Art vs. architecture


Someone on this forum just challenged me in defining architecture as completely different than art. I believe that there is a difference, but that there is also an overlap. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Aug 6, 13 12:20 am

I didn't challenenge you, I asked if you knew the difference them. Judging by your post here - soliciting the opinions of others on this forum rather than answering the simple question - you haven't got a clue. 

Nothing wrong with that. But it wil be tough to learn anything with that kind of attitude.  

Aug 6, 13 12:47 am  · 
boy in a well

boys, boys, boys . . . 

(or girls, girls, girls, as the case may be... who can tell...?)

miles - admit you were being a d-bag.

Bulgar - uh .... remember, this is the internet.

as to the question, easy. this debate was settled ages ago. Architecture usually, but not always, has plumbing. and Art usually doesn't, but sometimes does!, have plumbing. Use your imaginations for the venn diagram.

ok then. back to shit talking eisenman's denkmal despite its being excellent.

Aug 6, 13 1:07 am  · 

Guy here...

Miles: the following is my understanding of the difference between art and architecture:

1. Art

Art is creative expression that transcends the functional reuirements of its existence in any form one chooses to manifest it.

2. Architecture

The artistic product derived from the process of synthesizing knowledge in construction, engineering, human behavior and needs, and formal aesthetic order for the purpose of responding to a particular problem involving human use and habitation which contributes to the cultural capital of the society that benefits from such a product.


Aug 6, 13 3:21 am  · 


artist is some one who  express his thought to the masses ,irrespective of what other like or dislike ,it is his extension of mind,it has nothing to do with the constraints


is a science which is a subset of art which involves in solving problem with an artistic approach,considering the constraints and coming out with the best possible optimized solution

Aug 6, 13 4:53 am  · 

This should be good.

Aug 6, 13 10:16 am  · 

Mr. Jaff:

Any ideas you would like to share with us today on the topic, or shall we continue to amuse ourselves with "immature" responses lile the one above? Don't answer the second part of the  question (the one after the comma)- it was rhetorical... 

Aug 6, 13 10:31 am  · 

I have some ideas on the subject but prefer to reserve them until others have had their say and the topic has advanced a bit. In the mean time I hope to find some amusement here.

And dude, a word of advice. You're anonymous on this forum, the only personal investment you have here is whatever you imagine it to be. Don't be so quick to take offense. Your ego is not your friend.

Aug 6, 13 11:59 am  · 

Architecture is craft, not art. That does not mean it cannot be done artfully, but it still isn't art. When architecture is pushed to become art, it becomes sculpture, not architecture.

Aug 6, 13 12:39 pm  · 

I'll be reductionist and say art is artsy-fartsy and architecture is multifaceted.  I'm joking.  It takes talent to be a good artist and my attempts at traditional art, such as oil painting, were not enjoyable and thus not productive.  I also find that I have never related to artists that well.  You know, they're too liberal, spiritual instead of religious, into eastern thought, into meditation, have weird dietary restrictions, and tend to frequent hot springs.  Actually, I stopped feeling less guilty about not being an art connoisseur when, in the first term of arch. history, our prof said that FLW, who I don't salivate over, wasn't into non-objective art.  Yes, I agree with wharton that architecture is the most disciplined of the crafts.  Can anyone spell "surgical suite?"

BTW,  if you're doing a painting, don't forget to sign the bottom right hand corner with "Art Z. Fartsy."

Aug 6, 13 1:11 pm  · 

Some general differences I've found:


 -In art, aesthetics and visual cues are used to rationalize/justify the theory (especially true in photo-conceptual art).

 -Conversely in architecture, theory and research are used to rationalize the aesthetic/design. 


- Art bears no responsibility for its actions. I'd argue that its "duty" has always been to subvert and be socially destructive. Art is not a service, but an opinion. 

- Architecture has a social responsibility. Built work, must appeal to the client, must follow by-laws and meet deadlines and budgets. Architecture is at its core, part of a service. 


 - There is no design in art. Otherwise, it would be design. Having said that, artists are not asked to creative, but subversive. That often means being specialized in a particular medium (but not always the case).

 - Design is found in architecture. I don't think I need to go on any further there.




Aug 6, 13 2:04 pm  · 

There is no design in art

that is not true.  many artists design an experience.  they work within the constraints of human perception and natural phenomenon. Land art or any site specific art is a good example. 

The main difference imo is that....

artists create noise out of silence whereas architects create silence out of noise. 

Architects resolve pre-existing problems into something with harmony whereas artists create the "problem" and then resolve it into something with harmony.

