“Engineers and builders may have the technical knowledge to assemble the parts of a building, but only the architect has the training and years of study in aesthetics and experience coupled with talent to design buildings that have some value as art.”- The Daily Press (Guernsey, 1993)
Architecture, in its most basic definition, is a confluence of two broad skills: art/design and construction (Collins, 2022). While an architect’s knowledge of construction and technology is respected, it is often supplanted by an engineer’s or mason’s skill. Architects, then, are perceived to be mere agents of art- fanciful ideas and lavish, unnecessary expenditure. As such, architecture is broadly regarded as an indulgence by the public.
One overlooks art’s power to communicate, evoke intense emotion and shape thought. A cinema may leave one motivated. The art of testing times may evoke feelings of deep pity and anger: photographs of Vietnam’s ‘Napalm Girl’ or Picasso’s ‘Guerica’, both depicting the inhuman destruction wrought by war. However, art alone lacks the means to translate these into tactile, functional entities for human use.
Architecture bridges this gap between art and utility. A deeper look into architecture changes the perception that architecture is an indulgence. It is unique and the noblest of art forms, creating infrastructure and experience while shaping civilizations and the way of life. A study of architecture helps us understand its implications on society, what the architecture of a time represents, and its power to evoke emotions as art and drive economies. Just like art, it has the power to impact society during and decades after the time of the artist/architect.
Architecture, psychology, and health
Mark Rothko’s art, among others, is known to have a meditative effect. People spend hours staring at large artworks in museums like the Rothko Chapel to calm themselves. Creating art and colouring books for adults, too, have cathartic effects and help mental health and well-being. Similarly, architecture has a large impact on human psychology, well-being, and health. Soothingly designed interior finishes and textures can calm the mind. Working and living in well-lit and well-ventilated spaces improves the quality of life and helps to uplift moods.
Recent architectural breakthroughs like creating open-plan offices (like Google’s), ergonomic designs, and other employee-centric design that boosts productivity in workspaces as well. A Forbes (Kohll, 2019) survey indicates that 93% of workers in the tech industry said they would stay longer at a company that would offer healthier workspaces ranging from wellness rooms, and ergonomic seating among others. Thus, architecture not only impacts mental and physical health momentarily like art but also influences the quality of life through the treatment of spaces.
Architecture as a testament to the history
Caption: Louis XIV’s Portrait, created by Hyacinthe Rigaud with the intent of depicting the French Monarchy’s Grandeur.
Paintings and literature have been art forms employed by the nobility to document accounts of their prestige for posterity. Artists, too, choose to depict their times through their paintings. Examples of this include Picasso’s Guernica- depicting the impacts of the world war on that town and Dali’s Persistence of Memory- based on Einstein’s theory of relativity and new scientific concepts of the time.
Artist Hyacinthe Rigaud’s portrait of King Louis XIV was created to serve as a testimony of the monarchy and its grandeur (Portrait of Louis XIV (Getty Museum), no date). This grandeur was expressed in the King’s lifestyle and as a result, in the architecture of his Palace at Versailles, France. Today, the Palace of Versailles stands as the paramount representation of the French Monarchy’s extravaganza and pompous lifestyle.
Throughout history, architecture has represented the prestige, technological prowess, wealth, rise, and fall of civilizations (Vangelatos, 2019). One sees examples of these in the Roman aqueducts and Colosseum, Indus Valley’s Harappan Planning and Drainage layouts, and India’s Taj Mahal.
Architecture as Art
The ability to evoke emotion and create experiences is, perhaps, the most dramatic of all parallels between art and architecture.
Architecture as Visual, Sculptural Art
Studies have shown that the use of colour, lighting, and perspective can be used to change the mood of a painting and that of the viewer. Sculptural art and other visual arts can enthrall people visually. Zaha Hadid’s Heyder Aliyev Centre in Azerbaijan, Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Museum, and Shaun Killa’s Museum of the Future are buildings with high sculptural qualities. These are examples of architecture as visually stimulating art.
Certain pieces of art are timeless, architecture can be too. Just as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa attracts tourists, the buildings mentioned above help boost economies as tourist attractions while also providing their city/ town with a sculpture. Buildings with timeless qualities outlive their time and their creator. The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, completed in 1648, still draws scores of visitors to the country and greatly helps boost the economy.
