Art vs. architecture

Nice comparisons, Miles.  Very nice.

Aug 14, 13 4:53 pm

So I mentioned this thread to my husband the artist tonight.  He pretty much said it's a dumb debate to even have: if architecture was art, it wouldn't be called architecture, it would be called art - and then it wouldn't be architecture.

As someone living half in the architecture world and half in the art world, via my husband, I have to agree.  It's astounding to me that it's even a conversation.

Roy Ascott said "Art is not an object but a trigger for an experience." Setting aside that architecture *always is* an object, architecture also always is something *more than* a trigger.  It doesn't exist only as a means to create an experience, which is why art exists; architecture also exists as a means to perform some other function: shelter, most basically, but also to house activities like commerce and ritual or to communicate material history and culture.  Certainly I've had plenty of more profound experiences with buildings than I've had with art (though I've had those too), but the experience is incidental to the intent of the object.

Aug 14, 13 9:03 pm

"Don't start telling me buildings are works of art, because I don't buy it." - Richard Serra

I'm still thinking about Hejduk's, Abraham's, Wood's and now a favorite of mine Mitch McEwen - all these, and I'm sure there are many others, architects have aspects of their work that for me, steps across boundaries. 

What about Robert Irwin, does his work, I'm thinking of the work at the Whitney, work the edges too? 

Aug 14, 13 10:54 pm

Personally, I agree with Donna, this thread really isn't worth continuing. Semantics.

I'm coming down on the side of architecture as art, however, because:

#1 that's how Palladio describes it

#2 the arguments against, since I have followed the thread, have sucked. There was Gwarthon's obfuscating jibber-jabber,  and then Donna's "my husband is an artist so he should know" argument - Donna, think sculpture, painting, etc. - names given to the various arts- just 'cause it is a painting doesn't mean it isn't art. (And to then to dismiss your "profound" (aesthetic) experiences with architecture simply because buildings are useful...

Aug 14, 13 11:20 pm

None of us are saying that architecture is art or vice versa, we're trying to determine their differences, and seeing where they overlap; for that reason, it is an interesting and worthwhile discussion.

  There have been points discussed earlier where architecture can be "artful", but from what I gather, no one explicitly claimed it to be the other. 

 Of course the discussion would be dumb if we were to see if art was architecture... Similarly, how far would a discussion go in seeing if a truck was a sedan? 

Aug 15, 13 12:01 am

Sedan delivery trucks were common in the 1940's and 50's. 

Aug 15, 13 12:33 am


Aug 15, 13 12:39 am
boy in a well

architecture is art. if you haven't figured out how to practice it as such, well, far be it from me to criticize - its hard as fuck.

Aug 15, 13 3:38 am

architecture has flashing details and caulk.  go ahead and think your an artist if you want, but keep in mind that architecture isn't really art, and you need to make your building work.  also, if you're a good architect, you're designing for you client, not for yourself.

or architecture is art, but you need a staff of real architects to detail your art.

Aug 15, 13 7:37 am

architecture = caulk = glue = details = fabrication = art

the above does not differentiate the two.

Aug 15, 13 8:18 am

Art uses caulk, too, and the creation of a piece of art frequently requires the inclusion of structural engineering and life safety considerations (as does the piece I'm assisting with right now, for example).

So it's all back to my original definition: intention.  One doesn't set out to make a piece of architecture and land in the world of art, or the opposite.  One starts out intending to make a piece of art, and that starts from a very different set of intentions than does setting out to make a piece of architecture.

anonitect, ask any artist what they think of this thread and they will laugh in our faces just as my husband did.  Artists know very clearly that what drives us is not the same thing that drives them. We architects are the ones who are confused.  Like Dave Hickey said: We're just artists who wanted to make our mothers happy.

Aug 15, 13 9:20 am

One of the problems with architecture is that when architects look at their buildings as art they lose sight of practical function. Aesthetic decisions that ignore functional and programmatic requirements are bad architecture. Aesthetic decisions made in the context of practical function are design, not art. 

Semantics: If your definition of artist includes a good mechanic or tailor, then an architect - or any craftsman - is an artist. If an architect is an artist then so is an industrial or fashion designer, or a [cough] inferior decorator. 

Aug 15, 13 9:32 am

..virtually nauseating until I saw how most (not all) of the posts reflect personal comfort zones vs. personal discomfort zones. And then it became virtually nauseating again when individuals try to project their comfort zones as being somehow axiomatic. And then it got interesting again seeing how the implicit discomfort zones harbor the most inspiration.

