Topic for Debate
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
When reading magazine articles or research papers somehwere in any of them an author endeavors to define architecture in his/her own terms and/or in general terms. The question is: Will we find this in LAW, MEDICINE, ENGINEERING, or other disciplines? Are they in a continuous process of finding a defintion for their own discipline like architects?
Ashraf Salama
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
Good point. It shows that the job of the architect is a bit uncertain and for every generation need to convince themselves that they are contributing to society
Daniel Beasly
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
reinventing concepts in architecture puts this basic quastion what is architecture and then when, how, what, why, and where, answering all this makes one an architect without institution in any condition.....that is self-generating.....mother of all art.
Dushyant Nathwani
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
Never thought from this angle. Ofcourse, there would be smart and defensive rejoinders to this. It would be an interesting discussion.
Would join later.
Trilochan Chhaya
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
architecture, is an aesthetic and fucntional response to how people live. do you live the same way the cavemen did? or like the pharoh? what abt your wouldn't even live like your own twin for that matter. your perception and understanding of how to live is an individual characteristic. architecture is a result of just that! how can it ever be totally defined.
Ahmed Asad Zuberi
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
It would appear, Mr. Zuberi, that you missed the essence of the question. I am not talking about architecture as a physical phenomenon. I am talking about architecture as a discipline. The phenomenon of change and permanance of this change is a certainty, and we all know that we are not living the same way as our predecessors, this is not the point. The point is the definition of architecture as a discipline?
Ashraf Salama
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
self-descipline has always produced clear, understandable works and expressions, master pieces in any field of art, let us take micheleangelo, he was self deceplined sculpter and worked on mangled piece of stone produced david and happens to be good architect of the time. what we now a days call architecture is extention of civil enginearing goverened by govt. laws and builders whims. even last century produced 2% meaningfull architecture, 98% has been extention of civil works with mass 20thcentury style shelters.
Dushyant Nathwani
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
The only reason that architects have been unable to define architecture is because unlike any other field, for example law where the basics have remained the same, upholding the law, or as a doctor who tends to the sick, Architects role in society has never remained the same due to the complex nature of man which has kept evolving. Due to this "nature" of man architecture has been unable to be clearly defined, which enables its creative development.
Uzair A. Quraishi
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
i think, mr salama, you have missed my point. the 'discpline' as 'we' call it is or the 'role' of the architect is ever changing. for a caveman it would be: find cave, near water. and with each successive civilization the brief gets a bit more complexed. what is an architect supposed to do? plan for comfortable shelter. the word 'comfortable' being very 'relative'. changes in concepts of 'comfortable living', have varried amazingly through the years.from very physical needs we progressed to 'intagible' elements of aesthetics. but throughout history a sick man remained a sick man, and a murder a murder. it is a question of the field's source. a doctor is to heal, lawyer is for uphold justice, an architect....well it changes from person to person and fom age to age. i think that is the beauty of it. it is like art, it is self questioning and requiring meaning. other fileds just progress whereas architecture with progress there is also a need to understand what we are doing and why so.
Ahmed Asad Zuberi
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
I think I got your earlier point correctly and I believe --if you are talking about "meaning", it might be better to look at the definition of a "Discipline" and a "Profession" in any contemporary dictionary. Also, many articles of the Aga Khan Award publications here in the digital library introduce the notion of architecture as a discipline, and a profession and its responsiveness to societal needs.

You are right about a doctor is to heal, and a lawyer is for uphold justice, I hoped your sentence was completed by the architect is to ............... However, I do not agree with you when you say the role of the architect is changing from person to person and that is the "beauty of it," it is like art. Beauty for whom??? for societies or for the architects themselves??

Based on "the beauty of it" the problem is that architects are in a continuous process of inventing a language with terminology and vocabulary that they understand but others do not. As a result of this "beauty of it" , societies place low value on architects. They have no clue what architects do for them, while they know exactly what Doctors and Lawyers do for them due to the clarity of the disciplines and their roles in societies. When you ask any lay person about what architects do? one would say those people who know how to draw buildings, one would say they are like artists, and many others have no idea. This is not the problem of people, it is the problems of architects and their profession. Just a simple example, when people go to a dentist do they bargain with him/her on the fees for treatment?,NEVER, but look at what they do with architects!! I guess the answer is known.

I believe architects have failed--so far-- to promote public understanding of their profession and its value. Again, because of the lack of disciplinary perspective.

