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Architecture (building)

aesthetic meaning, Vitruvius, vermin, building technology, millennia

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Architecture (building), the practice of building design and its resulting products; customary usage refers only to those designs and structures that are culturally significant. Architecture is to building as literature is to the printed word. Vitruvius, a 1st-century bc Roman, wrote encyclopedically about architecture, and the English poet Sir Henry Wotton was quoting him in his charmingly phrased dictum: “Well building hath three conditions: Commoditie, Firmenes, and Delight.” More prosaically, one would say today that architecture must satisfy its intended uses, must be technically sound, and must convey aesthetic meaning. But the best buildings are often so well constructed that they outlast their original use. They then survive not only as beautiful objects, but as documents of the history of cultures, achievements in architecture that testify to the nature of the society that produced them. These achievements are never wholly the work of individuals. Architecture is a social art.

Architectural form is inevitably influenced by the technologies applied, but building technology is conservative and knowledge about it is cumulative. Precast concrete, for instance, has not rendered brick obsolete. Although design and construction have become highly sophisticated and are often computer directed, this complex apparatus rests on preindustrial traditions inherited from millennia during which most structures were lived in by the people who erected them. The technical demands on building remain the elemental ones—to exclude enemies, to circumvent gravity, and to avoid discomforts caused by an excess of heat or cold or by the intrusion of rain, wind, or vermin. This is no trivial assignment even with the best modern technology.


Anderson, Lawrence B., M.Arch.

Late Professor Emeritus of Architecture and former Dean of Architecture and Planning, Massachussets Institute of Technology.

Article key phrases:

aesthetic meaning, Vitruvius, vermin, building technology, millennia, discomforts, documents, wind, people, computer, gravity, brick, sound, nature, Architecture, society, construction, knowledge, design, literature, instance, achievements, enemies, designs, structures, technologies, conditions

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