Architecture is hard to define. Goethe called it music frozen in space, which, while it captures a sense of rhythm, is too one-dimensional. And it relegates the mother of the arts to an inferior position; just as well to describe music as melted architecture. Nietzsche believed that architecture reflected his pride, man’s triumph over gravity, and his will to power. This notion applies to many buildings, from Gothic cathedrals to skyscrapers, but it is too, well, Nietzschean. The British master Edwin Lutyens referred to architecture as a sort of play: “In architecture, Palladio is the game!” Le Corbusier described his art as “the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light,” which is a good description of one of his own buildings. I am partial to Sir Henry Wotton’s definition. Wotton, who lived a long time in Venice and was a lover of architecture though not an architect, published a treatise on the subject in 1642. “in Architecture, as in all other Operative Arts, the end must direct the Operation,” he wrote. “The end is to build well. Well-building hath three conditions: Commoditie, Firmeness, and Delight.”

Sir Henry’s description, which was based on the writings of of the Roman architect Vitruvius, appeals to me because it emphasizes the complexity of the building art. To begin with, architecture has not one but three distinct purposes: to shelter human activity (commodity), to durably challenge gravity and the elements (firmness), and to be an object of beauty (delight). Architecture is always a synthesis of the three. However, the fulfillment of one purpose does not guarantee the satisfaction of the others. There are homely sturdy buildings and beautiful flimsy ones. A well-planned building can be ugly just as a beautiful building can function poorly.

There’s a great old traditional saying that an Architect is a person who knows a very little about a great deal and keeps knowing less and less about more and more until he knows practically nothing about everything.  An Engineer is a person who knows a great deal about very little and who goes along knowing more and more about less and less until he knows practically everything about nothing.  A Contractor is a person who starts out knowing practically everything about all things, but winds up knowing nothing about anything, due to his association with Architects and Engineers.

Inspectors, of course, are there to referee.

A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost.  He reduces height and spots a man down below.  He lowers the balloon further and shouts: “Excuse me, can you help me?  I promised my friend i would meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”  The man below says: “Yes, you’re in a hot air balloon, hovering 30 feet above this field between 40 and 41 degrees latitude and 120 and 124 degrees West Longitude.”

“You must be an Architect” says the balloonist.

“I am” replies the the man.  “How did you know?”

“Well” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but it’s of absolutely no use to me and I still don’t know where I am.”

The man below says “You must be a Contractor.”

“Well yes” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well” says the man “You don’t know where you are or where you’re going.  You’ve made a promise that you can’t keep, but now you expect me to solve your problem.  You’re in the same position as you were before we met, but now it’s my fault.”

“All Great Architecture Leaks”

(Quote by Frank Gehry)

“A good architect can turn a screw-up into a feature.”

(Quote by David Sellers)

Andy Pressman, The Fountainheadache, p.185

“Good, fast, and cheap – you can only have two – the third is always excluded.”

Andy Pressman, The Fountainheadache, p.185

“In my experience, if you have to keep the lavatory door shut by extending your left leg, it’s modern architecture.”

Nancy Banks-Smith, British columnist. Guardian (London, 20 Feb. 1979).

“No architecture is so haughty as that which is simple.”

John Ruskin (1819–1900), English art critic, author. The Stones of Venice, vol. 2, ch. 6 (1851–53).

“We shape our buildings: thereafter they shape us.”

Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965), British statesman, writer. Time (New York, 12 Sept. 1960).

“You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it did not replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.”

Charles, Prince of Wales (b. 1948). Speech, 2 Dec. 1987, at Mansion House, London.

“In matters of importance, style is everything.”

Oscar Wilde

The word “architect” which in one guise or another is common to all the modern European languages is derived from ancient Greek. Just as an archbishop is the head bishop, the architekton was the chief tekton, which is to say he was the chief carpenter.

Witold Rybczynski, The Most Beautiful House in the World, p23