real battleground of the spirit." - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in "ID Merger Speech"

19. "Architecture is not a question of the purely theoretical if you're interested in building buildings. It's the art of what is possible." - Paul Rudolph in Chicago Architects Oral History Project

20. "Architecture is geometry." - Álvaro Siza in Imaginar a Evidência (Imagining Evidence) 

21. "Architecture is about improving conditions: environmental, social and sometimes also political." - Arjen Oosterman in Volume

22. "Architecture is not just one thing. It is not just an art. … It has to deal with the real situation; it has to do something good for the society." - Xiaodu Liu in "What Can Architecture Do? An Interview with Xiaodu Liu" on ArchDaily

23. "Architecture is much more than the building of an object on a site: it is a reinvention of the site itself." - Sean Lally in The Air From Other Planets

24. "Architecture is a language: new designs should abide by grammatical rules to avoid dissonance with existing structures." - Prince Charles in The Architectural Review

25. "Architecture is an untapped source of magnificent stories waiting to be imagined, visualized, and built." - Matthew Hoffman in "Blank Space Launches Architecture Storytelling Competition"

26. "Architecture is about serving others through the design of the built environment." - Kevin J Singh in "21 Rules for A Successful Life in Architecture"

27. "Architecture is a very complex effort everywhere. It’s very rare that all the forces that need to coincide to actually make a project proceed are happening at the same time." - Rem Koolhaas in Co.Design

28. "Architecture is intended to transcend the simple need for shelter and security by becoming an expression of artistry." - Jay A. Pritzker in his 1985 Pritzker Ceremony Speech

29. "Architecture is the only art that you can't help but feel. You can avoid paintings, you can avoid music, and you can even avoid history. But good luck getting away from architecture." - Philippe Daverio in Humans of New York

30. "Architecture is the petrification of a cultural moment." - Jean Nouvel in Newsweek

31. "Architecture is characterised by endurance and longevity: a long education, long training, long hours and long lives." - Catherine Slessor in The Architectural Review

32. "Architecture is a muddle of irreconcilable things." - Juhani Pallasmaa in The Architectural Review

33. "Architecture is, in many ways, a very specific type of science fiction; it is its own genre of speculative thought," - Geoff Manaugh in Architect

34. "Architecture is largely irrelevant to the great mass of the world's population because architects have chosen to be." - Bruce Mau in Architect

35. "Architecture is becoming less about a single walled-off phallus on the horizon, and more about parks and public spaces which engage with the city." - Alissa Walker in Gizmodo

36. "Architecture is most often a victory over the process of creating architecture." - Sam Jacob in Log

37. "Architecture is capable of mounting a profound critique of the status quo." - Reinhold Martin in Places

38. "Architecture is such a conspicuous immensely physical object in space its presence is bound to influence everyone.” - Gautam Bhatia in India International Centre Quarterly

39. "Architecture is not just about building. It's a means of improving people's quality of life." - Diébédo Francis Kéré in Washington Post

40. “Architecture is a physical experience — it needs to be seen and touched to be wholly understood.” - Nicolai Ouroussoff in Los Angeles Times

41. "Architecture is really difficult. I realized that only very recently. It's like music. You can enjoy it but — to know it — it's a different story." - Diana Agrest in nprEd

42. "Architecture is capable of absorbing anything, and hence tends to dissolve into everything." - Ole Bouman in Volume

43. "Architecture is not just a matter of technology and aesthetics but the frame for a way of life – and, with luck, an intelligent way of life." - Bernard Rudofsky

44. "Architecture is a discipline where you can have multivalent interests. You could be a philosopher, a geographer, a scientist, an artist, an engineer; you can be poetic about it." - Toshiko Mori in Metropolis

45. "Architecture is supposed to be about a higher purpose." - Stanley Tigerman in Newsweek

46. "Architecture is the most public of the arts, and the public are severe critics." - Eric Parry in The Guardian

47. "Architecture is a form­maker, problem‐solver and environment‐creator, and the international exposition is its laboratory." - Ada Louise Huxtable in New York Times

48. "Architecture is supposed to complete nature. Great architecture makes nature more beautiful—it gives it power."- Claudio Silvestrin in Elle Decor

49. "Architecture is a small piece of this human equation, but for those of us who practice it, we believe in its potential to make a difference, to enlighten and to enrich the human experience, to penetrate the barriers of misunderstanding and provide a beautiful context for life's drama." - Frank Gehry in his 1989 Pritzker Prize Ceremony Speech

50. "Architecture is not a private affair; even a house must serve a whole family and its friends, and most buildings are used by everybody, people of all walks of life. If a building is to meet the needs of all the people, the architect must look for some common ground of understanding and experience." - John Portman in "The Architect as Developer"

