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Traditional architecture : Himeji-jō in Japan from the 17th century
Postmodern architecture : Sony Center in Berlin, completed in 2000

The word architecture (from Latin architectura , building art ; this from ancient Greek ἀρχιτεκτονία architektonía with the same meaning) describes in the broadest sense the manual occupation and aesthetic engagement of people with the built space . Full plan design , shapes and construction of buildings is the central content of architecture. There are a variety of definitions of the term, which ascribe different tasks, contents and meanings to architecture. Some are shown below.

Vitruvius already spoke of the “mother of all arts”, which can mean both the chronological sequence and the ranking of architecture compared to sculpture and painting . In the classical understanding since Vitruvius De Architectura , architecture is based on the three principles of stability (Firmitas) , usefulness (Utilitas) and grace / beauty (Venustas) .


Word origin

The architecture . Figure at the Orangery Palace (Potsdam)
Section through Diocletian's Palace , around 300 AD George Niemann , 1906

The word architecture is the German version of the Latin architectura , architecture , which is derived from the Greek ἀρχιτέκτων architékton . The latter is made up of αρχι- archi- , German 'main' and τέκτων tékton , German ' master builder ' or ' carpenter ' and can therefore be translated as 'chief craftsman' or 'master builder'. The definition of what architecture is today therefore also depends on the architect's field of activity. The term has changed again and again in the course of history and can only be grasped historically in its full depth.

Limitation of the term

In the narrower meaning of the classical architecture term, architecture means the science and art of the planned design of the built human environment, i.e. H. dealing with man-made space and especially the interrelationship between man, space and time. The classic architecture term includes various facets of meaning. He's standing

  • for architecture , the creation and aesthetic design of buildings / structures of all kinds. However, the term architecture is no longer very sharp today. In an extension of the term, the term architecture often stands in academic discourse today for the art of creating and designing spaces in general.
  • as the title of building typologies ,
  • as a term for the professional field of the architect ,
  • as a generic term for the works of architects.
  • as a term for the science of building .

For centuries, architecture in the broadest sense was understood as building of any kind. Architecture was the design of buildings, the art of building, hence the term architecture. Architecture deals with individual structures, primarily in the field of structural engineering . The list of structures by function gives an overview of the variety of tasks.

The town planning is concerned on a larger scale with the design of cities and large building complexes and the interaction between buildings and their environment.

The landscape architecture deals with landscaped gardens and an architectural point of view.

The aim of interior design is to design interiors.

This definition has been controversial, especially since the beginning of the 20th century. Accordingly, most attempts at definition can only be understood in the context of certain debates about the content, task and meaning of architecture, whereby the respective contemporary building with its aesthetic, technical, economic and political implications must also be taken into account. Similar to the concept of the work of art , the concept of architecture does not seem possible to limit itself to the mere description of a word or a thing.

Every more differentiated definition of terms turns out to be a struggle for definition sovereignty and validity on closer inspection. Because of the normative aspect implied in this way, every “content” definition of architecture remains controversial and is essentially ideologically shaped. Every attempt at definition - insofar as it contains a reflection - is already architectural theory . The definition of architecture is essentially based on the respective attitude and value system of the person who defines it, be it the client , architect or architectural theorist.

The fact that the evaluations of the respective works of the architects are mostly controversial is inevitable, since it is not only a question of a competition of talent and competence, but also of the validity of the individual value systems. Due to the variance of architectural conceptions, there is a great variety of forms in architecture today.

Classical architecture according to Vitruvius

According to Vitruvius (De Architectura) , architecture is based on three principles: stability (Firmitas) , usefulness (Utilitas) and grace / beauty (Venustas) . All three categories must be taken into account equally and equally. On the one hand, they should determine the architectural design and, on the other hand, serve as criteria for assessing the finished building.

In addition, Vitruvius defines six basic terms for the subject of architecture: "ordinatio", "dispositio", "eurythmia", "symmetria", "decor" and "distributio".

The Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza by Andrea Palladio . The architecture of the Renaissance transmitted is classic antiquity and led her away.