Aug 6, 13 2:35 pm  · 
The subject may be of design, but not design itself.
Aug 6, 13 3:17 pm  · 

+++ gwharton

There are instances of the craft of architecture becoming art: where the intention was not to make art but where the craft was so exquisite that the result is transcendental.

Aug 6, 13 5:12 pm  · 

Art and Architecture are highly related with each other.Only good architecture can make good art forms.

Aug 12, 13 12:41 am  · 

@thomas carlson

I couldn't disagree more.

Aug 12, 13 2:37 am  · 
As irrelevant as frank lloyd wright is today he offered up a definition that in my opinion still is.

“The mother art is architecture..."

Likewise Gropius states that art rises above all other methods.

So is architecture art? Depends on how you define it for yourself. That's what makes it such an engaging profession.
Aug 12, 13 7:57 am  · 

As irrelevant as frank lloyd wright is today

That is about the most idiotic thing I've read in a while.

At least since Only good architecture can make good art forms.

Aug 12, 13 10:03 am  · 


That's ultimately the difference.

Hejduk, Raimund Abraham, and Lebbeus Woods [and others], have many times transcended both.

Aug 12, 13 10:30 am  · 

I think this could be answered better by non-architects and non-artists. For instance, I posted some pics of my house on a mid-century Facebook site.....I had several comments such as "It must be wonderful to live in a work of art"..and other similar comments. If a comment like that can come from an average person, then yes, I do believe architecture can be art. But art is subjective...

Aug 12, 13 3:06 pm  · 

Frank Lloyd Wright is irrelevant today? Really? Explain that one.

Aug 12, 13 3:08 pm  · 

Architecture by definition is the built environment that results from a scientifically grounded collaboration between different service-based parties.  The built environment can both be interpreted subjectively and objectively by the viewer, but must adhere to rationalized processes concerning design, construction, engineering, and peer review, if it were to be realized in the real world.

Aug 12, 13 11:30 pm  · 

rationalized processes? OK

For a moment I thought you said rational processes.

Aug 12, 13 11:58 pm  · 


Aug 13, 13 12:07 am  · 

I've always held the opinion that art harbours no function other that itself. 

Architecture provides a function, but I think it would it be fair to say that art is found within architecture? 

Aug 13, 13 6:43 am  · 

Artist database contains the largest collection of great art works from different parts of the world.You can see the list of these art forms from this.

Aug 13, 13 7:20 am  · 

FLW is as relevant as the books my random family members gave me for Christmas. 

Aug 13, 13 9:30 am  · 

This is a lovely poetic way of thinking about it: Artists create noise out of silence whereas architects create silence out of noise. Thank you jla-x!

I also agree with gwharton: Architecture is craft, not art. That does not mean it cannot be done artfully, but it still isn't art.

It all comes down to intention.  Art-making is an incredibly self-conscious act.  If you're not intentionally trying to make art, you might make something wonderfully artful, but it's not art.  If you're intentionally making architecture, you won't ever make art, because art initiates from a different place.

Aug 13, 13 9:57 am  · 

Architecture is not art, it is design. If it ceases to be design - is no longer providing a particular functional requirement - it is not architecture.

Art in architecture is the art in craft, the ability of the architect to manipulate light and materials to define space. This is essentially no different from a master craftsman making baskets, pottery, furniture, etc.

As craftsmen we strive to impress our mentors and peers. The highest praise for an architect doesn't come from a critic or client, it comes from another architect who admires your work as the result of your craft. And the more you respect and admire them the more it means when they praise your work.

We all have buildings and architects that we admire. The question is what do we admire them for?

A stylish but dysfunctional building is a failure no matter what it looks like. It's more frustrating and expensive to deal with than it's worth: think dumb blond. Yeah, she's cute, but after 5 minutes you're ready to move on. (OK, maybe a couple of weeks.)

Functionality can be an aesthetic in itself. There are a number of buildings and engineered structures that are beautiful not in an aesthetic sense but in an efficient and purposeful sense. One measure of good design is that it's not noticeable: when something functions perfectly we tend not to notice it - it's only when it doesn't function (like that #*%!@ can opener that pinched you, or the view of the toilet from the dining room)  that we do.

A building in which function and aesthetics combine successfully is well-crafted. And since aesthetics are entirely subjective, I tend to weight function more highly.

So when is a building art? When we recognize a superlative combination of function and aesthetics that seems beyond what we are capable of individually. When it is a source of inspiration and delight on multiple levels simultaneously. When it is a magnificent demonstration of the craft of architecture.

Aug 13, 13 11:26 am  · 


You go from "Architecture is not art, it is design."  to "So when is a building art? When we recognize a superlative combination of function and aesthetics..."