51. “Architecture is a social art. And as a social art, it is our social responsibility to make sure that we are delivering architecture that meets not only functional and creature comforts, but also spiritual comfort.” - Samuel Mockbee

52. "Architecture is too important to be left to men alone." - Sarah Wigglesworth in Parlour

53. "Architecture is not a purely private transaction between architects and clients. It affects everyone, so it ought to be understandable to everyone. - Blair Kamin

54. "Architecture is vital and enduring because it contains us; it describes space, space we move through, exit in and use." - Richard Meier in his 1984 Pritzker Prize Ceremony Speech

55. "Architecture is more about ideas than materials." - Qingyun Ma in Los Angeles Times

56. "Architecture is not just for big star projects like museums. It's for the slums around them, too." - Juan Ramon Adsuara in npr

57. "Architecture is bashful about reality." - Wouter Vanstiphout in Archis

58. "Architecture is just background. The beauty of architecture is that it brings people together and can create public constructs." - Ben Van Berkel in AD Interviews

59. "Architecture is about hope, about change—it makes life more exciting." - Lars Lerup in Architect

60. "Architecture is blessed and cursed with more dimensions than its greats know what to do with: the three of sensible space, the celebrated fourth of travel through it; and others, ineffable, beyond—the fifth of utility, say, the seventh of happy accident, the ominous eleventh." - Philip Nobel in Metropolis

61. "Architecture is a mystery that must be preserved." - Jean Nouvel in Huffington Post

62. "Architecture is only as great as the aspirations of its society." - Lisa Rochon in Globe and Mail

63."Architecture is like the picture of Dorian Gray: It can look beautiful in public, while somewhere out of sight its true soul withers and rots." - Lance Hosey in Architect

64. "Architecture is about reason-right?" - Alfred Caldwell in Chicago Tribune

65. "Architecture is a profession of optimism." - Johanna Hurme in spacing

66. "Architecture is about the manipulation of light: both artificial light and day lighting."- Tom Kundig in Architectural Record

67. “Architecture is expected to carry too much weight in many cases.” - Patricia Patkau in Globe and Mail

68. “Architecture is not a goal. Architecture is for life and pleasure and work and for people. The picture frame, not the picture.” - William Wurster

69. "Architecture is the most obvious flower of a society's culture." - Alan Balfour in Art Papers

70. "Architecture is more than making a statement from the street. It's making an environment for living.” - Dion Neutra in Los Angeles Times

71. “Architecture is a translation process.” - Fernando Romero in Metropolis

72. "Architecture is quite a narrow, obsessive business." - Nicholas Grimshaw in The Guardian

73. "Architecture is perplexing in how inconsistent is its capacity to generate the happiness on which its claim to our attention is founded." - Alain de Botton in The Architecture of Happiness

74. "Architecture is a kind of urban ballet." - Aaron Betsky in New York Times

75. "Architecture is a history of style written by the victors." - Herbert Muschamp in New York Times

76. "Architecture is driven by belief in the nature of the real and the physical: the specific qualities of one thing - its material, form, arrangement, substance, detail - over another." - Kester Rattenbury in This is Not Architecture: Media Constructions

77. "Architecture is not always synonymous with building." - Francisco "Patxi" Mangado

78. "Architecture is complicated and like other complicated things it is prone to entropy from the outset." - Guy Horton in Metropolis

79. "Architecture is where imagination meets life." - Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa in their 2010 Pritzker Prize Ceremony Speech

80. "Architecture is an incredible ego trip. You get things done, you build them, you look at them. That's why I enjoy life and don't have an ulcer. - Stanley Tigerman in the Chicago Tribune

81. "Architecture is a strange field where we’re constantly asked to demonstrate over and over why design matters, to everyone, all the time. It’s exhausting." - Amale Andraos in Metropolis

82. "Architecture is about the lack of stability and how to address it. Architecture is about the void and how to cross it. Architecture is about inhospitability and how to live within it." - Geoff Manaugh in The Guardian

83. "Architecture is both an art and a practical pursuit, and the profession has always been divided between those who emphasize the art, that is pure design, and those who give priority to the practical." - Paul Goldberger in New York Times

84. Architecture is one of the reflections of the permanence of a civilization. - Charlie Rose

85. Architecture is not a profession for the faint-hearted, the weak-willed, or the short-lived. - Martin Filler in The New York Review of Books

86. "Architecture is a very dangerous job. If a writer makes a bad book, eh, people don't read it. But if you make bad architecture, you impose ugliness on a place for a hundred years." - Renzo Piano in Time

