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Is Architecture Art?

Today, April 15th, is the “World Art Day”, the birthday of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo was a polymath, he was the most influential figure of the Italian Renaissance. The Universal Genius: inventor, mathematician, scientist, anatomist, painter, sculptor, draftsman, engineer and also an architect. Leonardo’s notes contain many references to architecture, especially plans for cathedrals.

Leonardo da vinci, Studies of central plan buildings
Studies of central plan buildings, Leonardo da Vinci, Manuscript B.

In his architectural studies Leonardo went so far as to present a plan for the ideal city to Ludovico il Moro.

Sforzinda, Leonardo da Vinci, Manuscript B.

Leonardo da Vinci believed that art and science were two means to the same end: knowledge. He thinks that there is no essential difference between art and science. To him architecture is art.

People see architecture as an artistic expression, but in contrast with: painting, sculpture, music,  and other forms of art, it is utilitarian.

Some artists qualify the difference between architecture and art as use versus lack of use. What is the use of music if not to stir the spirit? Equally a function of architecture is to inspire with a construction of luminous spatial energy. Its highest use is to deeply move us.
– Steven Holl –

Is architecture art?

Architects themselves often end up debating about whether architecture is art or not.
Architecture is definitely one of the applied arts, but not all buildings are “pieces of art”, so not all buildings are “architecture”.
Art and architecture have a deep connection that unites them. Both are created using the same principles and the same visual elements, both have a meaning and both arise from ideas. They are expressive and communicative at the same time. Artist creates an object that express his message, his idea and the audience receives that message. Architects create livable or usable spaces that are also significant beyond their functionality. They are not only buildings with a function, they also have a meaning, there is always a philosophy behind them.
Art is self-expression and architecture is not, it has a function and has to look to the context in which it is located (take a look to my NOTOPIA vs GENIUS LOCI post!)

Architecture is a product of its time and place.
– Sigfried Gideon

Architects have to consider  not only the functional but also the cultural, topographical, climatic, geographical, political, and situational aspects of each project and develop the architecture accordingly. Art is a form of self-expression with absolutely no responsibility to anyone or anything. It can express a feeling, an idea, a memory of a moment. Architecture is an answer to a specific set of functions, problems and whilst, it can be seen as the personal response to those problems, the resulting building is what the architect believes to be the best response. Architecture can be a piece of art, but it must be responsible to people and its context. Architects have a certain responsibility not just to clients and people using the building, but to the public in general. Most of what architects do during their work days has to do with negotiating with clients, vendors, contractors, etc. Design projects have to be managed, budgets and schedules have to be set and continually reviewed. They have to deal with clients who not only have particular needs but also preconceptions about how to deal with the problem. All of these things restrict the range of possibilities. As an architect you must work with colleagues, employees, and consultants and one of the most creative things an architect can do is negotiate all these things while giving sense to the design.

Architects are not free of express themselves.

Architecture is the greatest of the arts.
– Richard Meier

Architecture is the greatest of the arts, and it conceives thoughts that other arts don’t even deal with. To create architecture you need to understand space, how to use and manipulate it effectively and the effects it might have to the human beings: the person who uses it, experiences it, rather that just only sees it; how that persons perceive that space; how the society itself perceives it; what kind of changes it will bring to, I mean in a sociological way. Understanding space requires observation, practice, imagination and looking at it from various points of view. As an architect you perceive the site in many ways: as an artist; a planner; an engineer; a lawyer; an economist; as the client himself.

Architecture isn’t just a drop it is the entire ocean. All the intricate details that go into the practice of architecture are enough to convince anyone that it is a form of art.


These are just a few examples, they all combine form with function in very special ways, they make you feel something. They all have an implied meaning. Isn’t this art? I think this is art. How can it be otherwise?

No person who is not a great sculptor or painter, can be an architect. If he is not a sculptor or painter, he can only be a builder.

 John Ruskin –

What is your point of view?
Do you think architecture can be considered art?

This article is part of #ViaggioVirtuale the virtual journey through the blog of Progetto Blog. Check the Italian Version and scroll down to read all the articles.

Photo credits: ©Renzo Piano,  Bill SimonBrian DonovanRahul DeshpandeWilliamNicki MannixJan TielensElias Bizannescotaro70svil.sandi