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What Separates A Building from Architecture

"A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture."


This is a quote by Nikolaus Pevsner written in his book "An Outline of European Architecture" in 1942. Pevsner was an architectural historian known for his writings on European architecture and also architecture in England. He continues by saying:


"Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal."


Based on these quotes in his writing, it is reasonable to assume that in more basic terms: A building is an enclosed space large enough for people to be in, while architecture is when buildings are designed with aesthetic appeal in mind.


Although I am just a student and have no experience or accreditations to make me reliable, I would like to provide my view on Pevsner's point.


To start, we have to ask ourselves, what is the meaning of architecture? This question in itself is already a tough question. Vitruvius said in his masterwork "De Architectura" that architecture has three main principles: Firmness, Commodity, and Delight. Firmness is the ability for architecture to remain durable and structurally honest for long periods of time. Commodity is when the space is appropriate for the intended usage. Delight is when the building would be aesthetically pleasing. Now using this school of thought, let's go back to the original quote by Pevsner.


He said that a bicycle shed is not architecture, so let's use the three main principles by Vitruvius to analyze this.

This could be the bicycle shed that you imagined, I certainly did. Does it satisfy Firmness? It is hard to determine from just an image, but let's assume that it does. Commodity? It is perfectly appropriate to house bikes. Now Delight? I would guess the majority of you would say it does not particularly jump out at you visually.



Now the whole discussion shifts with this bicycle shed. It is safe to say that it satisfies both Firmness and Commodity, but does it satisfy Delight? This is my problem with Vitruvius's way of thinking. His principle of Delight is a very subjective way of classifying architecture. There are definitely some of you that do not think this bicycle shed is visually pleasing in any way, and some of you could think that the previous shed was visually pleasing, and that is perfectly okay. I would not necessarily call this a flaw, as architecture itself is an art form, and art is and always will be very subjective. This shows that in Vitruvius's mind, what is architecture and what is not is different to everybody, and I agree to a great extent.


Relating back to Pevsner's quote, architecture is too subjective to say that bicycle sheds should not be considered architecture. Although this analogy might be exaggerated to some extent, the idea of subjectivity still applies. When he says architecture is only when a building is built with the aesthetic appeal mind, I disagree with that to some extent. Some buildings are built purely for functionality purposes. An example of this is the vernacular buildings of old tribes. They used materials that they found like wood and straw, to construct a building just for them to live in, not thinking about the facade or any design. Pevsner would say that these buildings are not architecture, but I think it is.


In my opinion, architecture is the art of designing and constructing buildings, and those buildings are able to be utilized by people. My view of what separates a building from architecture is that any type of building IS architecture. Architecture could satisfy Firmness, Commodity, and Delight, or it could not. The crucial point I am trying to make is that architecture can be good, bad, or anywhere in between. Architecture could satisfy Commodity and Delight but does not satisfy Firmness. Even though it crashes to the ground, I would still classify it as architecture, just poorly designed or constructed. When an enclosed space is designed without the aesthetic in mind, in other words, satisfying commodity, firmness, but not delight, I would still classify that as architecture. Whether it is good or bad, that is again, very subjective.


This was a very wordy post, but I thoroughly enjoyed thinking about past ideas. To reiterate, I am by no stretch of the imagination someone qualified and reliable in terms of architecture and architectural theory. I just wanted a place to express my ideas and views on this matter. Tell me what you think in the comments!




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