What Is Architecture?

Architecture is…

difficult to define, and even architects get confused when asked to come up with an unambiguous definition. If you are looking for an answer with two lines underneath, you might find it here (or not).

This is an attempt to explore the wealth of possible approaches to this seemingly simple question.

Whether your first association is: “architecture is… fancy modern building-design”, or “… the collective human heritage of built environments throughout the world” you might reconsider.

The term architecture…

with its Latin descent, architectura; means “chief builder”, and it represents both the process and the product of planning, designing and constructing buildings, according to Wikipedia.

Or, as Louis Kahn so eloquently put it: “the thoughtful making of space”.

Architecture has both a practical and an emotional side. Whether it is the simplest human shelter, or the grandest monumental cathedral, architecture reflects the human condition.

Many are those who have tried to pinpoint the definition of architecture, once and for all, but I am not convinced anyone have managed to do it yet.

The first official attempt on defining architecture was made by the Roman architect Vitruvius in the 1st century. According to Vitruvius, the combination of the three principles; durability, utility and beauty, are what ultimately define good architecture.


or, building technology, is doubtlessly important in architecture, as is utility; and beauty is unquestionably desirable.

This definition, however, says nothing about the cultural, historical, political, or ecological implications of architecture. Perhaps these aspects weren´t as relevant back in the 1st century, but they are definitely relevant today!


Architecture is nothing if not an expression of the culture that surrounds the building site. Through the individual and collective style of the built environment, we can extract a lot of information about the corresponding society.


Seeing architecture as an expression of its culture is the reason why it is so important to preserve historical buildings. They help us interpret our predecessors, and thereby increase our understanding of ourself and our heritage.

Most of the buildings the world needs have already been built, and to a large extent we are forced to repurpose and redesign existing buildings to meet our current needs. In order to do this right, we need to fully understand the history of our buildings.

The political nature of architecture…

Is reflected in how a government takes care of its existing building environment, and how it prioritizes when it comes to future buildings. Are the new buildings extravagant and fancy, while the poor people live in sheds? Or, are public buildings kept in a modest fashion, while the politicians emphasise social housing? Ultimately it boils down to a political standpoint.


A large part of the world´s energy consumption is due to our buildings. Developing sustainable buildings can therefore make a substantial contribution to the ecological balance of the world. The architecture of the future (starting now) must take this into consideration.


in its essence is concerned with the shaping of materials, space, and light. It operates in the interface between art and technology, urban and rural areas, functionality and aesthetics, theory and practice. It is affected by the work of architects, but it belongs to all of mankind.

“Life is rich, always changing, always challenging, and we architects have the task of transmitting into wood, concrete, glass and steel, of transforming human aspirations into habitable and meaningful space.” Arthur Erickson

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