Architecture as Experiential Art
Visual arts possess the ability to arouse strong emotions. “Picasso’s Blue Period is a great example of how colour can be used to evoke emotion; his cold palette of grey and blue perfectly captures the chill of despair in his subjects” (Gavan, 2020).
Installation art creates experiences one can walk through and feel a part of. The recent (2022) ‘Van Gogh Experience’ in London allows the viewer to step into the world of Van Gogh’s Art and see life through his lens. Francis D.K.Ching enlists ‘Experience through Movement in Space-time’ as one of Architecture’s 5 most important pillars in his book Form, Space, and Order. Juhani Pallasmaa, through his book ‘Eyes of the Skin’, emphasizes the need to activate all 5 senses through architecture. One can see examples of this throughout the world.
The Champalimaud Center, Portugal, is a center for the highest levels of contemporary science and medicine to help people grappling with real problems; cancer, brain damage, and going blind (Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown / Charles Correa Associates | ArchDaily, 2011). The site is located where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is the area from where great Portuguese sailors like Vasco Da Gama set sail into the unknown.
Being a centre for discovery and located at such a historically discovery-oriented site, the architect- Charles Correa- uses an experiential walk to allow the users of the building to experience discovery into the unknown.
“This pathway is ramped up (at a gentle slope of 1:20) – so as you ascend, you see only sky ahead of you. At the end of the ramp are two stone monoliths, straight from the quarry. When you reach the highest point, you begin to see a large body of water, which seemingly connects (i.e., without any visual break) to the ocean beyond.”
-(Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown / Charles Correa Associates | ArchDaily, 2011).
The walk along this path represents a walk toward the unknown (without knowing what lies ahead only with a view of the sky). The stone monoliths define the walk and may be interpreted as a ship’s sail. As one walks ascending the path, one discovers the ocean. Charles Correa’s Row Houses, at the banks of river Mandovi in Goa, too, create an experience. The section from the entry of the home to the riverside is so designed that walking through the house creates an experience of stepping down into the river.
Another example is Tadao Ando’s Church of Light. The use of light in a dark space to convey divinity creates an experience of coming in touch with divinity.
As put very aptly, architecture is the mother of all arts. It encompasses numerous art forms to create a structure. The Sistine Chapel is an example of a painting in architecture with Michelangelo murals. Modern architecture employs artists to create visually stimulating optical illusions. ‘The Museum of the Future by Shaun Killa is an example of architecture as sculpture with literature, another art form, carved onto it.
Architecture isn’t just about designing buildings. It’s about creating art with far-reaching implications. This places great responsibility on the shoulders of architects of a time- to create, change, shape lives and make the world a better place to live in.
Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown / Charles Correa Associates | ArchDaily (2011) ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/140623/champalimaud-centre-for-the-unknown-charles-correa-associates (Accessed: 12 October 2022).
Collins, P. (2022) architecture | Definition, Techniques, Types, Schools, Theory, & Facts | Britannica, Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/architecture (Accessed: 12 October 2022).
Gavan, S. (2020) How to Evoke Emotion through your Art, Art Web. Available at: https://blog.artweb.com/how-to/evoke-emotion-through-your-art/ (Accessed: 12 October 2022).
Guernsey, R. (1993) ‘ARCHITECTURE: THE MOTHER OR ALL ARTS – Daily Press’, DailyPress, 14 February. Available at: https://www.dailypress.com/news/dp-xpm-19930214-1993-02-14-9302140158-story.html (Accessed: 12 October 2022).
Kohll, A. (2019) How Your Office Space Impacts Employee Well-Being. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2019/01/24/how-your-office-space-impacts-employee-wellbeing/?sh=458d2b4864f3 (Accessed: 12 October 2022).
Portrait of Louis XIV (Getty Museum) (no date). Available at: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/object/103RA8 (Accessed: 12 October 2022).
Vangelatos, G. (2019) How Does Architecture Impact Society? A High-Level Look | Thought Leadership | HMC Architects. Available at: https://hmcarchitects.com/news/how-does-architecture-impact-society-a-high-level-look-2019-10-18/ (Accessed: 12 October 2022).