The multiplicity and plurality of the architects' roles throughout the history is by default a valid point, but this does not mean the absence of a "Discipline and a Profession" for architects. There is an ethical and standard code for any profession in any context and in any period of time. How this code in implemented and adapted to a specific context is a different issue.
Ashraf Salama
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
Doctor to heal, Lawyer to "fight", Architect to ????
It is no longer "ARCHITECT to to "design to build".
It is turning to be the most general field of studies.
I think its fine. It is the first Design field to accept or question the field of education and practice.
Trilochan Chhaya
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
Discipline: branch of instruction or knowledge
Profession: occupation that requires special education and training, as law, medicine

My bad. You're right, I'm wrong. Coming back to the issue at hand:

"I believe architects have failed--so far-- to promote public understanding of their profession and its value."

"Will we find this in LAW, MEDICINE, ENGINEERING, or other disciplines? Are they in a continuous process of finding a definition for their own discipline like architects?"

Dr.salama, are we talking about architecture as a discipline to be explained to the public, to create social awareness about the benefits of our being? Or are we as professionals trying to give a comprehensive definition for the benefit of our knowledge?

There is significant amount of architectural theory out there to define the discipline, what the problem seems to be is the lack of general knowledge in the public about the field. Architects have been stereotyped with artists and sculptors with their heads in the clouds. And the functional (referring to our understanding of what it takes to make a place inhabitable) aspect of our job is ever downplayed. The reason for this lack of clarity is the amount of times the common Joe comes into contact with an architect as compared to a doctor, a lawyer or a banker. What exactly does an astrophysicist do? Ask someone on the street.
Ahmed Asad Zuberi
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
Thanks to all participants for your thoughful contribution to this discussion.

I appreciate your thoughtful response and nice argument, Mr. Zuberi. I totally agree with you about the lack of general knowledge about architecture available to the public. However, for clarification purposes, just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that there are several types of disciplines and professions. In this context, I can mention two: service oriented disciplines while others are based on pure science and their application has nothing to do with the public including common Joe, at least in a direct way. Medicine, Law, and Architecture are examples of service oriented discilpines/professions. Astrophysics is an example of the other type, which is pure science.

Although the lay person --Common Joe-- as a client-- does not come in contact with the architect, common Joe is a a user who influences and is influenced by what the architect does in every single minute of his life cycle, and you already mentioned a similar thought in your earlier intervention.

You might be interested to look at "Designing for Human Behavior" edited by Jon T. Lang and Walter Moleski. The book is old (late seventies), but many of the ideas are still valid and two articles are great to our discussion here: one about "Educating the Client" and the other introduces two types of clients: the paying client and the non paying client (the user-common Joe).

Thank you for enriching this discussion by your thoughts.
Ashraf Salama
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
I would second Dr. Salama's opinion and also like to introduce an article in the Digital Library that deals with educating the Client. The article entitled "Brother in Islam, Please Draw us a Mosque", by Gulzar Haider, can be downloaded from the DL. After some of you have read it, perhaps we can return to this discussion and get your thoughts.
Shiraz Allibhai
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
the death of architecture will be a result to lack of effort in defining what architecture is ...for its various exponents...
As long as the definition of architecture relates to the built space around us...whatever be the scale or extent....architecture and its interpretation would remain relevant....
Its just like love which has been potrayed, depicted ,interpreted in thosands of cultures and languages in different ways....similarly...
Somshankar Bose
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
When an engineering student sits for his exam, he has to do what everybody else is trying to do: Find the correct answer. The keyword here is "correct". In all mathematics-based disciplines, there are only two types of answers: Correct and Incorrect. Black or White!Whereas in a class of 40 architecture students, there will be forty different solutions to one problem! All shades of Grey. That in itself means that there is no clear-cut definition or set parameters of what we do. Every mind will have a different solution. There is nothing black or white, its all grey.

If you take an international exam like GMAT or GRE, the answers to the questions will be standard ALL over thye world. Correct or Incorrect. Can we even think of such an exam in architectural design to correctly judge the calibre of an architectural student?

I guess thats where the definition of architecture gets off the clear road and fades into the distant mist.
Hammad Husain
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
Sure, its all grey. This in itself is a dilemma. Is that because we--architects--lack the scientific base? Perhaps! "Do we really lack it? Is it because of the tendency to rely heavily on soft information not on hard data? Maybe. Is it because architecture is viewed by many as an art and only an art? I see the continuous attempt to define architecture in every single writing as a failure of the profession as a whole, not failure of the "writers/theorists/critics". By the way, I am one of the people who tend to do this too when writing magazine articles, research papers, or books. One cannot escape from it, and one cannot solve a problem of a whole profession, but one can talk about the ills of the profession and some remedies for them.

