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The Various Definitions of Architecture

Architecture has been in existence for centuries, acquiring various definitions over time. Currently, architecture may be defined according to the context in which it is used. More importantly, different people understand architecture differently. This paper will examine various definitions of architecture that exist nowadays. The question the paper seeks to answer is ‘what is architecture?’

Architecture is building; the process of building structures is referred to as architecture. Therefore, in this context, the end product of architecture is a building. The size or scale of the building does not matter; a building could be as small as a kernel and as big as a stadium. While this view is widely accepted, it nonetheless, ignores the fact that not all building processes have a physical structure (Sauchelli 2012).

In some cases, the process ends in some abstract idea. In other cases, it ends up in a drawing. Yet we cannot deny the fact that this is architecture. Architecture is everything that involves the production of an end product regardless of whether the product is a physical or an abstract one. Architecture is more than a mere building (Allen 1989; Le Corbusier 1985). It includes the architect’s ideas. It is the execution of an architect’s ideas that result in some form.

Without such ideas, the building cannot be constructed. All buildings must be produced using someone’s ideas, therefore, to view architecture as a mere building is not entirely accurate. Architecture also refers to a drawing or drawings of an architect. This view also assumes that an architect is a builder, however, at the same time architects do not necessarily have to be builders. Very often, builders only interpret and execute architects’ ideas.

A building is anything that has some space where a man can find his or her place. This definition of a building overlooks the idea that not all architectural structures are meant to house humans. Some structures do not presuppose any space, yet they are architectural structures. A bicycle, for example, does not enclose space but is a built structure. In addition, some built structures that enclose space are not big enough for a man. Some miniature structures are products of complex and intricate processes. Some of them are built not for human habitation but as landmarks. Some built forms are solid and do not have interiors. Despite this, it cannot be said that the structures are not buildings. They are buildings because they have been carefully considered before.

Architecture is produced with aesthetic appeal, implying that architecture is an art. It is indeed true that architecture is the art of drawing or designing any building. This view also brings in the notion of beauty. Therefore, architecture in this case refers to any structure, designed and built to delight a viewer. An architectural structure should be a masterpiece that must make both, the architect and the owner happy. It reflects how much mental and physical work has been exercised in the process of construction.

However, this notion cannot be applied to buildings and structures that do not have aesthetic appeal. It is important to remember that buildings and structures serve a particular purpose. Therefore, an architect cannot afford to be concerned and preoccupied with aesthetic appeal only. For some structures, structural integrity is more important. However, outstanding architects consider both dimensions when designing structures and buildings.

Architecture is a discipline that is replete with knowledge and innovation. When we consider various qualities of a profession, architecture satisfies all of them. It should, therefore, be accurate to say that architecture is a profession. A profession should have the capacity to generate new knowledge. Although it does not follow the traditional system of knowledge, it still manages to generate knowledge. Traditionally, knowledge is generated through experimentation and testing. Both these attributes are present in the architecture. Experimentation and testing are done differently in the architecture. A discipline also has self-regulatory mechanisms.

There are regulatory bodies that are set up by various countries to regulate the practice of architecture. The concept of it also carries some additional meaning. It also implies that architecture is a profession that requires going through certain criteria. To be a member of an architectural association, one has to first study architecture at University. One has to demonstrate their competence to be enrolled there. However, some builders do not have academic qualifications, yet their structures cannot be said or regarded as inferior in comparison to those constructed by professionals with a diploma (OneWorld.net 2004). An academic qualification gives one the right to use the title, namely, architect.

Someone who has not got an education as an architect or is registered as an architect may not use this title. It is so to meet the interests of the public. It ensures that structures that are designed and built are safe. Without this restriction on the use of the title unscrupulous individuals would endanger the public. A profession should also possess various levels of qualifications and minimum requirements. In other words, the profession should have entry levels like certificate, diploma, degree, postgraduate degree, and doctorate levels. However, in the area of architecture, the low degree is nonexistent.

Architecture may be firm, functional, and beautiful (Rowland & Howe 1999; Françoise 2000). All these three qualities must be made for a structure or a building to qualify to be called architecture. This view is flawed for several reasons. First of all, it is assumed that an architectural product must be built. There are forms of architecture that do not require physical structures. For example, a computer program may be regarded as architecture, yet it does not involve any physical building. Second, it assumes that all the qualities must be met for something to qualify to be known as architecture. However, it is generally accepted that some qualities may be overlooked.

For example, an aesthetic appeal may be sacrificed in favor of structural soundness. A utility and structural soundness cannot be substituted for beauty. All buildings must serve a certain function. Thirdly, it assumes that structures are always built to last for a long period. In some instances, structures are built to last only for a certain period. For instance, snow structures are built of snow, they are not built for human habitation but display only.

