Two points of view on (enterprise) architecture

Was showing a colleague one of my favourite small books yesterday: Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned In Architecture School. Briefly flicking through the two-page spreads, one caught my eye. Seems so apposite to enterprise-architecture and the like that it’s worth reproducing here in its entirety:

Two points of view on architecture

ARCHITECTURE IS AN EXERCISE IN TRUTH. A proper building is responsible to universal knowledge and is wholly honest in the expression of its functions and materials.

ARCHITECTURE IS AN EXERCISE IN NARRATIVE. Architecture is a vehicle for the telling of stories, a canvas for relaying societal myths, a stage for the theater of everyday life.

‘Classic’ enterprise-architectures would lean toward the former point of view, I suppose. It’s certainly true that structure and function are key areas of focus, and the best do indeed express a real honesty and ‘responsibility to universal knowledge’.

Me, I’ll admit I lean more towards the latter point of view: my work does include exploration of structure – and a lot of it – but my real focus is on the enterprise as co-created story. That’s one of the reasons why I find the existing EA toolsets so frustrating: what I want is something that can capture the stories as well as the structure, and link them all together to extend and enhance the overall enterprise story.

It’s really important to keep these two points of view in balance in our architecture practice. And many other points of view too, of course. 🙂

No particular point being made here: just thought it was well worth sharing, is all.

Comments, anyone?

7 Comments on “Two points of view on (enterprise) architecture

  1. Tom

    Thank you for sharing this.

    You and I both lean towards the latter. You’ll frequently see the words like ‘performance’ and ‘appearance'(and occasionally ‘magic’) in the work I do with Enteprise Architecture. That’s why.

    The performance we experience from an enterprise appearing in our lives is often different from the performance that the enterprise measures. Great EA has to be about both.


  2. By a spooky coincidence there’s a similar message on the back of the little book that I picked up in the Design Museum Shop in London , where I met Chris for lunch last week. It’s called The Language of Things and it’s by the Design Museum director, Deyan Sudjic. “An iPhone, an anglepoise lamp, a Picasso, a banknote, an Armani suit, a spacecraft – every object tells a story”

    The challenge of architecture (as opposed to designing objects) is that it’s all about maintaining balance between competing facets/interests (stories and structure, form and context, business and consumer, etc)

  3. @Chris @Sally … oh … I loved that place when I’m in London! A perfect place for lunch.

    @Tom, are they what must be acknowledged for the enterprise to thrive? I believe so. An Architecture must define the reality (truth) of what is and what is possible (narrative). One without the other will surely lead to a dysfunctional enterprise leading to its failure.

    Without the narrtive, the reality becomes blind…forcing rules to control and hurt the evolution. Without the reality, the narrative doesn’t breath, doesn’t gain trackion because it can not be embraced by the enterprises tribe.

    OK…thinking without coffee again. Gotta go.

  4. Good topic and good discussion!

    Christopher Alexander has described architecture as narrative for a long time. Better yet, he provides a theory and framework for developing architectural languages that can be used to create such narratives. Sadly, the only significant impact of his work that on EA or IT architecture (primarily SW arch) are the ad hoc collections of design patterns from the Gang of Four and others, which credit him for the concept and basic elements of a design pattern description.

    I’ll go even further than Tom and Chris on the arch as truth vs arch as narrative issue. I believe that the idea of arch as truth is not only wrong but dangerous. Which is “truer”, the Parthenon or a thatched roof village hut or even a shanty in an “informal settlement” (aka shantytown, township, favelas, etc.)? The question doesn’t even make sense.

    — Nick

  5. @Chris … Hi

    Ah what is truth? I ask after reading Seth Godin’s post this morning. It is the difference between easy and do-able. The truth is … both are achievable. But what makes the real impact and difference. so, the narrative is expressed … but which narrative is the truth and worth doing?

    OK … I’ll go have my coffee now.

  6. A general comment: many thanks, folks! – is a real help.

    For Nick and Pat in particular, re ‘truth’: It’s perhaps important to emphasise that the notion of ‘truth’ in architecture is usually not some attempt at ‘absolute truth’ – i.e. that the Parthenon is somehow ‘more true’ than a favela shanty – but more around ideas of ‘truth to materials’, the Bauhaus ideal of ‘form follows function’, a kind of honesty or responsibility or truth to itself more than to anything else. In that sense, it would be quite easy to argue that a favela shanty, for example, might well be more ‘true’ than many office buildings… 😐 And the ‘truth’ of truth itself becomes a subject for enquiry of ‘truth’ within the architecture’s understanding of ‘truth’ – don’t you just love these conceptual recursions? 🙂

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