Perhaps the Duchamp Inn (2007)...

...will begin to be known as the Discomfort Inn.

Sign on the door reads, "Architects Pay Extra."


Aug 15, 13 10:03 am

perhaps it's only the initial broad-stroke conceptual cocktail napkin part of architecture that is art.  and that's all they teach in school.  so it's the only part of architecture some of us are thinking of.  or the watercolor rendering.  for a lot of non-architects or architecture students, that might actually be what architecture is, and once you hand off your cocktail napkin sketch it becomes something different.  i think the person doing that sort of work might 'feel' like an artist.  that would play to Donna's statement regarding intention too.  that person might honestly be motivated by creating art.

i don't really 'feel' like an artist when i'm putting together a CD set.  this might work with Donna's 'intent' too.  once i start actually flushing out the realistic constraints of a building design, i think the goals become different. despite what some schools teach, you don't really get buildings built from cocktail napkin sketches and watercolors.

then again, maybe i'm way off.  i don't really care if a subway employee refers to themselves as a 'sandwich artist,' as long as they put in a bit of effort into making a decent sandwich.

Aug 15, 13 11:44 am

I am going to make a different argument, but let me first preface with a different example:

There is music that sells (ex. Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Jay Z, etc) and then there is music that has lasted the test of time...(ex. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi, etc.)

My argument: there is architecture that sells: Ex.: Toll Brothers, Zeckendorf, whatever... And then there is architecture that has lasted the test of time... The Pyramids, Hagia Sophia, Notredame, the Ronchamp Cathedral...

So- my argument is: artful architecture is that which lasts the test of time, specifically in terms of its formal aesthetic without necessarily  considering cost, while ordinary architecture responds to the most immediate demands of its consumer/user both in terms of its formal aesthetics and its cost...

Aug 15, 13 1:02 pm
chatter of clouds

Comfort Zone is same zone where one reifies the world in his or her image? Please excuse my sectarianism -i am after all an eastern mediterraneaner- but wouldn't it be very Protestant to fashion such an unimaginative nonparadoxical work-horse kind of divine image to be reified? After all, you are free to see the art in much architecture but a pithy ( stingy) soullesness in you predicates its worldview on the most common (in either sense) denominator. 

Aug 15, 13 1:10 pm
chatter of clouds

And the commonest denominator must be the trash can, garbage receptor,coffin of things. All ends there. I cannot understand zombies, never cannabilsm, never recycling. There are protestant in spirit. The commonest denominator of materialism, corporeal or otherwise. Always push the boundary to the common denominator, to the garbage of material with no discrimination. 

Aug 15, 13 1:24 pm

i don't really 'feel' like an artist when i'm putting together a CD set.


oh- but you are.


Aug 15, 13 1:37 pm

Wagner is the anti-semitic Britney Spears of the victorian era.

Aug 15, 13 1:41 pm

toaster, that urinal is sideways.  i suspect the manufacturer's revit block was built to be attached to a floor instead of a wall, but i'm not sure.  a real architect would have noticed that before they stamped drawings for construction.

Aug 15, 13 1:56 pm

Quondam, I think the Duchamp Inn (2007) is art. 

Speaking from the context of my own comfort zone, of course.

Aug 15, 13 2:17 pm

While I mostly agree with the point about Art vs Arch. being semantics perhaps the conversation should move from end-product to process and more specifically intent where there (I believe) really are parallels and similarities.

Aug 15, 13 2:39 pm

did duchamp design the urinal?  or did he takes someone else's urinal and turn it on it's side?  surely the former would be more artistic that the latter?  then again, sometimes it becomes quite clear i don't know what art is.

Aug 15, 13 3:49 pm

Yet Duchamp Inn is fully intended as architecture. Just like the intention here... architecture.

Aug 15, 13 4:36 pm

Looks like my next project is to design a Comfort Zone Inn. Here's the program:

The Comfort Zone Inn is a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.  A person's personality can be described by his or her comfort zones within a Comfort Zone Inn. A Comfort Zone Inn is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that Comfort Zone Inn without stepping outside of it. To step outside their Comfort Zone Inn, a person must experiment with new and different behaviours, and then experience the new and different responses that occur within their environment.