“Ordinatio”, “eurythmia” and “symmetria” refer to the proportions of the building. "Ordinatio" stands for "scale", ie the appropriate dimensional division of the members of a building, "eurythmia" for the graceful appearance and the true to size appearance in the assembly of the structural members and "symmetria" for the harmony of the individual elements with one another. In the first chapter of the third book , in which Vitruvius explains the idealized proportions of the human body, the reduction of its dimensions to basic geometric shapes such as square and circle, and the modular basis of number systems, these statements on proportioning are deepened.

"Dispositio" refers to the conception or disposition of the building and the necessary building plans, which he defines with floor plan, section and perspective view ("ichnographia", "orthographia" and "scaenographia").

“Decor” refers to the flawless appearance of a building in accordance with the rules of recognized conventions. As examples, Vitruvius cites u. a. the correct assignment of types of columns (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) to certain deities in temple construction, the coordination of outside and inside, of stylistic elements to the overall style, of rooms to cardinal points, etc.

"Distributio" means, on the one hand, the appropriate distribution of building materials and the expenses for the construction, on the other hand, the appropriate construction method for the respective residents.

The classic column order introduced by Vitruvius is still used in architecture today.

Differentiation from general building

Where does architecture begin and where does “mere building” end?
Baroque architecture ( Wieskirche )
Main building of the Bauhaus University Weimar (1904–1911 based on designs by Henry van de Velde )

Architecture as art works through its special design quality and differs from general building (see also aesthetics ).

The idea of ​​what the actual architectural achievement in the design and manufacture of a building is and what raises the building above the purely functional has changed significantly in the course of the past century: Up until the end of the 19th century it was primarily the use of traditional forms of construction ( style ) with often ornamental decorations in which the artistic rank manifested itself as the added value and beauty of a building in conscious opposition to a pragmatism .

With the functionalism of the 20th century, a concept of architecture became predominant, which gave priority to the purpose of buildings (including engineering structures). In the process, the constructive, proportion -giving and space-defining aspects of building became the design theme of architecture. At the same time, through numerous depictions of modernity, progressiveness and the expression of the respective present, priority was sought for functionalist architecture. This functionalist understanding of architecture was loosened up in movements like postmodernism and deconstructivism .


  • It has mostly been assumed that a building only begins to become a work of art when it does more than just satisfy the need . “( Hermann Muthesius : 1908 on the architecture concept of the 19th century in: The Unity of Architecture )
  • “The catchphrase“ the functional is also beautiful ”is only half true. When do we call a human face beautiful? The parts of every face serve a purpose, but only when they are perfect in shape, color and well-balanced harmony does the face deserve the honorary title "beautiful". The same goes for architecture. Only perfect harmony in the technical purpose-function as well as in the proportions of the forms can produce beauty . And that makes our task so varied and complicated. "( Walter Gropius : 1955 in: Architektur )
  • "Regardless of how profane or demanding the purpose it serves is, architecture is ultimately the entirety of the environment changed by human hands and thus a cultural achievement of people." ( Meinhard von Gerkan : 1982 in: The responsibility of the architect )

Space formation

When Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe is called "running" space

Architecture can be defined by its space-creating character. From this perspective, architecture consists in the duality of space and shell . Architecture creates a boundary between outside and inside. This border or shell creates an interior space and an exterior space (e.g. urban space) for the purpose of movement, residence and activity of people.

Further definitions

  • Architecture is "harmony and harmony of all parts, which is achieved in such a way that nothing could be taken away, added or changed without destroying the whole." ( Leon Battista Alberti : 1452 in: De re aedificatoria )
  • According to Louis Sullivan (1896), architecture is “the law of all organic and inorganic, all physical and metaphysical, all human and superhuman things, all genuine manifestations of the head, heart and soul, that life is recognizable in its expression, that the form always follows the function. "(see also: form follows function )
  • “Today architecture is created according to economic, constructive and functional principles. We are in a tough battle with reality. And if there is something similar to what is called art as an attribute, then you can speak of an improbable luck in your life. ”( Egon Eiermann : Grosse Architekten. HäuserBuch-Verlag)
  • "Architecture combines art and science (or technology) in order to organize the environment according to human needs" ( Louis Hellman )
  • "Architecture is knowledge of technology, receptivity to the artistic side of the matter." ( Arne Jacobsen )
  • “The elementary expression of architectural forms is gestural. It is based on the one hand on the demonstrative qualities of the built things, on the other hand on the sensations of the feeling, moving body. "( Wolfgang Meisenheimer : The thinking of the body and the architectural space )

