To answer this question, we need to first conclude that architecture is in fact a subset of art or itself is art. The debate over architecture being considered art, in any form, has been a prolonged one. And it is of the nature that there wouldn’t be any conclusion derived, not anytime soon. This article has no intention over prolonging this particular debate but rather an attempt to understand the roots of this topic. What drives people to connect art and architecture? What are their commonalities and how can we understand this realm better?

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Image Sources: Architectural drawing, rendered ©

If we choose to look back at history, during the Renaissance especially, most architects that rose to fame then were first artists. For example, Giotto, Michelangelo and El Greco. They were either sculptors or painters that later took an interest in built forms. Thy definitely saw the direct or indirect relationship between visual arts and architecture.

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Image Sources: Work by Frank Gehry ©

Frank Gehry became the first and only architect to be awarded the “Harvard Arts medal”. This fact truly transcends the meaning of architecture, it suggests strongly that architecture is a subset of the visual arts. Gehry says in his speech after receiving the award that he tries to deliver emotion with the use of inert materials as the mode of delivery. This might be able to put architecture in the same umbrella as the other visual arts, going by the definition that art is a product of the human imagination which acts as a tool for self-expression. But then again, isn’t architecture meant for a certain purpose? that is, its function. Gehry also states that he uses an alternate for decoration in his buildings, that is the design principle of movement. This paragraph might be able to convince you that architects are indeed artists.

Let us look at a few statements made by a few known figures in the world of architecture, Philp Johnson, who was an American architect best known for his works of Modern architecture, once said that “architecture is art, nothing else”. There was Richard Mier, is an American abstract artist and architect who claimed that “architecture is the greatest of the arts”. Patrick Schumacher, principal of the architecture practice Zaha Hadid Architects, was heard stating with a certain level of annoyance, “Stop confusing architecture with art. Art is usually about self-expression”. This goes directly against the conclusion made in the previous paragraph. Steven Holl, a New York-based American architect and watercolorist, says in an article titled What is Architecture? (Art?) that architecture is the art of space. He further adds that architects create this “luminous spatial energy”.

Most of the architects that seem to agree with architecture being treated as an art-form have all had practice in the visual/fine arts realm. Therefore, they know what is to be an artist and hence they connect architecture to art with a greater understanding of the art realm.

Architects in their initial process of designing, sketch a lot, draw a lot, use a variety of visual art representations to put their imagination into paper. They also have this crave for artistic perfection, be it in the presentation boards for a jury or on a building façade. All these factors push us to draw quiet a lot of similarities between architects and artists.

Some common characteristics are:

  • Both depend on a structure that might not be visible once the creation is complete, tugging at their artistic imagination, its capabilities and the ability to put it on paper.
  • The strive for excellence and perfection in their work.
  • Rely on the experience that the artwork/space delivers to the end-users.
  • Both draw inspiration from the built environment.
  • Their works are held responsible for the psychological well-being of the user. They have the power to transcend into the minds of other and have effect on it to some extent.
  • Being open minded and fostering an accepting nature towards the thoughts and idea of the contemporary world.

It would be an easy task to conclude that architects display characteristics like that of artists during the initial stages of designing, that is to represent their ideas and concept.

But somehow this conclusion is not convincing enough. The continuous practice of the designing process in the architect’s mind pushes them to become a creative professional unlike any other professions that exists out there. Hence, they become artists and their works masterpieces of art.


Bharani Sri is currently a B.Arch student at the VIT School of Architecture (VSPARC), Vellore. She enjoys passing her time by reading about architectural history, art, philosophy, and criticism. She believes that the world would be a better place if everyone was encouraged to look through the lens of historical analysis.