People don't want to admit that architecture is art because then the built environment reflects so poorly on us, so they use a definition of art that only covers useless collectibles, but your last paragraph makes a reasonably coherent argument for why architecture is in fact art. 

Aug 13, 13 12:16 pm  · 

No, people don't want to "admit" that architecture is art because architecture is not art. I think Miles meant architecture can sometimes "become artful".

I may be wrong about what Miles meant, but I'm not wrong about architecture not being art.

Aug 13, 13 12:27 pm  · 
chatter of clouds

hi BulgarBlogger;

I think an all encompassing statement that architecture has simply little to do with art but with design - and therefore cannot be art- is artless. Design also goes on a canvas - how you frame a figure, where your horizontals are, where do you place the model's eyes, where you place your wintry tree ...these are questions of design within art and thus design is not antithetical to art (painting, sculpture and so on) and thus one does not preclude the other. In my understading, trying to suss out whether an object (including architecture) is of art happens through recognizing the places that it occupies - intellectually, figuratively, aesthetically and historically.  I think its really more a question of when architecture is an art. this even is applicable within the 'uncontested' arts:  people who know music, for instance, would tell you that etudes - generally- were not works of arts but that with the likes of Chopin, Rachmaninoff and even Bach way before them had raised pieces written for pedagogical purposes (i.e. functional purposes) to the level of art.  

Aug 13, 13 12:58 pm  · 

It's a very common stance in the modern era to treat everything man-made as if it was art. But this essentially Nietzschean position that anything made somehow can approach the apotheosis of art if it is done aesthetically ignores what art really is and why we make art as opposed to other forms of artifice.

Art is fundamentally about the reification of values (or, really, meta-values), so they may be experienced directly as perceptual concretes. This fulfills a a deep psychological need in human beings and is the impetus to the creation of art. This is the ONLY purpose of art, and it is primary in both its creation and evaluation. To the extent that art serves other purposes than this (e.g. didacticism, transgression, utility, etc.) it fails as art and becomes something else (most often kitsch). Incidentally, this is why art in the modern era has become so sterile, decadent, and impoverished: most artists have chosen to engage in pranks and propaganda instead of making actual art. After all, making real art is hard work.

Architecture can never be art because it must necessarily encompass the utilitarian. Architecture must perform. It must accommodate human needs, behavior, and ergonomics. Even if harmonized and integrated with the aesthetic telos in a truly artful and "organic" work of architecture, merely the presence of the utilitarian dimension, even if it's not primary, makes it "not art." Saying that architecture can be art is a category error.

So, when we characterize architecture as "craft" or "design", we are acknowledging that reality. Again, just because architecture isn't art does not mean it cannot be created artfully or cannot become aesthetically powerful (even transcendental). In fact, it is the great challenge and potential of architecture that it can achieve powerful, all-encompassing aesthetic effects while also keeping the rain off our heads and giving us place to park the car. Design is harder to do than art because of this teleological multi-dimensionality.

Aug 13, 13 2:09 pm  · 

Incidentally, this is why art in the modern era has become so sterile, decadent, and impoverished: most artists have chosen to engage in pranks and propaganda instead of making actual art. After all, making real art is hard work.


 It's useless to try and define real art. I still think it's a matter of opinion. This man's work (DuChamp) shook the 20th century, and there's no denying that: 

Aug 13, 13 2:50 pm  · 

It's useless to try and define real art.

This is a profoundly anti-intellectual and anti-artistic statement, and also happens to be false. If you come to understand what art is (and isn't), and can articulate that (with, for instance, a definition) then you can do art better. You can also talk about art in ways that are intelligible to other people.

Bringing this back to architecture for a moment, one of the biggest frustrations most architects experience professionally is the difficultly in making analytic arguments in favor of aesthetic decisions in design. How many of us have heard the phrase "that's just architecture" from a client in reference to some important design choice intended primarily for aesthetic effect? How often are aesthetic concerns dismissed by clients and contractors as "matters of opinion" or irrelevancies? If you, as the designer, don't understand aesthetics, can't articulate why some aesthetic choices are objectively better than others, don't make the case for the necessity of artfulness in design, then dealing with this sort of thing quickly becomes a nightmare. If it's purely subjective and "just a matter of opinion," then their opinion will always over-rule yours since they hired you. You will consistently fail to create and deliver value because you can't explain where the value is and why it's important.

Aug 13, 13 3:02 pm  · 

Very well said, point taken.


*I think I learned something today

Aug 13, 13 3:18 pm  · 

I decide what is or isn't art. No book or person tells me what Art is, I can figure that out on my own after experiencing it. There are definitions for everything, who says I have to believe all of them. I prefer living a life recognizing great Architecture is Art.

