this and that


How do you define architecture? What is it? What isn’t it? What distinguishes it from mere buildings?

Will I answer that? No. Can I answer that? I don’t know.

However, when we talk to our students (as opposed to our clients), we quickly become cognizant that architecture is about more than mere function and form and materials but about many other amazing things that make it memorable, durable, experiential and special. (See I started to define it there with adjectives…see what I did there?)

One might use the three categories given by Vitruvius, and that might be a correct definition. However, I like the designation a very good friend and colleague of mine uses when he says that architecture is about “this and that.” Perhaps that’s oversimplifying it, but it requires more of architecture. Perhaps it requires more of architects. Either way, it’s a simple way to talk about a very complicated thing.


I’ll leave it up to you to decide what the “this” is and what the “that.” is

For the sake of provoking conversation, I will go out on a limb and state that it requires we give our clients something more. I know what you’re thinking — many of them don’t want (to pay for) anymore. I do try to find something special in every project; I’ve written about this before.


I believe we owe architecture as a profession more even though it hasn’t always been reciprocating the love and kindness. Our built environment needs more since it will truly outlive all of us. In fact this past week I was speaking to an editor about an adaptive reuse project of mine where almost a hundred years after a building was built, it has a new life—as something rather different from its original use. That’s something we must consider as we build new and it’s something we must consider before we agree to the wrecking ball.

We may not be able to easily or clearly define the difference between a building and architecture. Many might not even care. Nevertheless, I’ll start with this. Is there one singular move, one primary space, one moment–something that brings delight, joy or something more than basic comfort and utility to the occupants? It doesn’t matter what size or type of project it is. Can we stop looking for motivation, recognition or even a cash reward? Although that wouldn’t hurt–right?

If you chose to be an architect then architecture requires this of you.

If you are a client, developer, home-owner, tenant, or any user of architectural services, you should require this of your architect. You should also pay them for it too (did I say that out loud).

Lately the profession has been getting press for all of the wrong reasons. We can’t help but circulate it or talk about it. Remember that moth-flame illustration? Some of it is deserved, but it’s time to move on and stop perpetuating it.

I’m concerned where we are going.

With all of the technical requirements and consultants needed to meet the performance demands, architects are required to be technicians and software experts more than creators of something special. Can we hold it together as a profession, find enough work, stop eating our young, deliver buildings responsibly and still make architecture?

Perhaps it comes down to whether you believe architecture is about this AND that.


 most of the photos are from the Wikimedia Commons (used under the Creative Common License), ok two out of three is most.

this and that

4 thoughts on “this and that

  1. Perhaps the difficult-to-define difference between “architecture” and “a building” is the architect’s own sense of wonder that enables his or her work to spark that same sense in others. Thanks for that thought-provoking post, Lee.

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