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Saturday, April 15, 2017

What is Architecture? - Three Essays

This is a compilation of three essays I have written in an attempt to answer the question.
It’s a good question. It’s the same one Caesar Augustus asked Vitruvius in Rome centuries ago. There are so many facets that must be reconciled to arrive at an answer! It’s another design problem. We are often distracted by a few high priority topics and compromise with others to arrive at an answer that is not a unifying concept. I think our education has taught us that there are many answers but few exceptional concepts. Intelligence gathering and logical evaluation are key ingredients for a concept that has the potential to increase knowledge.
Architecture is a tactical plan to achieve a shelter objective within a specific project area. It is written and drawn to lead and correlate the work of many contributing technical specialties. Final form and appearance symbolize the complex process and represent current opinion, knowledge and ability. The result is measureable shelter capacity, intensity, intrusion, and dominance that affect our quality of life within and beyond the building.
City design is a strategic plan written and drawn to correlate tactical decisions that combine to affect shelter, movement, open space, and life support within the Built Domain. The strategy leads tactical decisions that affect our physical, social, psychological, environmental, and economic quality of life.
The goal is a declared policy of symbiotic survival that is the only cure for a pathogenic disease on the face of the planet that we call sprawl. To succeed, we must learn to shelter the activities of growing populations within limited geographic areas that protect their quality and source of life – The Natural Domain.

A concept does not become knowledge until it can repeat success and avoid failure. In architecture, a concept is considered artistic inspiration. Repetition is considered plagiarism. As a consequence, the pursuit of fine art and the fear of plagiarism have led us away from the formation of knowledge that can improve the practice of the entire profession. This will continue as long as fine art is considered to be the answer to the question, “What is architecture?” Only the best is fine art; and fine art is the form, function, and appearance of a complex anatomy. This anatomy is created by an orchestra of technical specialties with a score written, drawn, and conducted by an architect. There are few masterpieces but many compositions. This is architecture, and its greatest strength is a constant search for improvement with logic that always grapples with the unknown. It is the only way to write a score that correlates the performance of an orchestra.
The decisions that set the stage for inspiration are consistent and mathematical. The values chosen determine the shelter capacity of land and the intensity, intrusion, and dominance introduced. These factors can also be measured at existing locations for comparison and evaluation. Architectural form, function, and appearance emerge from these site plan parameters to amplify the quality of life defined at street level. The correlated result symbolizes a culture’s current opinions, knowledge, and ability. This is architecture with a language that can elevate its tactical efforts to the strategic level of city design. In other words, architecture is (can be) a tactical and strategic profession that produces shelter strategy for growing populations. It is served by movement, open space, and life support within a Built Domain that must pursue a policy of symbiotic survival.
A logical, consistent mathematical foundation for ensuing design decisions has never eliminated inspiration. It provides a platform of knowledge to justify design decisions that are presently defended with politically vulnerable opinion.
On reflection, I have ripped my orchestral metaphor for architecture from the drawing board and thrown it into a pile of discarded efforts. The text below is another effort.
Architecture is logic that correlates diverse technical specialists and aesthetic contributions to achieve a shelter project objective. Unfortunately, these project achievements are not led by a strategic language that is able to accumulate knowledge and consistently lead project contributions toward shelter for growing populations within limited geographic areas that protect their quality and source of life – The Natural Domain. The achievement of tactical project objectives without a strategic plan for symbiotic survival will continue to produce pathogenic sprawl, resource depletion, and pollution across the face of a planet that does not compromise with ignorance. Architecture is judged by opinion that determines the building’s status as fine art, but opinion is not equal to the contribution required for symbiotic survival.

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