Drawings, paintings, and sculptures among many other things largely inform art which is closely linked with architecture. So are architects artists? Or vice versa? Surely there’s a blurred difference which lies between the two. Vitruvius, the roman architect established 3 key principles that formed the basis of architecture – Firmatis (Durability), Utilitas (Utility), and Venustatis (Beauty). While art can be viewed in 2D housed within an architectural space or sculpture, a 3D projection of what art could be, architecture is a unique art that can be experienced in the 4th dimension. This real-life aspect of architecture makes it a pragmatic art since it has the responsibility to either enhance or ruin the way people experience and inhabit spaces.  Since many factors such as structure, material, or other constraints play into the design, sometimes architecture can risk falling behind what art has successfully achieved, the third principle of Vitruvius – Beauty. In such moments, it’s useful to borrow prompts from art and use it as a tool to explore architectural possibilities that strike a balance between all 3 points of the equation of good architecture. The following shows how architects have borrowed inspiration or apparent influences from art and sculpture.

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Art as architecture. (©Federico Babina, 2014)
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Painting by Pablo Picasso, 1909; (2) design by OMA (©Rem Koolhaas) for Seattle Library, 2004.

No other art movement has had a profound influence on architecture and other design fields, none other than the 20th-century cubist movement led by Pablo Picasso. It has established itself as an easily recognizable style characterized by the fragmentation of simple objects and reassembling them into geometric components. The charm in the style is owed to the tension achieved in the 2d and 3d imagery striking a balance which simultaneously challenges the eye with multiple viewpoints.

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Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. (©Philipp Rümmele, 2003)

One of the modern faces of the deconstructivist movement, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall is one example of the broken up dynamism seen in cubist paintings. Much of his work is experimental incorporating movement, curves, crumple and the influence from art is clear with each project taking a sculptural twist. Disjointed elements make up his work primarily using corrugated metals giving it a raw look. Just as Picasso takes a mere object and abstracts it in his work, Gehry borrows the same process in the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Inspired by the sail, Gehry curves and bends the distinct steel-clad masses to capture the spirit of sails blowing with the wind.

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Still Life (©Le Corbusier, 1920)

The household name referenced time and time again to the principles of modernism in architecture schools, Le Corbusier was not only an architect but an artist as well. He was one of the leading founders of the art movement called purism which emerged after cubism. Purism proposed a simplification of form reducing it to its intrinsic properties which in turn reflected Corbusier’s functional and highly rational architecture.

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Le Corbusier’s Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau. (©ADAGP, Paris 2015)

The standard of beauty at the time was expressed through the ornament which Corbusier rejected and instead glorified forms with clean lines and sharp edges that removed excessive detail. Le Corbusier’s Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau (Pavilion of the New Spirit), perfectly captures the manifesto of such beliefs for the International Exposition of Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 which was predominantly populated by the Art deco style. The simple white cube elevated by ‘pilotis’ was the point of conception for modern architecture.

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The Peak. (©Zaha Hadid, 1983)

The Queen of the Curve, herself, Zaha Hadid’s creative process was deeply inspired by the Russian Suprematist painting Kazimir Malevich. His abstract paintings impacted her approach towards architectural representation, where she played with the abstraction of plans in three dimensions. Diverging from the traditional presentation, she explored master plans of urban spaces in a floating, gravity defying, and dynamic way.

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The Peak. (©Zaha Hadid, 1983)

“The Peak,” was one example where Hadid proposed an artificial mountain retreat from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. The painting was a tool she used to make an abstract composition of sharp parts and curved planes of view. Her deep explorations using such a medium to make sense of a city is what informed the way she designed her sweeping curves for the rest of her fruitful career. 

The sculpture is a medium where the spatial qualities of architecture are explored and pushed further aesthetically without the limitation of architectural constraints. Looking at the works of sculptors can inspire the exploration of forms, materials, and the site-specific approach it employs. Anish Kapoor’s monumental outdoor sculpture, “The Farm,” in New Zealand combines architectural qualities in terms of size, material, engineering, and site-specific views with an artistic vision. Adapting to the change in levels, the combined fabric and steel structure sits like an elongated horn with a horizontal and vertical elliptical mouth at either end.  

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Dismemberment, Site 1. (©Anish Kapoor, 2009)

Kapoor used the sculptural form to intentionally frame views of the New Zealand seascape that offer viewers an opportunity to see the Harbor at the vertical end and the hills and valleys from the horizontal end. Therefore art and sculpture can inform architects about approaches that seldom are explored due to the practical nature of the profession and push us to think outside our box. After all, in the words of Vitruvius, in De Architectura titled “On the training of Architects”: “The science of the architect depends upon many disciplines and various apprenticeships which are carried out in other arts.” 


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  2. Harp, C., 2009. Three Principles Of Good Architecture. [online] Blog.clinical architecture.com. Available at: <https://blog.clinicalarchitecture.com/three-principles-of-good-architecture> [Accessed 18 September 2020].
  3. Santibañez, D., 2019. The Creative Process Of Zaha Hadid, As Revealed Through Her Paintings. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/798362/the-creative-process-of-zaha-hadid-as-revealed-through-her-paintings> [Accessed 18 September 2020].
  4. The Art Story. 2020. Frank Gehry Paintings, Bio, Ideas. [online] Available at: <https://www.theartstory.org/artist/gehry-frank/> [Accessed 18 September 2020].
  5. The Art Story. 2020. Purism Movement Overview. [online] Available at: <https://www.theartstory.org/movement/purism/> [Accessed 18 September 2020].
  6. Willette, J., 2017. Le Corbusier: Purism As Architecture | Art History Unstuffed. [online] Arthistoryunstuffed.com. Available at: <https://arthistoryunstuffed.com/le-corbusier-purism-architecture/> [Accessed 18 September 2020].
  7. Structurflex. 2012. Anish Kapoor Sculpture Blends Fabric, Steel In New Zealand – Structurflex. [online] Available at: <https://www.structurflex.com/anish-kapoor-sculpture-blends-fabric-steel-new-zealand/> [Accessed 18 September 2020]. 

Evangelin Vergis, a passionate student of architecture design believes that architecture is a language nesting people,their conversations, experiences, dreams and history. A poet and songwriter, words shall scarcely run dry especially when reflecting on architecture, the poetics of space where art,science and philosophies intersect!