What is (Not) Architecture?

Berkeley Connect Architecture explore what is and isn’t architecture


Berkeley Connect students came together in their small groups last week to discuss what is and is not architecture. I joined graduate mentor Catherine Covey and her small group as they began to answer this seemingly simple question. A lively conversation ensued.

Students had each brought in two pictures – one that they felt represented architecture and one that did not. After they taped these pictures onto two walls, the students brainstormed words that described architecture: building, art, space, intent, life, concept, and create, to name a few. Students then formed groups of three to examine the photos on the wall. “Think of each photo as an argument for what is or is not architecture,” Catherine encouraged.

When they regrouped, the students began at the wall where photos of what was not architecture hung. The first to be discussed was the $1 billion house of Mukesh Ambani, currently the second most expensive residential property in the world. One student pointed out the disconnect of the lavish skyscraper that towers over Mumbai and the impoverished slums that surround it. “It’s not responsible architecture,” many of the students agreed. Other students disagreed. “He is one of the richest men,” one student pointed out. “Shouldn’t he have the best home?” Catherine noted that this was at the core of the ethics of architecture. “Architects have to ask these questions every day.” She also suggested they add “morality” to their list of words that describe architecture.

Another photo that students examined was of a termite mound. The student who brought it in explained that he felt it wasn’t an accurate representation of architecture. “It is sturdy, but the process is not architectural,” he argued. “It is instinctive, not planned.” Another student disagreed. “I think it can be architecture if we expand the definition beyond humans,” he said. “Architecture is about effective ways to use what is around you – and that’s what the termites did.”

Students then discussed what is architecture. One example many students were drawn to was a beautiful house that blended well with its natural surroundings. “Architecture has to take its natural environment into account,” one student said. “That is a perfect example.” Another interesting example was a cave created by Neanderthals. “To me, architecture doesn’t have to be built,” the student who brought the photo said. “The Neanderthals made it their space. Once you give a place an intent, it becomes architecture.” Yet another student brought in a hobbit house. “Who brought this in? You get an A!,” Catherine joked.

Students finished by reflecting on how their conversation had changed their perspectives on architecture. One student who was not an Architecture major admitted he saw architecture more as a science, but the discussion helped him see it as an art as well. Another student said just the opposite. “My father’s an architect, and he was always talking about design,” she said. “I never thought about the importance of a building’s relation to its environment or its functions.”


posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant

Comment to “What is (Not) Architecture?

  1. For me architecture is a hybrid of art, humanism and technique. Important thing is, that architecture should express the “good” relation to humanistic values. Architecture schould have influence on us through dialogue with past ,present and future:)

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