“There are three forms of visual art: painting is art to look at, sculpture is art you walk around, and architecture is art you can walk through” – Dan Rice
This quote by entertainer Dan Rice exemplifies the spirit of architecture – one that goes beyond function and stability. The aesthetic is one of the defining principles of the field of architecture. A building could work perfectly and yet not achieve success and popularity if it doesn’t look the part. Often integrated into the principles of design and aesthetics is art. All historic art movements encompass an analogous shift in the principles of designing buildings. Modern art leads to modern buildings, art deco leads to art deco facades, and if not deconstructivist – what would we term Frank Gehry’s portfolio of projects?
If we go by their dictionary definitions – Art is a process of creating things of extrinsic value through emotional or aesthetic appeal and Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing, and construction. However, the visual arts have continually taken inspiration from architecture and vice versa. There are a plethora of legendary figures in architecture that were also artists in their time, such as Antoni Gaudi and Le Corbusier who have, through their work accentuated the overlap between the two fields, with projects such as the Sagrada Familia, or Notre Dame du Haut respectively. This trend continues in modern practices as well. Architect Santiago Calatrava is a prime example of how the gap between design and engineering is narrowing day by day. He insists that architecture is a medium that encompasses all disciplines into one, from painting to mechanics. For an example closer to home, Architect Hiren Patel insists the process behind seamlessly blending art and architecture is essential to either craft; how one inspires the other and where to draw the line between the two. All art needs a specific, subjective environment within which it can be showcased to deliver the greatest impact, while architecture needs art to turn bricks, steel, and concrete into a space in which people want to live.
These examples, along with others, show us that the judicial use of art within our built environments, the experience of the user can be monumentally enhanced. What is important is to strike a balance – between artistic elegance and accommodating functionality. We keep in mind the end result – which is to create a space that has a lasting impact on the individuals that it. Not all art may sear into the memory of those who view it, but no one forgets a bad design. “Good” art or architecture is often “invisible”. Spaces or elements flowing seamlessly into one another, without a single encumbrance hampering the user experience – either visual, when we speak of art, or physical, when we speak of architecture.
There is a dilemma that exists within the artistic community – the argument for/against starchitects. Starchitects, (star + architects) as per the strictest literal definition – is a colloquial term used to describe architects whose celebrity or “star” status have transformed them into not just idols of the architectural sphere, but have also given them some degree of fame among the general public. Their popularity lends them the right to practice avant-garde-ism, treating the world as their canvas. Those in favour of starchitects argue that architecture – like any other art form, is a medium of artistic impression, hence it should be deemed acceptable for individuals to have their own styles and mediums. While on the contrary, those against it argue that architecture should primarily be a service to the public and that the profit motive should not play a role in the construction and design of buildings. The existence of starchitects is considered a testament to the fact that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, with style and art taking precedence over the greater good. Whether or not these practices should exist in our society is a question we leave to you, the reader.
When we talk about art we almost exclusively think about the galleries and arcades, profusely adorned with iconic work and intricate detail. However, it is often said – even if you remove all the paintings and sculptures from within a museum, what remains is still very much – art. Time and again we mistake art for a “high brow”, or “esoteric” venture, to be pursued only by the “elite” – virtues that are all uncharacteristic of a society whose urban fabric is as diverse and evolving as ours. From the mason that lays the bricks of the museum’s foundation to the designer that carefully crafted each lamp inside, we are all artists that happen to collate through the beautiful medium of architecture. We, as practitioners of this field, get to witness a unique collaboration of numerous creative mechanisms interacting beautifully and democratically.