“The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.”
This above quote by architect Frank Lloyd Wright seems like quite the statement, and is not made to belittle all other arts, but to emphasize the importance of architecture as art. Many times, architecture is thought to be closely related to engineering, but in the words of architect Walter Gropius, “Architecture begins where engineering ends.” In fact, Art and Architecture belong to the same college in many universities. What, then, is the importance of art within architecture?
The practice of creating art, in its most raw sense, is necessary in architecture. By drawing an image by hand, the architect is able to put an idea onto paper. In hand rendering, different artistic media is used. As a student studying architecture, and interning with architect John Hendricks, AIA, I asked John two questions regarding art in his work:
How important is art in your daily practice as an architect?
“When I design, art comes into play much more than math. Everything I look at, whether it’s plans, elevations, interiors, etc., needs to flow and work all at once and in all dimensions. I remember my first art professor at Texas Tech, James Watkins, told us that this class (Art 101 or whatever it was called) will make you see things differently. At the time, we were going over shades and shadows while painting stately homes across the street from campus. That’s when I first started thinking about shades and shadows in a different light. Now I think about those two elements all the time while designing.
”What is your favorite art medium to work with?
“Black pens on paper. Several ideas can be sketched out quickly. I don’t have the patience for watercolor. I think watercolor renderings are great if it’s already designed, but if you’re designing with it, you have to wait for the water to dry while your mind is off on other tangents.”
Even in the age of digital media, hand-rendering provides images as unique as the architects themselves. The architect is not limited by their digital creation tools, and ideas flow directly from the hand onto paper.
Architecture as art is not solely confined to pen and paper. Undoubtedly, art affects emotions and is connected to the psyche. Line, form, color, value, and texture unite and create a response within the viewer. Certain pieces may make the viewer feel empty, while others bring light, life, and warmth. In much the same way, music creates an emotional response within the listener. Instruments come together in a symphony to create a piece of art greater than any specific instrument can achieve on its own. In architecture, familiar elements of art and music are utilized and unified; ultimately creating the framework of the spaces we live and work in.
Winston Churchill stated, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” The built environment around us shapes our daily lives. The layout of space becomes important in the execution of tasks, while the dimensions and character of spaces create intimacy or openness, all thoroughly planned and developed to result in a successful space.
Light is present and highly important through many facets of art: painting, photography, and architecture all included. Quality, quantity, and modification of light to accommodate tasks, save energy, and create a desired feeling of a space can make or break the success of a room and building as a whole. The study of art theory and the psychology of art are therefore important and within the study and profession of architecture.
Art is largely about creativity. Just about anybody can draw walls, cut holes into them for windows, put a roof over the top of it and call it a house, but it is the job and joy of the architect to tap into the potential of a space and make it a creative work of functional art. It is this creativity and creative problem-solving that separates architects from one another. Just as Monet’s expressionist art is different than Picasso’s abstract style, Frank Gehry’s Deconstructivist architecture cannot be deemed as “better” than Mies van der Rohe’s modern style. They are each their own creative styles and expression as artists.
A building must be structurally stable and strong enough to stand the test of time; however, structural integrity is not all that defines the built world. If this was so, buildings would be cold, uninteresting, even uninviting. The beauty of architecture as the “mother of the arts” is that it can really affect people’s daily lives. I realize I have been rampantly using quotes in this post, but this final line from Architect Richard Rogers rings true: “My passion and great enjoyment for architecture, and the reason the older I get the more I enjoy it, is because I believe we – architects – can affect the quality of life of the people.”
Jesse Hart, Intern Architect - Hendricks Architecture
Next Post: The Architecture of Hogwarts Castle
Jesse also takes beautiful photographs. His work can be seen here at Jesse Hart Photography