Adewale Segun Alabi and Oluwadamilola Ajoke Alabi  
Department of Architecture, Bells University of Technology, KM 8, Idiroko Road, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria  
ABSTRACT: Architecture has been characterized to be a form of art by different  
Research Article  
scholars in the design field. Questions as to ‘whether architecture is always, sometimes  
of never an art form?’, and ‘if architecture is an art form, what makes it distinct from  
other art forms?’ have arisen. These questions are answered in this paper through  
metaphysical discussion underpinned by analytic philosophy of architecture. The  
argument put forward in this study provides a platform from which students of  
architecture and practicing architects can grasp the knowledge of the fundamental  
need for architecture to perform as an art and be much more than a mere aesthetic  
message. Thus, the study reveals architecture to be an art form which is distinct from  
other art forms because it goes beyond art to reveal itself as design which provides a  
particular functional requirement that shows responsibility for its existence.  
PII: S238315532000001-9  
Received: 22 Apr. 2020  
Revised: 30 May. 2020  
Published: 15 Jun. 2020  
Corresponding author:  
KEYWORDS: Architecture, Art, Buildings, Analytic Philosophy  
form if the factor of functionality is ignored.  
Likewise, if the sense of expression is ruled out in  
For centuries, there has been debate as to whether  
architecture ‘always, only sometimes or never is an  
art form’ [1]. Many scholars termed architectural  
works as being generated from the abstract to the  
real. While in the artistic world, works are created  
from the real to the abstract [2-6]. This gives a clear  
understanding of the formality of architectural  
works. Architecture as a profession contends with  
various disciplines and is guided by different  
principles within the field of arts, sciences,  
economics and many other diverse disciplines. It has  
always been considered an art, because it requires  
imagination and creativity. However, it goes beyond  
that. It must extend to the end users of the building,  
their experience, feeling, emotion, satisfaction etc.  
This broad application sometimes gives architecture  
an edge over the mere art form which can sometimes  
be understood and interpreted by only the artist.  
the creation of a building, it immediately loses its  
architectural quality and remains a mere building.  
This thought is emphasised by Pevsner [11] who  
stated that building designed with aesthetic appeal  
is architecture.  
In a bid to understand the genealogy of these  
ideas, there is need to appreciate what constitutes  
architectural form (elements). Architectural forms  
can be combined in various elements, just like  
artistic elements, which also are mostly related to  
architectural elements such as basic elements,  
sensory elements, formal elements, technical  
elements, and expressive elements [12]. Architects  
design buildings using a creative process by which  
they manipulate different elements to create  
integrated and pleasing statement which must  
satisfy basic attributes, which according to Vitruvius  
are three guiding principles connoting firmitas  
(strength), utilitas (functionality and venustas  
(aesthetics). In the light of this, architecture can be  
perceived to always be an art form characterised by  
other external attributes. As posited by Hillman [13],  
in his article ‘How to Make Architecture, Not Art’,  
art is defined as a form of self-expression with  
absolutely no responsibility to anyone or anything  
while architecture is connoted to mean a piece of art  
which must be responsible to people in its different  
contexts. Therefore, in Architect Richard Meir’s  
words, “Architecture is the greatest of arts”.  
Architecture as an Art the Argument  
Architecture is both an art and science at the  
same time [7, 8]. The art of a building and the  
science of that same building must exist before it  
can be referred to as architecture [9]. However,  
architecture is influenced by the philosophical stand  
of the designer and therefore the translation of  
thoughts into a form designed to function as a space  
for housing a functional space, at the same time an  
expressive activity [10]. The structure loses value as  
an architectural form and becomes a purely artistic  
Citation: Alabi AS and Alabi OA (2020). An analytic  
discussion on architecture as an art. J. Art Arch. Stud., 9  
(1): 01-04.  
Journal of Art and Architecture Studies  
ISSN 2383-1553  
J. Art Arch. Stud. 9(1): 01-04, June 15, 2020  
Alabi and Alabi, 2020  
deadlines and budgets. Architecture is at its core,  
part of a service [17]. Therefore, while architects  
resolve pre-existing problems into something with  
harmony, artists create the “problem” and then  
resolve it into something with harmony [14].  
Architecture as more than an art form  
The major frustrations most architects  
experience professionally is the difficulty in making  
analytic arguments in favour of aesthetic decisions  
in design [14]. Architecture, generally speaking,  
consists of arts, sciences and other diverse  
disciplines. In fulfilling Vitruvius’ triad of firmitas,  
utilitas and venustas, architecture encompasses the  
utilitarian concept, performs certain functions and  
accommodates human needs, behaviours and  
ergonomics through which it is holistically defined.  
However, in dealing with artistic tendencies,  
architects must be able to distinguish venustas from  
one of Vitruvius triad principle of which the anchor  
strength is in beauty, aesthetics etc. On this  
premise, we can base our argument of  
differentiating art form in architecture from other  
art forms such as sculpture, painting and music.  
Architecture comes about through a systematic  
process in response to a need while other forms of  
art are manifest without a responsibility to a need.  