87. "Architecture is the pathology of the contemporary era." - Forensic Architecture

88. "Architecture is a discipline directly engaged with shaping enclosure, of erecting and toppling barriers or—more explicitly—of extending and limiting ‘freedoms’." - E. Sean Bailey & Erandi de Silva in "BI's First Print Edition Released - FREE: Architecture on the Loose"

89. "Architecture is interesting, but by itself it means nothing." - Massimiliano Fuksas in New York Times

90. "Architecture is an art, yet we rarely concentrate our attention on buildings as we do on plays, books, and paintings." - Witold Rybczynski in Metropolis

91. "Architecture is aligned with and implicated in the systems of surveillance and control." - Eric Howeler in Volume

92. "Architecture is 90 per cent business and 10 per cent art." - Albert Kahn

93. "Architecture is probably the subject of more theorizing, navel-gazing and introspective agonizing than any of the other arts." - Paul Gapp in the Chicago Tribune

94. "Architecture is invention."- Oscar Niemeyer in Newsweek

95. "Architecture is always political." - Richard Rogers in Financial Times

96. "Architecture is a frame of mind, it’s about ideas; the profession is about how to translate those ideas into the real world." - Christopher Janney in Architectural Record

97. "Architecture is an active participant in the interactions of people within it." - Jonathan C. Molloy in ArchDaily

98. "Architecture is not only developing in its own realm, it is constantly assimilating achievements from other fields. - Maya Engeli in Volume

99. "Architecture is first and foremost about serving people and society. This is an architect’s responsibility: to design buildings that fulfill their practical purpose, bring people together, and connect us to the natural world while preserving precious resources." - Steven Ehrlich in Metropolis

100. "Architecture is about building a place in the universe, not about mimicking a depleted, decrepit reality." - Stefanos Polyzoides in The LA Times

101. "Architecture is a public commodity, and as such invites public scrutiny." - Reed Kroloff in Architecture*

102.Architecture is not about the creation of newness but rather about the fulfillment of needs and expectations." - André Tavares in Forbes

103. "Architecture is the same as advertising for communicating the brand." - Patrizio Bertelli in The New York Times

104. "Architecture is not just about accommodating very prescriptive demands—it’s doing it in a way that stimulates the unfolding of life. - Bjarke Ingels in Co.Design

105. "Architecture is exposed to life. If its body is sensitive enough, it can assume a quality that bears witness to past life." - Peter Zumthor in Thinking Architecture

106. "Architecture is flexible.” - Krzysztof Wodiczko in St. Louis Post - Dispatch*

107. "Architecture is a combination of science and fiction." - Winy Maas in Domus

108. "Architecture is the art we all encounter most often, most intimately, yet precisely because it is functional and necessary to life, it's hard to be clear about where the "art" in a building begins." - Jonathan Jones in The Guardian

109. "Architecture is not an inspirational business, it's a rational procedure to do sensible and hopefully beautiful things; that's all." Harry Seidler in the Sydney Morning Herald

110. "Architecture is used by political leaders to seduce, to impress, and to intimidate.” - Deyan Sudjic in The Washington Post

111. "Architecture is a paradigm for reconsidering research.” B.D. Wortham in Journal of Architectural Education*

112. "Architecture is about giving form to the places where people live. It is not more complicated than that but also not simpler than that. - Alejandro Aravena in his 2016 Pritzker Prize acceptance speech

113. "Architecture is generally a poor relative to things like film, fashion and product design. Even though it is economically more important, for some reason it is not getting the recognition." - Tamsie Thomson in The Architects' Journal

114. "Architecture is a complex and articulated process but if you lose the process and only keep the form you lose the core of architectural practice." - André Tavares in Wallpaper*

116. "Architecture is practical poetry." - Bjarke Ingels at the New Yorker Festival

117. "Architecture is the sum of inevitable negotiations." - Felipe Mesa in Domus

118. "Architecture is more than just buildings; these structures can inspire and motivate people to do great things." Fisk Johnson for the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial

119. "Architecture is one of those disciplines that has no shortage of voices." - Guy Horton in Metropolis

120.“Architecture is always a temporary modification of the space, of the city, of the landscape. We think that it’s permanent. But we never know.” - Jean Nouvel in The New York Times

121. "Architecture is like life: a matter of trade-offs." - Paul Goldberger in The New York Times

*These links can only be viewed by those who have access to Proquest and JSTOR. Many universities and public libraries provide access to their students, alumni and patrons. 

About this author
Cite: Becky Quintal. "121 Definitions of Architecture" 12 Jan 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/773971/architecture-is-121-definitions-of-architecture> ISSN 0719-8884


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