What is Architecture?

Is it building or planning or design?
Is it sculpture that's big enough to inhabit?
Is it applied art or engineering or science?

Is it views, vistas & vignettes?  Is it relationships of scale, balance & symmetry?
Is it wayfinding or space efficiencies or shelter

It is all of these things and more.
And for some crazy reason, it's really hard to explain concisely.  Webster's definition is lame.  Encyclopedia entries talk around the topic.

1521 Cesare Cesariano Italian translation of De Architectura Libri Decem
by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. Preserved in the Smithsonian Museum of
American History. Image courtesy of Mark Pellegrini via Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Roman architect Vitruvius (c.75BC - 15AD) wrote a multi-volume treatise on the practice called De Architectura (Or "The 10 Books of Architecture" in English).  He distilled the essential qualities of architecture down to "firmitas, utilitas, venustas," sometimes translated as firmness, commodity & delight... but also rendered as solid, useful, & beautiful.

Vitruvius's 10 books, when rediscovered in the 15th century,
had lost their 
illustrations.  Many architects, historians
& artists have attempted to 
illustrate the text.
The most well-known today is by Leonardo da Vinci,
and is often referred to as the 
"Vitruvian Man."


Of course a building should not only be solid but also feel solid and give the impression of longevity, good craftsmanship & be immune to the Big Bad Wolf and any other winds, weathers or otherwise threatening villains.
We rely on a building code as a standard guide to firmness in typical cases.  Building codes have been around since ancient times, but are considerably more complex these days, just like the tax code.

The building code, as part of the law, is not subject to copyright laws.
It is free to all.  Image courtesy of


Usefulness & commodity (meaning convenience & efficiency) are the nuts and bolts of architecture design.  They include functional adjacencies, the elimination of wasted space, hierarchies and a million other things.

Image courtesy of jennypdx


Delight is the art of architecture.  I've been enamoured lately with the word "delight."  To me, it has always been more than just beauty -- though beauty can obviously bring delight-- among other things it is also
  • surprise,
  • suspense, 
  • contradiction, 
  • discovery,
  • whimsy, 
  • sublimity & 
  • even a mere reference, reminding one of other memorable places.
Amalfi is one my favorite places.  On the southern
coast of Italy, the town sits on a steep incline,
creating crooked paths, amazing views,
and plenty to discover.
Image courtesy of ho visto nina volare.

Architects aspire to design wonderful places.  What are some of your favorite places?  Can you describe what makes them wonderful?

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