At the end of the exhibition, the structures made of pure ice are allowed to melt. Often, these structures are beautiful but they are not durable. If they need it was meant for cannot be met, then such structure has failed. At the same time, in the absence of any of the requirements, the structure may still be regarded as architecture. A structure may not be durable, but this does essence the whole essence and idea of architecture.

Architecture is the method of design or the method according to which the structures are constructed. Traditionally, buildings and structures were made in some particular way. For this reason, there are building styles that are called according to the time and place where they were first used. For instance, there exists the Victorian style of building. The use of different styles was mainly observed in the Middle Ages. The builders and designers of that era relied on certain styles that were famous at the time. This gave rise to the cultural aspect of architecture. In this perspective, architecture may be seen as a way of life (Nunzia 1981). The architecture was an artistic expression of the culture. Contemporary architecture is an artistic expression of the single architect. Adoption of a single style of building is no longer possible. Uniqueness appears to be the driving force for some architects, that is, owners and designers are willing to get something that can distinguish them from others.

Architecture is the designing and construction of structures for some purposes. In this case, the emphasis is laid on the processes but not on the end product itself (Le Corbusier 1985). This has given rise to the emergence of software architecture. In software architecture, the end product is not a physical structure. The end product is a program also known as software. This application of the term has been accepted because the process of designing a program is similar to the process of designing a building. They both require a considerable amount of time and creativity of the designer. However, a software engineer cannot be referred to as an architect.

This can be attributed to the fact that traditionally the term architect was used to only denote a builder of physical structures. This distinction has been generally accepted to avoid confusion. Currently, architecture may be referred to as any process that yields a functional product that does not have to be a physical structure. Software architecture is focused on producing programs that serve a particular purpose. All computer programs have a purpose thus they satisfy the requirement that architecture ought to have a purpose by default.

Architecture is also a means of solving problems. This view stipulates that first there has to be a problem which is followed by a solution. To a large extent, architecture solves problems. For instance, it solves the problem of insecurity by providing shelter to people. However, not everything in architecture is intended to solve a problem. In some cases, architecture is a result of the imagination of an architect. The end product may be intended to be a conjecture. Nevertheless, such a product cannot be regarded as less architectural. Architecture does not have to always solve problems. It may just exist to add to the overall number of various structures existing.

Architecture is a piece of art produced by an architect. This implies that everything that is produced by an architect is architecture. However, this is not true because architects may sometimes produce things that have nothing to do with architecture. However, in most instances what architects produce is architecture. This also contradicts the fact that a non-architect may produce a great building or a structure. Architecture is not about the architect. Therefore, the emphasis should be laid on the quality of the structure. It must also focus on testing and adherence to the laid down principles and procedures. It emphasizes the fact that an architect is a professional who has some specific qualifications. Qualification alone is not enough to make a person a great architect.

To summarize everything up, one needs to repeat that this paper tried to cover the question ‘what is architecture?’. Architecture has been evolving over the years and the term has acquired its new meanings in the process of development. Architecture means building. The process of building is architecture. However, not all buildings are regarded as architecture. This is accompanied by the idea that a building is anything that a man can fit into.

This is inaccurate because some buildings are small yet they are buildings. Another view is that architecture is a discipline. This implies that architecture is a profession with a sufficient body of knowledge, however, this is an accurate definition as well since architecture satisfies the requirements of the profession. Architecture has also been defined as any structure that is firm, functional, and beautiful, being, however, not an accurate definition because architecture includes structures that may not satisfy all the above-mentioned requirements. Some structures may be structurally sound but are not appealing to the eye.

Another observation consists of the fact that architecture solves problems. It is accurate to some extent, however, some structures are not intended to solve problems. Architecture does not have to produce a physical end product. In some cases, the product is not tangible, which is seen in software architecture. In this case, the end product is functional but it is not physical. Some structures like ice art are not meant to last for long periods. They are made to serve a particular purpose at a particular time. They are demolished once they have served their purpose.


Allen, G 1989, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, Dover, NY.

Françoise, C 2000, Alberti and Vitruvius Architectural Design, 49. 5-6.

Le Corbusier 1985, Towards a New Architecture, Dover Publications, NY.

Nunzia, R 1981, Architecture and Social Change Heresies, Neresies, Collective Inc New York.

OneWorld. 2004. “Vernacular Architecture in India”. Web.

Rowland, D, Howe 1999, Vitruvius. Ten Books on Architecture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Sauchelli, A 2012, ‘On Architecture as a Spatial Art’, Nordic Journal of Aesthetics, 43.

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