Architecture, structure and story
What does architecture actually do? What makes it different from anything else that people do?
(There’s no particular start-point to this one: it’s probably a mixture of several of those interminable LinkedIn conversations, but likely a bunch of other stuff as well. Let’s just say that it’s a question that’s been brewing away for me in the background for quite a while: what is architecture?)
What is architecture?
A lot of people – particularly in IT-architecture and software-architecture – seem to think that it’s all about structure, and really nothing much else.
But is that it? Really?
I don’t think so… Doesn’t feel right… doesn’t feel enough…
Think about it: if that were true, then there’d be no difference between the disciplines of architecture and of building – because building really is about creating structures, and not much else.
Architecture feeds into the processes of building, interweaves with the processes of building – yet it’s clear that somehow, in some way, there’s more to it than just building something. And that’s true for every form of architecture: building-architecture, civil-architecture, naval-architecture, software-architecture, financial-architecture, brand-architecture, business-architecture, enterprise-architecture, whatever.
So what is this extra bit? – the bit that makes it more than ‘just building’?
Vitruvius is famous for asserting in his book De architectura that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful.
Yet to me, although I’d agree that each of those qualities are necessary, it’s still not complete. There’s still something else…
People create architecture. People use architecture. Although people aren’t part of structure – except in certain special-cases, either by choice or otherwise… – they are somehow part of architecture. There’s a key difference there.
So: people, and… what?
When people are involved, every structure implies a story, expresses a story, provides a stage for a story.
Architecture is what people do to create structure. Building is how we create structure. Vitruvius’ ‘firmitas, utilitas, venustas’ and suchlike provide a necessary what for the structure that architecture creates. But story is why people do what they do to create structure.
Story is that other missing key to architecture. Or, to put it another way:
Architecture is the intersection of structure and story.
A useful way to put it, I hope?