I am struggling to separate between talking about architecture as "end beautiful artifact/product" and architecture as a "profession" which involves processes for reaching this artifact/product.

The problem is that unlike other professions, much of what an architect does is invisible "the process". This is due to the fact that it occurs in a private sancuary "architectural offices/ateliers/studios" that are rarely penetrated by the public. In other professions, the public is in direct contact with the delivery of professional services. Concomitantly, what an architect does continues to be a mystery in the eyes of the public, and as a result it is very difficult for the public to place a positive value on what is relatively unknown.

Would the solution be by informing the public through architectural magazines designed for their use, not for architects' use? Coffee table magazines intended for the elite are not the solution! Magazines that people read in hair salons convey--in many cases-- a distorted image about the profession! Would it be by developing awareness campaigns that inform the public of what architects do? Would it be by shifting the way we work and try to externalize the process? would it be by user involvement in the design/project delivery process? If the public does not have access to architects due to the nature of the profession, should architects go to the public and let them know about what they do?

With two colleagues, we had a chance to devise a program called "Explorers" for Charlotte City schools, North Carolina, designated for middle and high school students. The program already exisited, but architecture as a profession was not part of it. An introductory course was developed about the profession of architecture. Students receive one credit for being part of this course. they attend presentations in architectural offices, see equipment and construction drawings, visit construction sites, know about graphic and visualization equipment, get to know how an architectural office is run and managed, know about different roles of people involved in a project delivery. Simply, know about the process. It is a light program, where a meeting with about 25 students is conducted once a month for ten months. The course became part of the "explorers" program for next years, and some architectural firms in Charlotte will be involved where each firm will attract 25 middle and high school students to conduct such a course. This was only an attempt!
Ashraf Salama
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
As one who is formally trained as an Architect
but has chosen to ply his craft in the field of information
systems (I have degrees in Comp. Sc., MBA in Info. Sys.)
, I am constantly being asked to define "architecture".

To do so, I ask all those that ask to
first stop thinking of "architecture"
as something physical. For example, we
generally don't describe a building as
"architecture" - it's a building, plain and simple!

Describing a building in terms of of its
functional responsibility - a school, a church, a
community hall, an office building, etc. is a
far better approach.

The same applies in the field of information systems.
It is not a software architecture, it is
a software solution, a software package, a software
application, etc.

While "architecutral design principles"
may have been used to develop the solution,
that does not suggest we can transfer the
architectural title to the end result.

The methodology or process an Architect
utilizes to resolve the problem before
him or her is commonly referred to as
"design". Design has two fundamental
foundations - one humanistic and one
mechanical. The humanistic design
methodology is commonly referred to
as the "architectural design process".
The mechanical based design methodology
is..."the engineering design process
(and sometimes referred to as the
art of fabrication)".

The discipline associated with an
Architect's craft is a historically based
set of principles, responsibilities,
norms and knowledge that
establishes a professionalism
that is equal to that of a lawyer,
doctor, engineer, accountant, etc.

So what is "Architecture?". Based on my comments above,
I suggest that Architecture is a process or methodology
for achieving a resolution that is directed towards
the human environment. As such, reflects the contextual
setting of the environment it is meant for. Through this
this process, the resulting "solution" can garner characteristics
that we might define as "beautiful" or "artistic".
However, to lack these characteristics does
not make it "less of an architectural solution".
The key to good architecture rests in the
application of good design principles - all solutions
must be contextual correct.

The resulting "solution" may manifest
as a building, a park, software application, an information
system,or a chair to sit on.But they are not "Architecture".
Dwayne Popowich
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
Mr. Popowich; thanks for this contribution. In fact, the thought you added here to this discussion is great, and it is nice to see this broad-range perspective. Going beyond the narrow definition of architecture and expanding it as a way of thinking in other disciplines is an issue that was missing here.
Ashraf Salama
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
According to most dictionaries, the word (difine) comes from latin ,which means to limit. so if this meaning is applied to your original topic...(architects are still trying to find limits to "architecture") does not mean that architects are confused or they dont understand their own profession. it would only mean that any one who is capable of redifining their own field;only presents others with some suppressed or hidden aspect of that field....and this is happining in every field and every profession.
Adeel Mumtaz
Architects are still trying to define "Architecture". Why?
Great thoughts. Information technology uses the same principles of reinventing limited knowledge to the next step. To me, exploring beyond limits or extending limits to accomodate new ideas is great. I am delighted.
Dushyant Nathwani


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