Trading between Architecture and Art

2022-11-03 09:56

Over the last century a lot of exchange has happened between the disciplines of architecture and art. It can feel at times like we live in a post-disciplinary pluralistic goop. Well, I'm sure many architects and artists don't feel like this - but it does feel like the 'conversation' is increasingly confused about where the boundaries lie.

However, looking at specific examples from the last few decades highlight a vibrant exchange taking place. Whilst the exchange is uneven and unstable, there are some themes that emerge. Some common points of exchange include utility, concept, aesthetics.

#Art / Architecture / Concept

Mark Dorrain points to Conceptual Architecture, a two-day symposium from 1975, as an inflection point. Historically, 'art' was pointed to as the thing that makes a building architecture. From Nikolaus Pevsner's Outline of European Architecture (1943):

A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture. Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.

Conceptual Architecture (the symposium) came in the wake of Conceptual Art (the movement) , which destabilised art by severing the link between the artwork and its material realisation. This removal of aesthetic appeal from art requires a renegotiation of the art-architecture relationship.

Conceptual Architecture then absorbs the core tenet of Conceptual Art - the centrality of the concept. As Peter Eisenman said in 2013

The "real architecture" only exists in the drawings. The "real building" exists only outside the drawings. The different here is that "architecture" and "building" are not the same.

Given that architecture can exist without building, it can also exist without utility. Dorrain goes on to argue that utility usurps art as the counterpoint to which Architecture now relates itself. This relates to contemporary architecture's interest in follies or ruins - as seen in the annual Serpentine Pavilion - a building with highly limited utility, as a 'pure' expression of architecture.