From the necessity of living in prehistoric times to the eventual building of shelters for comfort, from building vast structures to portraying political powers to building aesthetically pleasing structures, architecture has come a protracted way. Architecture, in general, may be thought of as a form of art in a building or a structure designed by people. As a result, a civilization’s grandeur and height are measured by the monuments it has left behind that reflect its culture and life. It has evolved in this growing world as a science, as an art, as a technology, and as a philosophy. Architecture as a philosophy includes a vocabulary.

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Architectural Vocabulary of Peter Eisenman_©Stefano Corbo

What is the Philosophy of Architecture?

Philosophy of architecture is a branch of the philosophy of art, dealing with the aesthetic value of architecture, its semantics, and relations with the development of culture (Harries, 1987). A set of ideas, theories, or concepts that impacts architectural practice, with architects always trying to develop new concepts or ideas to define architecture. Although it is debatable if architectural philosophy is responsible for architectural greatness, several notable architects throughout history and geography have publicly embraced philosophy as their primary design tool. Because architects are constantly exploring new ideas or concepts, architectural philosophy is progressive. 

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Original Sketch of Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry showing his deconstructive philosophy_©

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Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry_©Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is an ambiguous and abstract interaction between philosophy and architecture. It involves posing questions about what it means to live in constructed environments and examining planning and design initiatives to ascertain what kinds of structures, interior areas, and metropolitan areas may be most contributing to human flourishing and social progress. The subsequent sets of topics address philosophical and architectural themes, including aesthetic, ethical, and political dilemmas as well as metaphysical concerns.

Architecture – Aesthetics, Art, or Science?

While many components of architectural practice have stayed consistent across time, modifications have significantly decreased common features, maybe to a restricted number of fundamental tools and elementary structural engineering theories. However, we cannot confine architecture to a type of engineering if we assume that architectural principles, taste, and competence add something beyond technical facts, regulations, and practical knowledge. These additional contributions imply that architecture may have an inventive or artistic-like role. However, architecture needs to be functional. 

Regardless of how beautiful it may look from the outside, a structure that does not serve the purpose for which it was designed is an example of poor architecture. Even modernists who believe that form should take precedence above all else demonstrate the validity of the adage that function must come after form. On the other extreme of the spectrum, architecture may be summed up as any semisynthetic object that has aesthetic value. 

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Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is an example that failed in terms of function_©Jack E. Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Form over Function or Function over Form?

The late 19th-century skyscraper in Chicago was designed by Louis Sullivan, who is credited with establishing the philosophy of “form follows function,” which has perhaps generated the foremost discussion in modern architecture and design. Some people believed that the guiding plan of “form follows function” offered original design solutions. It has a strong connection to early 20th-century and later modernist architects. The question of how the concept should be enforced and understood, as well as whether any interpretation is valid, is still being discussed.

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The Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler is a result of form follows function_©Jack E. Boucher
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Frederick C. Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright is a result of his belief in Louis Sullivan’s form follows function philosophy_©Tim Long

Modernist architecture designed by Le Corbusier aims to rethink and even establish the purposes for which architectural spaces and shapes, rather than just buildings, are employed. Le Corbusier considered architecture to be art. The architect, however, is more than, and different from, an artist because of the notion that form may affect or even decide function and so shape human behavior and communities. It transforms the architect into a type of social engineer and planner in addition to perhaps being a moralist and visionary. As envisioned by Corbusier, an architect has some degree of control over the functions that the designed space is put to, including how people move around and live in them. It is also possible that the architect can influence the thoughts and inclinations people have as a result of how they interact with the designed space.

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Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier_©
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Perspective of the Villa Savoye roof garden, 1928, by Le Corbusier_©

The Social Character of Architecture

Architecture has a notable social element and may even be considered an innately social art form, although all art forms acknowledge some degree of social character. One of architecture’s primary goals is to create shelter and hence address a range of social requirements. Another reason is that practicing architecture involves people in interpersonal relationships within a certain social context, making it a social process or activity. 

Regarding housing, land use, and urban planning, architecture as an object and endeavor incorporates a wide range of implications on social structures and phenomena. In turn, societal issues like injustice, social duties, and scarcity have an impact on architecture. The functions that architecture plays in addressing issues and demands for society as a whole also lead to additional societal necessities. We could wonder if architects are capable of developing structures that promote societal ideals like equality, justice, and self-determination.

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Temple of steps by Sameep Padora shows the interrelation the socio-cultural expectations of a temple with the ecological framework of site_©Edmund Sumner
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The Social character of Architecture_©Edmund Sumner
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The Cultural Aspect of Architecture_©Edmund Sumner

Phenomenology in Architecture

There is a widespread assumption among philosophers, architectural theorists, and designers that various building forms, as well as public and private spaces, engage human perceptions and feelings in ways that both influence and are shaped by human behavior and self-consciousness. The question of how cities permit distinctive forms of urban experience or how specific types of public or monumental architecture or heritage precincts make for a historical experience that is distinctive, stimulating, and conducive to good citizenship are related and overlap with a similar set of interests that are expressed both inside and outside the academy. 

Although the interpretation and application of phenomenology in architectural theory are not always clear, it is a significant movement. This is partly due to social grounds for building perception and semantic distinctions between high and poor art that characterize architectural aesthetics according to cultural variances. It’s also debatable if experiencing a building’s purpose differs from enjoying it for its aesthetic value or for any perceived architectural integrity it could possess. The idea that some circumstances may lead to the perception of poor architecture is also a possibility. 

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Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute and the view of Sunrise_©
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Phenomenology in Architecture_©

The lack of a direct connection between philosophy and architecture should be clear. Rather, there are likely several connections that work together to make this significant. These connections can be used to consider how architectural historians, theorists, and designers came to be recognized as particular kinds of intellectuals and philosophical agents with responsibilities for the built environment. There are several philosophies and metaphors associated with the design and several approaches to defining the optimum design process.


Anon, (n.d.). Architecture, Philosophy of | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online] Available at:[Accessed 05 October 2022].

‌ Fisher, S. (2015). Philosophy of Architecture (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). [online] Available at:[Accessed 06 October 2022].

‌ Antonioli, M. (2020). Philosophy in art and architecture schools: Odos and methodos. Journal of the CIPH, [online] 97(1), pp.47–58. Available at:–philosophy-in-art-and-architecture.htm[Accessed 06 October 2022].

Ashar, A.A. and Embi, M.R. (2015). Exploring the Architectural Excellence: Design Philosophy of Architect Razin Mahmood. International Journal of Built Environment and Sustainability, 2(2). doi:10.11113/ijbes.v2.n2.69.



Shivani Jadhav, a Mumbai-based architect, is attempting to explore architecture through words. She is passionate about discovering new perspectives on structures and bringing them to life through her writing. Her experiment focuses on the social, cultural, and philosophical aspects of architecture.