Art is a creative expression that transcends the  
functional requirements of its existence in any form  
one chooses to manifest it. An artist is someone who  
expresses his/her thoughts irrespective of what  
others like or dislike. It is an extension of the artist’s  
mind and has nothing to do with the constraints.  
Architecture on the other hand is artistic products  
derived from the process of synthesizing  
information in construction, engineering, human  
behaviour and needs, and formal aesthetic order for  
the purpose of responding to a particular problem  
involving human use and habitation which  
contributes to the cultural capital of the society that  
benefits from such a product.  
Figure 1. Basilica de la Sagrada Familia  
architecture as a prominent work of art (Source:  
The excellence of a visible work of art such as a  
sculpture is dependent on factors of balance and  
expressiveness of the forms employed’ [14].  
However, balance and expressiveness of form in  
conjunction with functionalism identifies a work of  
architecture. Therefore,  
building designed  
primarily to be a work of art denies that building  
from being regarded as architecture in the pure  
sense of the word.  
Architecture cannot be moved about and  
remains unchanged unlike other forms of art. Books,  
music and pictorial art works can be created in one  
place and moved or reproduced in another place  
without experiencing any change in aesthetic  
character. Examples are books written, translated  
into various languages, reproduced and distributed  
all over the world yet carrying the same message  
(such as the Holy Bible) or music playing in Nigeria  
and getting a response from the audience which is  
exactly the same as those listening to the same artist  
in Belgium and yet still inspiring yet the same  
reaction from an audience in South Africa listening  
to a reproduction of the same music by another  
artist. However, an attempt at moving a work of  
architecture from its original place to another or  
Architecture is a science, which is a subset of  
art, which involves solving problems with an artistic  
approach, considering constraints and coming out  
with the best possible optimized solution. When an  
intended piece of architecture is forced to be an art,  
it likely ends up being a sculptor and loses the  
enabling characteristics of architecture. However,  
there are occasions of the craft of architecture  
becoming art: where the intention was not to make  
art but where the craft was so exquisite that the  
result is mystical appellation. An example is the  
Basilica De la Sagrada Familia designed by Antonio  
Gaudi (1852-1926) [15] see figure 1.  
replica or prototype changes the  
characteristic of the moved or replicated building  
from being a work of architecture because the action  
would have made it lose one or two of the three  
functions making it architecture. This is because  
architecture has a highly localized quality [14, 18].  
Art now bears no responsibility for its actions. It  
is subversive. Art is not a service, but an opinion  
[16]. Architecture has a social responsibility; it must  
appeal to the client, must follow by-laws and meet  
J Art Arch Stud. 9(1): 01-04, 2020  
The site of the architectural work greatly influences beyond art; it is a design process. If it ceases to be  
its features in terms of the terrain, orientation, design, then it no longer provides a particular  
climatic conditions, cultural setting, materials etc. functional requirement. Art in architecture is the art  
Hence, when architecture is relocated, it is placed in craft, the ability of the architect to manipulate  
within an alien site which was never considered light and materials to define space is a good  
during the creation of the original building causing it equivalence. This is essentially not different from a  
to lose its value as a work of architecture.  
master craftsman making baskets, pottery, furniture,  
etc. as craftsmen strive to impress our mentors and  
Most ‘drastic’ changes in the aesthetics of  
architecture such as the movements in history of  
architecture are borne not because of change in  
taste but more because of the discovery of new  
technology [14]. For instance, the discovery of the  
use of concrete to achieve various forms tending  
towards organic architecture such as buildings  
manually designed by Frank Lloyd Wright evolving  
into more complex structures designed with the use  
of advanced computer aided design software by  
Zaha Hadid. Meanwhile changes to other arts are  
primarily because of changing attitude to which art  
gives. For illustration, the black art movement came  
as a need to transform the way African Americans  
were portrayed in the arts and literature [19].  
Architecture is different from many other art  
forms as it cannot be ignored by the public while  
other art forms can be. The public can decide not to  
be entertained by art works such as literature, music  
or painting, which do not appeal. However, due to  
the unmistakable physical presence of a work of  
architecture, the public is compelled to experience  
The authors would like to thank Zanzan Uji,  
Professor at University of Jos, Plateau State for his  
invaluable support in the development of this  
research paper.  
Authors’ Contributions  
Alabi A. S. is the lead author of the manuscript.  
He provided the background, the body of the work  
and analytical interpretation of the work. Alabi O. A.  
developed the abstract and worked on the  
conclusion. All the authors directly participated in  
analysis of this study, and have read and approved  
the final version submitted.  
Competing interests  
The authors declare that they have no competing  
it, making architecture  
a public object. The  
expressive character of other arts is acquired from  
the personal way they are approached while the  
expressive character of architecture is acquired from  
an objective representation of manner and style.  
Thus, architecture speaks publicly and without  
intimacy to the observer but generates feelings that  
may be very strong emotions mostly tied to  
wonderment of the creator. Similarly, strong  
emotions can be generated by other art forms but  
expressions of most of these other art forms are  
quite private, generating a connect not with the  
creator but with the art [14].  
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