Art and architecture have always been close cousins! From Renaissance times of Da Vinci to ways of contemporary Starchitect Frank Gehry, art seems to weave the journey of an architect to his building morales.

This article sheds light on 10 segments that suggest visual arts aid in shaping architecture  ideologies :

1. Pinch of Prehistoric

Whether one considers caves as a part of the architectural realm or not, some of the earliest influence of art on the built environment can be seen Palaeolithic caves.

Chevaux de la Grotte Chauvet (31 000 BP) Lieu de la découverte :
Grotte Chauvet, Ardèche, France Date: 31 000 BP (Aurignacian) ( source: Wikipedia )

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Lascaux Cave. These drawings are over 17,000 years old. They are suggested to have astronomical relevance. Sockets in the walls show that a scaffold system was used for painting the ceiling drawings. ( source: )

Art pariétal( cave art ) used reds in the form of iron ore, blacks were retrieved from charcoal or manganese, yellows from iron oxide whereas, chalk or burned bone and shell. Since these materials were salvaged naturally from the very ground the caves were an organ of, we can say: fragments of habitat became a medium of expression and vice versa. In this way architecture made art and art made architecture.

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Palaeolithic people depicted bison and predators, flora and nudes, by a chiaroscuro technique ( a method of experimentation using strong shades of dark and light ) showcasing prevalent traditions; imprinted on the walls of caves and huts that once were occupied. At instances, heritage architects also suggest caves chosen as abodes were in accordance with the amount of reverberation and light, spaces experienced, for maximised acoustics and interior art.

On the eastern front, some architecture seemed to have been used to pay homage to the stories depicted by art. For instance, in the case of Ajanta and Ellora (dating from 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE, India), fresco paintings portraying the life of Great Buddha found sanctum in the elaborate carvings of these caves in Aurangabad.

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2. Thou art architecture!

Renaissance ( y.1419 ) was a time where art and architecture of Europe started to look back to the Romans and Greeks for inspiration while altering it to their daily needs; this was also the time when the glorious Sistine Chapel, Palazzo Pitti and El Escorial established their spots on the ‘iconic world architecture’ platform. The 1400s and 1500s brought in immense amounts of talent and innovation, whereby architects were definitely, in addition, also painters and sculptors.

Few pioneers of this era included Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Alberti.

There was a shift towards extending existing boundaries and dismissing stagnation which reflected in both fronts of visual arts as well as architecture. For instance, Brunelleschi’s dome of the Florence Cathedral and ‘Lamentation’ by Giotto; approximating perspectives, increased volume of figures, depth of emotion within-subjects instead of static and passive icons.

Paintings depicted either the wealthy or religious scenarios. Furthermore, architects were usually commissioned to design religious spaces such as cathedrals, basilicas, churches and chapels; or villas for the rich. These were built with symmetry and order, which corresponded directly with the ‘realist’ nature of the paintings that were produced.

3. Curating cubism

Who doesn’t know Pablo Picasso? Ask an accountant who knows not much about visual culture, he may suggest Picasso’s name while relating to the arts.

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Father of cubism, Picasso, was co-parenting with a man by the name of Georges Braque. Both of them have been said to be the reason brutalist and futurist architecture looks the way it does. Frank Gehry and Le Corbusier not only show their undeviating interest in cubism in their built work but also in theory.

Wheedling Architecture: How Art influences Architecture - sheet7Czech cubism or Cubo-Expressionism (1912-1914) was the elemental movement informed by the works of early cubists, applied to every creative field including architecture. With popular architecture such as the Cubist villa and House of the Black Madonna in Prague, Czech Republic a direct stimulation can be seen. Moreover, in Prague we also come across the Rondocubist building of Legiobanka; the name suggests admiration towards the art movement.

In modern and contemporary times, many including Luis Barragan, Steven Holl and Zaha Hadid seem to show a direct visual transformation of cubism imagery into tremendous three-dimensional architecture.

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4. Art brut and Brutalism

Inspired by paintings done by mentally ill patients displaying creative purity, Art brut ( or raw art ) was found by assemblage artist Jean Dubuffet during the 1940s. What fascinated Dubuffet the artists functioned completely outside of culture and society. Art brut fell under the broad spectrum of ‘outsider art’ which rejected the modernist art milieu.

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Following Outsider Art, somewhere in the mid 20th century while the post-war reconstruction took place in eastern Europe, brutalist architecture found its niche influenced by socialist ideas,  dismissing fancy aesthetics of modernism. Since concrete was inexpensive and encouraged quick construction it became an epitome for utilitarianism.

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It would be safe to assume, although ‘beton brut’ was raw concrete in French ‘brut’ (or rawness) in the case of visual arts and architecture during then, stood for rejection of social superiority.

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Tous les jours, Rene Magritte
( source : )

5. Surrealist, magnifique!

Surrealist art aimed at breaking barriers between dreams and reality. Andre Breton, the poet, author and essayist who incepted this movement said, “ objects seen in dreams should be manufactured and put on sale.”

If you are a ‘Netflix presents’ fan who watches Money Heist or a moustache enthusiast you probably know Salvador Dali- a wide eyes Spanish man with anti-gravitational facial hair shenanigan! The bold and audacious, infamous surrealist was responsible for the idea of a construct of space filled by furniture that resembled body parts. This, when seen with a certain perspective, allowed the viewer to see an assemblage of a human as seen in the photo below.

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Marilyn Monroe by Salvador Davi at The Salvador Dali Museum
( source: )

Surrealism also led to the Endless House by Friedrick Kiesler who used elastic spatial concepts. He wanted to deduce spaced which were capable of providing optimum solutions to constantly changing social needs and issues.

