Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What is Architecture? What is a Building?

These are all questions that I hate. In fact, I hate all questions that are anything like these ones. I’ve never been one to ponder philosophical notions because I’ve always seen it as unproductive. It’s not that I don’t understand that people want to try to determine the difference between designing architecture and designing buildings so they can try to improve their own work. I get that. I just don’t think it will ever affect me or my work. I look at philosophy like I look at religion. Some people believe in it and spend their lives devoted to it and it changes them. If you don’t believe in it then how can it change you? Because I don’t like searching the depths of my psyche to obtain a deeper understanding of the possible differences between architecture and buildings, I don’t see how doing so would really have and profound benefit to me. I don’t think we need to distinguish between buildings and architecture. If we’re going to make an argument that just about anything could be design, related to design, or even be architecture (ie a snowboard), then why try to say there is a difference between a building and architecture. Why can’t it just be two words to describe the same thing?

Cultural anthropology teaches us that each and every culture has different words for the same things. I’m not just talking about languages. Whenever something is important to a culture, or necessary to their survival, they develop more words to describe it. Take for instance the Eskimos. Snow was very important to their survival during the winter months. They developed words to describe the various types of snow that can be used in different ways that don’t exist in our vocabulary. Even if you look at us and consider how many words exist in our language for money. I can think of at least a dozen off the top of my head. Cultures where money is nonexistent or unimportant have less, or none at all. If I take this approach to my understanding of the differences between architecture and a building, I can start to see some differences. Obviously a building can be architecture but not all architecture is buildings. Architecture can be houses, skyscrapers, bridges, garages, shacks, and so on. The way I see it, have always seen it and will probably continue to see it is that Architecture is this huge category, inside which exist these smaller, descriptive words that are necessary for communication between members of a society. This is the only way I can begin to see a difference between Architecture and buildings. Things need to be cut and dry, or black and white for me. Not because I’m incapable of seeing beyond, I am, I almost majored in theoretical physics. Then again, maybe that’s a bad example since theories in physics are only proven by the most precise and definitive of equations.

To quickly touch on design, I look at it the same way I look at the differences between Architecture and buildings. Design is this broad category encompassing anything that is created by the mind to serve some sort of purpose. I know, it’s incredible vague and broad, but if you’re going to ask someone like myself to answer a question like that, it’s the only answer I can come up with. I know that you’re not even expecting answers to these question from us, just exploration, but I can’t do that. I need answers.

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