Is Architecture Art?

Is Architecture Art in Life Science Setting?

Yes. That old chestnut.

Well, that is to say, the notion of “architecture as art” or moreover reframed as the simpler question “is architecture art?” has intrigued me for such a long time now – just as it has for many before me (and many to come I suspect) – as architecture seems to be ubiquitously considered as one of the oldest professions in the world.[1] Though the link to the world’s ‘oldest’ profession is, hopefully, a tenuous one….

So how about the question then “Is Architecture Art?” (uncomfortably) poised in the setting of Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Manufacturing?

American abstract artist and architect, Richard Meier, has talked squarely and without excuse, that “architecture is art” and architecture is indeed the “greatest of the arts”:[2]

“When I am asked what I believe in, I say that I believe in architecture. Architecture is the mother of the arts. I like to believe that architecture connects the present with the past and the tangible with the intangible.”[3]

In likening architects’ metaphors of creativity to those of poets, and in turn expressing space as the ‘breath’ of art, Frank Lloyd Wright clearly shared this stance:

The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.”[4]

From the outset however, I find these approaches to be limited points of view, and inherently static ones – given all of the variables innate in process architecture, and within that wonderfully challenging journey from concept to completion – the best descriptions of ‘Architecture’ should unquestionably be more of a moveable, dynamic, or variable quality.

While most I think would be generally agreeable that architecture and art have discernible commonalities,[5] I propose to you that architecture is not even a “practical art”[6]architecture is not art.

Within the context of the Venice Biennale (2014) Patrik Schumacher, author of “The Autopoiesis of Architecture: A New Framework for Architecture”, went so far as to almost plead to his Facebook followers to “stop confusing architecture as art”.[7]

By way of visual explanation of the difference to my students at the University of Melbourne, I ask them to consider instead that there exists a spectrum between “Art” and “Science” separated indeed by degrees of refraction – in this context, I propose that Architecture is that which oscillates somewhere ‘in-between’ – discernibly between:

Richard Meier’s “intangible” and “tangible”;

John Ruskin’s “useless” and “useful”; and

Steven Holl’s “abstract” and “real”. [8]

art architecture science

 

And dare I suggest it… is the ‘ideal’ architecture in fact the balance in between?

As a process architect within a specialist design and engineering practice, the notion of “architecture as art” is most challengingly evident in the design of sterile manufacturing facilities – clean room design is uncompromisingly practical in the application of the various regulatory parameters of the design and construction standards of controlled spaces, but should be at once elegant in the composition, relationship and experience of those spaces.

Most recently, this fine balance was so elegantly achieved in the creation and construction of the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) building at 305 Grattan Street Melbourne, collectively designed by architects Silver Thomas Hanley, DesignInc and McBride Charles Ryan. In critical review, Rania Spooner likened the world class medical facility to “a modern art museum”. [9]

VCCC Building

With thanks to Plenary Group, Honeywell HBS and CIBSE Vic Chapter for the opportunity to tour the facility

[1] “Age cannot wither him: Ettore Sottsass Jr retains his importance aged 89” Stephen Bayley in The Observer, Sunday 25 March 2007
[2] Extract of Transcript, “Is Architecture Art?” Interview with Richard Meier, 17 September 2007, http://bigthink.com

[3] “Spiritus Loci: A Theological Method for Contemporary Church Architecture” By Bert Daelemans, S.J. p115.
[4] “City of Architecture” Nick Diulio, http://www.delawaretoday.com, October 2010
[5] “Architecture is an art because, as art, it too, makes metaphors” by Barie Fez-Barringten
[6]“Age cannot wither him: Ettore Sottsass Jr retains his importance aged 89”Stephen Bayley in The Observer, Sunday 25 March 2007
[7] Facebook post extract, Dezeen magazine, 18 March 2014. Post 17 March 2014
[8] Steven Holl, “What is Architecture? (Art?)” The Brooklyn Rail, September 4 2013
[9] Rania Spooner, “Inside Melbourne’s new state-of-the-art cancer centre” The Age, February 5 2016