Is Architecture Still Considered an Art?

*A version of Michael’s blog post below appeared this week as an article on Architectural Digest- AD Online, a link to the article is provided at the end of post. This post provide’s Michael’s illustrations.

Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, Florence. S. Maria Novella. Study of the exterior wall-tombs, 1907

Today, as the profession of architecture is becoming more & more dominated by programs creating buildings by algorithms and as architectural schools shut down drawing studios, I begin to wonder if the architect as an artist is now becoming a romantic notion of the past; the architect as we always knew him (or Her) will quickly be no more.

Stanford White, Le Mont Saint-Michel, late 1800’s

In the past, architects had always been seen as the ultimate artist, visualizing imaginary buildings and places deep within the recesses of their imagination and teasing them out in paint or pencil. Only then, could they begin the laborious process of drawing how the building could be assembled and brought to reality through an elaborate collaboration with craftsmen and allied artists. They drew upon their visual experiences and knowledge of human nature and understanding of physics to bring to fruition wondrous places; places that that not only impacted the way we lived our daily lives, but the very development of our culture–and ultimately our civilization.

Charles A. Platt, Clouds, 1894

Lionel H. Pries, untitled view of Taxco roofs, mid-1930’s

Becoming an architect was a lifelong process of studying both our built and natural environment through drawing and painting. This is how they came to know the world–by seeing though their hands. By drawing antiquities they saw the past and by drawing landscapes they understood the beauty of the natural world. Renown art critic, John Ruskin, once said, “to draw the leaf is to know the forest”, for without drawing there was no understanding. Creating our built environment wasn’t simply theoretical, by drawing our environment we came to understand our world through an empirical process- through observation and experience.

John Ruskin, Study of rocks and ferns in a wood at Crossmount, Perthshire, 1843

Drawing for the architect was another language. Thousands of hours of sketching allowed one access to the deepest complexities of the mind, where ideas would flow through the hand to paper instantaneously, without pondering interpretation–from imagination to fruition without impediment.

Stanford White, Laon Cathedral

Today, an architectural office is a scene of flickering screens and humming computers, endlessly energetic tools for the creation of buildings. Yet, as technology aids the progress and efficiency of building, the young architectural graduate that can draw is but a rarity in today’s studio. As we give ourselves over to the machines, can we continue to understand nature? Can we know history and culture, and can we really understand humanity through building? Is architecture still art?

Michael G. Imber, site painting, Texas Gulf Coast, 2018