Friday, September 01, 2006

Architects as Artists?

"When asked his profession, a designer will usually say he’s a designer. Similarly, a writer will say she’s a writer, and architects will say they’re architects. Though they represent very different areas of the applied arts, all three disciplines demand imagination, finely tuned artistic sensibilities, and painstakingly acquired craft. Their creative output embodies all of the salient attributes of art, and, like art, it exerts a powerful influence on our cultural and aesthetic environment. To call them artists, then, isn’t much of a reach, yet it’s unlikely that any would willingly identify themselves as such."
--- from Mike Reed's article in the September/October issue of Architecture Minnesota.

Comments from the four architects interviewed for this article:

Art can inspire new models for design thinking

An understanding of art, allows architects to pull together disparate parts to balance and mold their overall expression

Knowledge of traditional art and architecture provides a solid aesthetic foundation

Art informs the organization of space to promote human connections and create
a sense of emotional repose

Architects: how do you see yourselves as artists? Click below to comment.


John Dwyer said...

I had to think about this for a while. My short answer is no. My long answer is yes, but…

It seems as though the role of the architect is far more ethical than aesthetic and design is far more problem solving than an exploration of the human condition. It may be more accurate to call architecture art. We can choose to see any building as, in the words of Frank Gehry, “a sculpture with a door on it.” However, it’s not necessarily the role of the architect to be a sculptor. The role of the architect is far more ethical that aesthetic. I would also say that there are essentially three critical roles we play in any civilization, whether we think we do or not.

The first is economic. All we do, essentially, is plan the use of the world’s resources so as to make the best use of them. In part this is a question of efficiency; of materials, light, space, labor, energy, site etc., but it’s also about the ability to make a material transcend its own nature. When I look at the work of the rural studio, I see that transcendence. I see the architect as economist at its height.

The second is ecological; in both the human and natural sense. I think it’s essential for us to be in continuous dialog with the human and natural world, asking the world what it needs and responding directly. If we can see ecosystems, then we can see balances and imbalances, we can use design to keep the world from falling of the “chaotic edge”. We can create architecture that is catalytic. One building can start a social justice movement, promote diversity, galvanize a fragmented culture, or restore natural habitats. Perhaps, if we take this role more seriously, we may even be able to use design to prevent war or the effects of a natural disaster or even stabilize the lives of the poor. As Cameron says, “Design like you give a damn.”

Our third role is archaeological. It’s possible that what we build today will be studied centuries from now. And our culture will be extrapolated from the artifacts we leave behind. Even if it doesn’t happen, we still must ask ourselves if what we are building accurately represents who we are. This is the role that we have taken on most successfully, but we still fail to design most of that which is actually built. We also fail to see architecture archaeologically. Instead we studyit as if it were art history. We reward that which photographs well over that which performs well and we don’t hold each other accountable and we divert as much liability for our work as we possibly can. In the end, it’s no surprise that we’ve designed very little of what’s been built in our world.

So my long answer is yes, it’s possible to approach architecture as an art, but it’s not what we essentially are. Only in our own minds do we tend to think of ourselves as artists. And this paradigm is our biggest flaw. Vitruvius defined our role as firmness, commodity and delight, but in reality, we are the planners of the world’s resources, the stewards of the health and safety of our human and natural ecosystems, and the shapers of our culture. We are sustainability, just as the UN defines it, and our role is to create a world with economic development, social development, and environmental protection as interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

reaXtion said...

Many great thoughts and glad you took the time to formulate and articulate them. Your three part framework of the architect's role as economic, ecological and archaeologic is helpful beyond the question of "architect as artist" and will provide much fodder for discussions in professional practice class when you visit. I hope you can help us all understand how these philosophical commitments underpin your firm's mission and values and how they manifest in the work, clients and business strategies you embrace and what compromises you've had to make if any to endure.
Thank you,

Doug said...

This is a very interesting topic that I also commented on. I have my own blog where I have posted my thoughts on the subject. You can find it at

tina said...

I actually am an artist and and soon to be technicaly an architect(Pass the ARE exam) and everyday I use the same sence of balance, color, proportion, order, layout principals in my residential design that I use for my paintings or collages. You can see all of my art or architecture at under architects, tina ferguson.

I would hope people would look at my designs and well thought out proportions and mateerials and see art. It is my way to be technical as well as left brained.

Anonymous said...

cu siguranta si arhitectul este un artist.
exista arhitecti consacrati proveniti din randul pictorilor, sculptorilor, insa exista si pictori sau a graficieni care provin din randul arhitectilor.
Fiind artist , arhitectul este un om complex care are drepul numai visare. fpd

Anonymous said...

How to build up your architect reputation?
The answer is simple. To design some buildings which can pick up your reputation greatly. How to make the buildings famous? The famous must be greatly functional, unique, special with new style. The building should hook up the people who visits.
So how could a building like this come out? Actually, one building is a work which need to put the architect, contractor, builder and supplier together. The building will go nowhere if one of which have problem.
But architect is the Key. He can pick up which kind of material the building can use.
For a certain project, the architect need to answer a question, how to design the building to be the best with a cost limitation.
Provided that the abilities of architects are same(one architect is not much better or worse than others). the materials for the building might be the biggest working area for the architect to work on.
An architect need to pick up the doors, windows, the ceilings, the lightings, the floor tile, the wall covering, the solid surfaces, the custom furnitures, the exterior wall on the building. What the people can see is what can improve the architect reputation.
So the problem turns to one issue how to find a good material with low cost.
Take an example, architects was supposed to pick up a wood mantel for a fireplace at cost of $1500. Do some research and find a company who can make marble mantel in the same price. You can find many of these company. For example, a company named Evan’s Home Luxuries, in Boston, New england area. There, some mantel is about the same price.
Another example, for a entrance wood door, some times the price runs to $8000. If you use a cooper door, brass door, bronze door with the same price, definitely it will make the building a better reputation.
Use the granite tile to substitute the ceramic tile. A lot of suppliers can do that.
Use the wrought iron fence to substitute aluminum fences. Many.
You can find it.
It is the architect home work to do the research about all the material which will be used on the building. Do not point on the contracts do your homework if you want to be famous and make your money.
Architects are busy. I know some of Architect Company begins to hire buyer to do the investigation work about the architect material. This will be a fashion.

solmentor said...

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Thank you

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