Aug 13, 13 3:40 pm  · 

gwharton, i'll side with you that contemporary art is decadent and impoverished because we live in a society (speaking from the U.S.) that only privileges that which is quantifiable and capable of performance measurements.  function is defined by lowest cost and highest investment return, followed by efficiency of energy use.  therefore you have artists doing 30ft tall inflatable balloon sculptures and unicorns frozen in tanks.  in the united states most people have no knowledge of aesthetics (as in philosophy) or could even name an artist from the 20th century save for Picasso and Andy Warhol.  we have a destructive political party trying to defund art and cultural institutions to promote a narrow ideology that is hostile to women, people of color, the elderly, and essentially anyone who stands in the way of personal profit and saving the souls of fetuses.  the reach is so severe that as you state, architects, trained in making aesthetic decisions, can't or barely can defend these decisions to clients. 

@ jono lee, architecture can't be subversive?  what about the bauhaus, superstudio or SITE or archigram, or today organizations such as rural studio in alabama?  

also, why is FLW irrelevant today?  he was just one architect.  by many designers  function/aesthetic definition on this forum he wasn't very good either.  leaky roofs, cantilevers that needed bracing, uncomfortable furniture, ego-maniac, treated interns poorly, over-ran client budgets. 

but even from an ideas standpoint for example, broadacre city was just a futuristic automobile driven suburb.  sure he designed beautiful buildings which were rooted in his own understanding of romanticism and christianity, but there are serious limits to what students can learn from him that are useful in a contemporary context.

@miles, thanks for posting Guggenheim, perhaps his best project and also subversive given the urban context.  

Aug 13, 13 3:50 pm  · 


 Those are some good examples you pointed out. You could also bring up in today's practices, Thom Mayne and Tina DiCarlo who have in ways, grafted art and architectural discourse into a singular discussion. But the extent of its subversion is really limited to its social responsibility. 

  For art, there simply is no mandate for it to adhere to any restrictions or be contained in any way. Consider art exhibitions where the gallery will quite literally reorganize its own interior space to cater to specific installation work.

 A key component in architecture is it's social responsibility, and in ways, that is what "inhibits" it from really being socially destructive with intent. Sure, radical ideas may float around, but at the end of the day, it must secure a level of confidence in the public domain. It must function within its means; but whether that is done successfully is what is always in question. 

Aug 13, 13 4:17 pm  · 

Well said, gwharton.

Updated to add: So Kevin W., when a spec home builder tells you that s/he can decide what is and isn't architecture, will you accept their point of view without comment?

Aug 13, 13 4:47 pm  · 

Donna.. I don't imagine I will ever have a conversation with a spec home builder. There will always be spec homes disgracing our landscapes, those who build them and those who desire them are not for me, nor am I for them.

Don't they already decide that anyway? There always has to be something for the masses, right?

Aug 13, 13 4:59 pm  · 

++Jono 'social responsibility'

Aesthetic choices in architecture are primarily rooted in functional concerns, the fulfillment of which is by definition the purpose of architecture. Therefore architecture is design.

I was wondering who would bring up DuChamp. There's also Warhol, who simultaneously trivialized and commercialized art. Look a the difference between them and Picasso or Wim Delvoye.

gwharton: I once heard a story about a group of architects discussing what angle to set an accessory building at. They all had various psuedo-philosophical arguments for the number of degrees to turn it without consideration for topography, natural light, views, effect on other structures, etc.

utopianrobot: Among other things Wright is solely responsible for the residential open floor plan.

Aug 13, 13 5:31 pm  · 

corbusier: free plan

Aug 13, 13 5:48 pm  · 

Should we have concretely differentiated hobby/craft art to high contemporary art? And also, to differentiate commercial buildings/public use to "real architecture" as Eisenman would have distinguished? 

  Perhaps our disagreements and general mix-ups come from not properly differentiating both. 

Aug 13, 13 5:55 pm  · 

People from around the world tour Wright buildings that are open to the public, books on Wright continue to be wriiten and purchased. Many still want to experience the qualities that Wright brought to residential design today. Especially with the trend and love affair with MCM, Wright is very relevant. To appeciate the important contributions Wright had to modern Architecture, perhaps it is important to look beyond the tabloid type reports and the (yawn) yet another leaky roof mention.

My house was designed and built by one of Wrights favorite apprentices, who was my friend and mentor. People regularly stop and photograph my house and ask questions. Those I let in are amazed by the quality of light, space, interest and warmth of materials and quality of construction. There is still a lot to gain from what Wright has left us.

