An architect is to a building what and artist is to a canvas. Architecture, like fashion, goes through fazes and evolves with the passing of time. Some styles are timeless while others go out of date. Often, people will push the architectural limits in order to achieve a completely new look that no one has ever seen before. It’s an amazing feat of innovative engineering and creative design that come together to create the next beautiful structure.
Architects manipulate colour, texture, material, and shape to give a building a certain feel. Whereas an interior designer is concerned with the details that go into the inside of a building, an architect deals with the actual structure of the building and it’s presentation from the outside. In many ways, architecture is much like a form of public art. There is a high level of social influence that flows both ways between the public and the design of their buildings. For example, a society that values conformity may value architecture that blends in with the surrounding buildings, or, a society that values creativity and expression may go a bit outside the lines with their architectural style. Think of Gaudi’s eccentric and otherworldly buildings in Barcelona that stand out in the streets.
American writer Joseph Campbell once said that “If you want to understand what’s most important to a society, don’t examine its art or literature, simply look at its biggest buildings.” This holds true almost anywhere you go. Just look at old cathedrals in European cities and towns, or big banking skyscrapers in New York City’s skyline. Architecture shows what our priorities are, and where we choose to invest our time and money. So while we are investing into buildings, why not take a little extra time and effort to make sure they look good.
Even as far back as the time of the Roman Empire, there have been guidelines for architecture’s role in society. Ancient Roman architect and civil engineer Vitruvius wrote several books on the function of architecture. He established three main principles for civil architecture. First, the firmness of the structure and it’s durability. Second, the purpose of the building and what role it serves in the community. And lastly, the aesthetics of the building and how visually pleasing it is. Vitruvius’ work has been used and expanded upon for the last two thousand years throughout the Renaissance and even into today.
The amount of detail and design that goes into the outside of a building can give you a good idea of what to expect inside. The outside face of a building is like a first impression. If the outside is cold and lifeless and boring with nothing but a brick wall to catch the eye, it’s hard to imagine there would be much exciting on the inside. But a well designed structure that makes use of shape and colour can easily change the passerby’s perspective. Architecture should be about making a building look inviting, and make you curious to see what more is on the inside. In the same way that public art shows an investment into the community, so does architectural design.
Above all, architecture should be about making a statement. Whether a building conveys a sense of power and strength – think of the Empire State building or the great white dome of the Capitol building overlooking Washington – or a sense of elegance – think of the beautiful curves of the Sydney Opera House – every structure has a style that says something. Even a cold, lifeless cube of concrete or a sad brick wall can send a strong message without saying a lot. A perfect example is the two thousand, seven hundred and eleven solid concrete blocks that make up the Holocaust Memorial in central Berlin. The blocks are simply pieces of cold, hard, concrete, but the feeling they intent to give the viewer as you walk among the pillars is a powerful one which many people have described from a myriad of different perspectives. The point is that anything a society builds says something about it’s people. Architecture, like food, like music, like film, is a part of our culture, and so it’s worth investing in to give the things we build a little more character and life.
Architecture is a chance to be bold and leave a lasting impact on the world. A well designed building can serve as an inspirational piece of art while fulfilling it’s purpose. It’s easy to see the gains that come from investing in public art, so why not apply that logic to architecture as well? Better looking buildings are better for the community and better for the people that work and live inside them.