Looks like surrealism bred the concept of long term sustainability before it was a trend!

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Piet Mondrian and his work Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921)

6. Piet Mondrian

This one is pretty straight forward as seen in the above photographs; Mondrian’s compositions have a literal translation into the built environment designed by architects or designers. From the dutch De Stijl movement, his work has caused (and still continues to cause) ripples in the field of architecture.

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Eames house by husband-wife duo Charles and Ray Eames
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City hall of Hague by Richard Meier
( source:

Why that is maybe because of Piet Mondrian’s simplistic, primary coloured phenomena. Although influences can be seen in the works of minimalists at a higher rate, but his compositions allow accommodation of different philosophies. They can be looked at as a juxtaposition of plan forms, a compilation of/on elevations or even access routes to translate as an ever-morphing alphabet to form language.

7. The Eastern Tale

One would expect Venice in Italy to have a cliché architecture outline with vaults and columns reflecting the classical style of the building just as most of Europe has seen throughout years. But many scholars suggest that Islamic art has played a huge role in shaping Venetian architecture.

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Soliloquy series by artist Shirin Neshat
( source:

A city built near water, a geopolitical power, was an important trade route between the west and the east; specifically the Mediterranean. Along with goods, merchants brought in glimpses of Islamic art including aspects of ornamentation on building facades, which is found in Venice alone. Known as the ‘oriental mode’ Venetian artists displayed Muslim figures at a large scale; and by the 18th and 19th century, Islamic art had made a considerable amount of expanse within palaces and churches. These influences can be seen on buildings such as the facade of Doge’s Palace (1400) on St. Mark’s Square

8. Scattered Feminist Acts

Since in the field of both art and architecture, women aren’t given as much space as the 50-50 ratio they hold while at the graduating platform; it is important to take note of their glory in visual arts and in turn, in architecture.

Feminism started as a way for women artists to ask for the same pedestal given to white male artists sometime around the mid 19th century; during the same time about which civil rights, as well as gay lesbian rights, were on their way to voicing their stance.  The first artists to show prominence in the industry were Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse. Moving away from modernism, embracing performance art, it saw likes of hurdles and celebration as well as fragmentation/evolution to cyberfeminism, postmodern feminism and so on.

In architecture, it stems from the same place and space  ( or may we say, the lack thereof! ) as the arts- taking a feminist approach whilst challenging traditional ways of how a family lived. Design strategies such as an introduction of movable walls, to shun barriers of isolation between family members; in addition to tearing town borders between architecture and decoration.

The movement was lead by an architect named Eileen Gary but nevertheless it was not confined to a singular gender, as male architects such as Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos had their architecture reexamined according to the feminist theories.

9. Art Form of Dance

Wheedling ArchitectureA visual but technical art form of stance, posture, rhythm, sequence, movement and drama – are we describing fundamentals of dance or architecture? Painting, sculpture, fashion, music- almost all art forms have managed to squeeze their principles into the sincere dominion of the built environment. Dance is no exception; they both involve a body moving in space over time to create a magnum sensory experience. Both have spatial qualities projected on to a body. Both go beyond defining what one means to another.

Architecture for ballet studios, theatres and operas are quite common. Acoustics, lighting, stage setups have come a long way since Mozart was centre stage; with designers Ez Devlin and Oana Stenescu taking charge of Kanye West’s tours. But in what ways can dance change ideologies of architecture?

Wheedling ArchitectureAccording to a paper called Body in Space by MIT press, dance embodies acts like gathering but more than that a ritualistic gathering to celebrate an event of shared emotion and spirit which is of utmost importance while designing for the public. For spaces such as market places and baths, understanding the essence of this art form could change urban cityscape.

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Louis Vuitton x Jeff Koons, 2nd collection
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And then there is always a Gehry building!

10. La culture Contemporaine

What could be more contemporary than Gehry who is already mentioned in multitudes? But trust us to leave the most unnoticed parts of architecture for the end!

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Inside KAWS’ art-filled home in Brooklyn (source: )
KAWS is an American artist who’s famous figures can be seen as a macot for Dior, on ad boards of Guess and now it has its own feature in Architecture Digest

Contemporary culture can be equated to consumer culture; with Instagram leading the way, Will Rogers quote “ Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like” can not be truer While, this consumerism may seem like accusation pinned solely on to retail stores, these are very much flamed by the architecture the retailers sit within.

YSL recently launched a collection with Artist Jeff Koons. This wouldn’t be their first collection, Koons has also helped design installations for the storefront strategically designed for the busiest corner of Australian retail hub of urban Pitt Street. Similarly, Maison Hermés in Tokyo is a monumental, glass laden facade with Renzo Piano directing the storefront with his innovative technology for it to withstand earthquakes regardless of the fragile materiality it possesses.

Just as during the Renaissance,  wealthy such as Medici would commission artists; today, it is renowned brands who work in collaboration with artists.

The question now arises, does, in this case, art within the stores increase footfall, promoting architecture, or would architecture, here, be the reason why art is celebrated with such grandeur? Whatever the case may be, it is inherent that even when retail is sandwiched between them both, art and architecture are inseparable; always shedding light on one another.


Currently a student of Architecture at the University of Sydney, Shristi Sainani is an artist and a certified interior designer. She is an absolute enthusiast for learning - an avid traveller, reader of anything non-fiction, a lifter! Yes, she could be your typical gym bro or even you local potter. But her all time favourite job is the one she’s doing now, for RTF— writing about architecture!

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