Aug 13, 13 6:07 pm  · 
chatter of clouds


"this essentially Nietzschean position that anything made somehow can approach the apotheosis of art if it is done aesthetically" - how did you come about that understanding of Nietzsche? and what do you mean by an "apotheosis of art"?

"Art is fundamentally about the reification of values (or, really, meta-values), so they may be experienced directly as perceptual concretes. This is the ONLY purpose of art, and it is primary in both its creation and evaluation." - I don't think i agree here; first, yours is a very hindsighty proclamation and seems to stem  from a static cultural athropological reading of art. furthermore, something of the same can be said with reference to many other cultural anthropologies. so your statement is wrong in that it is not what art is specifically about, since this is a general condition of reading art as well as other areas of inheritance from a cultural anthropological point of view. to accord with your evaluation, art would have to be besides itself. also, you condemn art to a passive receptor of reification. i think this is not only simplistic in approaching art but also simplistic in approaching the "reification of values". Do you know what these so called  values are? Where they come from? Are they not able to change and evolve or devolve, be replaced? Is art creation itself not an agent that contributes to -at least- emphasizing some values over others, perhaps even open up some cracks in those values...basically, is art not a contributing force within the history of humanity as opposed to a passive reflection of a process of value reification?

And of course although you make your belief quite clear but I find that singling out utilitarian endowment as a necessary preclusion of artistic endowment unjustified and lacking a breadth of imagination. i would even suggest that utility in architecture is in itself an abstraction of sorts by being both :

- a preemptorily planned utility tduring design stage hat eventually translates into a very casual subconscious usage of the building proper - therefore architecture may be well imagined and appreciated  seperate of its utilitarian qualification and architectural imagination may well dwell on all other aspects but function.

- a contingent qualification that may be usurped. we see this in historical buildings that have become - practically speaking- a self-display of their artistry. interestingly, utility at that time becomes subject to he larger fold of art appreciation for we then see utility under the rubric of cultural anthropology and symbolism. in your terms - which i contest above- the utilitarian aspect becomes part of the cultural reification.

Aug 13, 13 6:54 pm  · 

 Utility can be found in art as well. Maoist government in China used art as propaganda. Political art can be used as powerful agents of change and control...

Also, I think art is relatively "quick" compared to architecture. Art can be more adaptive and relevant to the most immediate conditions of time, as the output of the work can be produced faster. Architecture on the other hand, as Koolhaas would say, is slow in "keeping up".

Aug 13, 13 7:15 pm  · 


  1. native materials
  2. passive solar heating & cooling
  3. natural lighting (clerestory)
  4. convection-driven radiant heat
  5. interior-exterior connection (nature aesthetic)

Five Points

  1. pier foundation
  2. roof garden
  3. free design of the ground plan
  4. horizontal windows
  5. free design of the facade

Note that 3, 5 and by direct extension 4 are all the result of 1, using columns for support rather than bearing walls, making this a 2-point plan. Nothing about mechanical systems necessary to manage the building, nothing about connecting to the surrounding environment, though I give Corbu credit for replacing the lost footprint on the site with a roof garden (in theory at least, the "roof garden" at Villa Savoye is just a big terrace with a few plants). Horizontal windows? LOL

Corbu was an elitist stylist. His vision of utopia is frightening and fortunately unbuilt although it has inadvertently become a model for urban capitalist society: exclusive highrises for the rich and dense vertical tenement cities for the poor, all surrounded by cars. Let's not even get started on the differences between the sterile white box and the craftsman's house. The failure of Corbu's much-copied classic modernism led directly to post [gag] modernism and pseudo-[barf]-classical.

Corbu wanted to dominate the environment, Wright wanted to integrate people into it.

If that isn't enough: Frank Lloyd Wright vs. Le Corbusier

I rest my case. Although I do really like Notre Dame du Haut. And only partly because it abandons the Five (actually two) Points.

Aug 13, 13 10:22 pm  · 

definition from google:

    The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture,...: "the art of the Renaissance"
    Works produced by such skill and imagination."

So Architecture is a form of Art by this definition.  The argument of its a Craft therefore it cannot be an Art doesn't seem very logical.

Aug 14, 13 1:45 pm  · 

this is art:



and this is architecture:



as you can clearly see - art has people and is photographed from human eye level and architecture is devoid of people and photographed from helicopters.

Aug 14, 13 2:08 pm  · 


Cloaca, Wim Delvoye, $1,000


Chamber Pot, George E. Ohr, est. Auction price: $1,000

ARCHITECTURE, Wainscot NY, $45,000,000

Aug 14, 13 3:55 pm  · 

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