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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The First Priority of Architecture

Architecture is a building, or collection of buildings, providing shelter that often includes exterior pavement and project open space. It is supported by the Movement, Life Support and Open Space divisions of the built environment and displaces its source of life -- the Natural Domain. 

Architects appear to be searching for a definition that distinguishes architecture from buildings by emphasizing fine art, but fine art is not the first priority for shelter in a world that demands symbiotic correlation from all living functions.


Evaluating architecture with opinion is a fine art tradition, but it does not address the problem of shelter composition and context for growing populations within symbiotic limits. This is not only a first priority for architecture and city design, but for us all.


The appearance of architecture can only be judged, but the composition, intensity and context created by the relationship of building mass and pavement to project open space can be measured. These project characteristics combine with a city’s land use allocation, movement, open space, and life support systems to determine its physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life. Architectural appearance symbolizes the culture, talent, and knowledge that led to the decisions adopted; but we are not even close to the knowledge required for shelter appearance to indicate symbiotic awareness and achievement.  


Architecture has not emphasized symbiotic land use allocation, building composition, and context design regulations in the face of a speculative desire for maximum development capacity at minimum cost; but the issue of shelter for the many activities of growing populations has sustainable public consequences it is qualified to address. 

The symbiotic allocation mentioned in the previous paragraph has several decision-making layers. The first involves the amount of land allocated to the Built Domain and the land that remains for its source of life, the Natural Domain. Within the Built Domain, allocation involves land designated for shelter, movement, open space and life support. Within the Shelter Division, it means the allocation of land for activity, intensity and open space that can protect a growing population’s quality of life and economic stability. Within a single Shelter Division project, it means the allocation of land to accommodate building cover, parking cover and project open space. The addition of building height produces building mass (volume) that combines with pavement and is offset by open space to produce project composition and intensity. The final design of composition produces the context we experience. Within each building, energy is allocated to mechanical systems that serve spatial allocation for building activity, but energy conservation is the closest we have come to considering symbiotic relationships with the source of this energy. In the end, architecture is about the wise use of land and resources for shelter. Form follows function that respects the symbiotic law of Louis Sullivan’s poetry. This is when architecture will bloom in many ways, and some will be judged fine art.  


Symbiotic science is beyond my level of competence, so I’ll stick to the architecture I know and the city design that will lead activity allocation, shelter intensity, composition and context design. The visible shape of these decisions has been commonly referred to as “urban form”. 


An architectural project falls into a design category represented by a forecast model. The model is like a musical instrument with a fingerboard called a design specification template. Each topic in the template is a string of the instrument. The values assigned to each topic are notes in a score. The score for each instrument combines with the talent of the musician to determine the quality produced. At this point, however; the instruments are new; solo performances suffer from scores written by the audience; and symphonies have not been written by qualified composers and executed by conductors in control of the orchestra. Is it any wonder that we have dissonant sprawl threatening our source of life? The symphonies we call cities have grown into an embarrassment that is emerging as a threat to the survival intended. A great solo performance without a score has been called architectural fine art, but we cannot survive on fine art when accumulated knowledge and awareness are required to sustain success over generations. 

When architecture can define symbiotic land use allocation and resource consumption within a built environment that improves the quality of life for growing populations, it will advance to context design contributions in the public interest. This is a goal that will distinguish future architecture from centuries of previous building effort. 


Architecture has a long history of correlating knowledge to produce combined contributions that are more than the sum of their parts. This is another point in history when it can choose to create new disciplines similar to its previous engineering contributions, or follow with the lack of coordination this implies.


AUTHOR NOTE: If this essay has retained your interest, you may also be interested in software entitled, Development Capacity Evaluation, v.2 that is attached to my book / manual entitled, Land Development Calculations, ed.2. They were published by The McGraw-Hill Companies in late 2009 and are available on

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