Aug 15, 13 4:44 pm

edited by Anne d'Harnoncourt and Kynaston Mc Shine

signed on the last page (by me) 2005.10.05

why was that?

One man's urinal is another man's art.

Aug 15, 13 4:44 pm

And your art is likely my urinal.

Aug 15, 13 4:48 pm


I'm glad we have Donna's husband to make sense of all this for us...

Aug 15, 13 5:15 pm

Andrea Zittel blurs the line, a little.

Apr 2, 15 10:27 pm

Miles, the picture of the "architecture" you posted on the previous page looks a lot like a project I recently did some structural work on.  Actually, exactly like it...  Brings back bad memories.  Best one is when the architect wanted a pile driven under every single steel column.

Also, that house is exemplary of the work of most of the architects we worked with.  Make a rectangle, slap as many gables onto the roof as you can fit and call it architecture.  

Apr 3, 15 9:22 pm

Without opening the can of worms that is your second paragraph, I suggest you read this entire thread before posing a question that has been debated at length.

May 17, 17 8:28 am
Non Sequitur

Miles, you'll certainly be saddened to know that in your absence, research skills improvement is inversely related to the rise of student laziness.

In a previous post this shining example of cognitive development said: "I have been a very aesthetically minded architectural designer, with special interest in pristine white forms, sometimes minimalistic and usually whose elegance is defined by simplicity ... when I think about Sydney Opera House ... what disturbs me the most is the lack of human dignity and distinction, which to me is often manifested in austere, simple and inorganic forms"

Non Sequitur

Miles, you might remember this chump's website: . He's an Archinect all star

go do it

snagged from here

There are many ways in which architecture and art relate:

  • Architects must be able to draw in an exploratory and expressive manner
  • Architects may sometimes use ideas formulated in art as the basis for architectural work
  • Architects’ work is often exhibited in galleries
  • Architects are often concerned with the aesthetic aspects of their work
  • Architects may prioritise conceptual or theoretical concerns over functional ones

But, none of this makes architecture art. Architecture is a design discipline, not an artistic one. One key difference here is that a designer is generally a professional. Norman Potter in ‘What is a Designer’ quotes Misha Black with one of the clearest definitions of this:

“...the offering to the public of a specialized skill, depending largely upon judgement, in which both the experience and established knowledge are of equal weight, while the person possessing the skill is bound both by an ethical code and may be accountable at law for a proper degree of skill in exercising this judgement.”

This ‘judgement’ is built up of intuition based on previous experience, foresight, educated guesses, imagination, and so on. This is a creative aspect – but not to be confused with what creativity means for a painter, photographer, sculptor or video artist. A designer/architect can be held accountable for various aspects of their work – and this is not limited to the working or function of a building. You can be taken to task for poor management among other things. Architects need to be creative – and often are – in this arena as well. Design projects come with clients who not only have particular needs but also preconceptions about how to deal with the problem. Design projects also come with budgets which restrict the range of possibilities (not for the worse). And projects, if they are going to be realised, have to deal with regulations, fabricators, and suppliers. As an architect you must work with colleagues, employees, and consultants and one of the most creative things an architect must do is negotiate all these things while giving sense to the design.
This is ‘artful’ but not art. The building may be pretty, beautiful, gorgeous or downright ugly from some people’s point of view – it has an aesthetic aspect – but it is not art. 
This doesn’t stop anyone from stepping outside of what architecture is meant to do and looking at it purely aesthetically or conceptually, that is, as a cultural artefact. Here I turn to Walter Benjamin:

“Distraction and concentration form polar opposites which may be stated as follows: A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it… In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art. This is most obvious with regard to buildings. Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction.”

Art is distinguished by the fact that it is made specifically for contemplation – you go to a gallery or museum to view, study, or focus on art as art. The aesthetic or ‘artistic’ aspects of architecture are always secondary to the everyday user - we experience them in distraction. It doesn’t mean it isn’t important. But equally, it doesn’t prevent us from shifting from a passive engagement to a focus or concentrated one and deciding to view a building as a creative act – as art. As Rodrigo Tello wrote – a Ferrari or a piece of chocolate can be viewed as art, but it doesn’t make it art. 
Short version:
Architecture is categorically not art, but it can be viewed as such much like anything else.

May 18, 17 12:16 am

"All art is quite useless."

- Oscar Wilde

May 19, 17 8:22 pm

"Art is what you can get away with." -- Andy Warhol

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