Architectural history

Lorsch gate hall from the 9th century

The history of architecture is as old as human history and is closely interwoven with it as a cultural element. In accordance with this great importance, two terms are encyclopedically separated: A chronological overview of the individual development steps can be found under the keywords history of architecture or architectural style , the explanations of methodology and field of the subject in the article architectural history. The subject of architectural history is that part of cultural studies that deals primarily with art-scientific and, secondarily, with engineering and sociological methodology with the historical dimension of architecture.


Large architecture museums can be found in Berlin Architekturmuseum der TU Berlin , Frankfurt ( Deutsches Architekturmuseum ) and Munich ( Architekturmuseum der TU Munich ).


Built absolutism : The Palace of Versailles - the king as a central point of reference
Built democracy : the Reichstag building - the people above parliament

Architecture manifests itself in a single building, a building complex, a settlement structure or even in an entire urban complex. Both the individual form of smaller and larger units and the entire urban morphology are influenced in particular by climatic, technical, topographical and economic parameters. In addition, legal , religious, political and other social conditions also have a massive influence on architecture, town planning and urban planning. Above all, the representative architecture is often the visible expression of the respective form of society and rule . For example the Palace of Versailles as an expression of absolutism . Architecture is thus an essential part of a society's cultural identity.

An example of administrative factors is the housing policy that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has maintained in the United States since the end of World War II . The federal government in Washington, DC had tasked the FHA with making sure that every war veteran could own a home. Since the FHA was convinced that avant-garde homes were not a good investment for veterans, the banks also declined to encourage the construction of “ultra-modern” homes (especially in the international and contemporary styles) by granting personal loans. The result was that in the US, single-family houses have been built almost exclusively conservatively (currently e.g. Millennium Mansion ).


Modern man is continuously surrounded by buildings and architecture. It can have a positive or negative effect on mood and psyche . It can also have an impact on physical health. Architecture therefore has a very concrete meaning for everyone and determines everyday life much more than music, literature or painting. The quality of the living environment should therefore be an important concern of society .

Only a part of all structures and buildings are planned by architects. In economically less developed areas, the vast majority of them are built in-house or by craftsmen without much planning . The standardized production of buildings predominates in the industrialized nations. Architects are called in primarily for complex planning or representative structures. This also gives rise to the widespread opinion that architecture only relates to special buildings and should be differentiated from “ profane ” building. The negative consequences of this demarcation between architecture and building are visible in all modern cities.

The subject of architecture is not often discussed in general public in Germany, and the debate about contemporary architecture is often left to the “experts”. The responsibility for the built environment does not lie with the architects alone. The respective builder selects the architect and makes decisive specifications. The public construction law specifies essential conditions. A general social awareness of the importance of architecture is therefore essential for a good built environment.

In Germany, the Federal Foundation for Building Culture tries to raise awareness of the great importance of architecture. In Austria, the federal arts section has its own department for architecture and design, as well as an architecture foundation and the platform for architectural policy and building culture . In some countries, good architecture is even recognized as a national goal, in France since 1977 and in Finland since 1998.

In some cases, architecture achieves a high level of acceptance among the population, who see a building as a symbol of their values ​​and attitude to life. Examples are the Eiffel Tower in Paris (symbolizing the city) or the Twin Towers in New York , which were destroyed as symbols of capitalism and western culture.


  • “Architecture and urban planning are neither cultural luxury nor expendable decoration. Rather, from these basic building blocks of a city, a livable environment and urban identity grows. "(From the aim of the Wiesbaden Architecture Center)
  • “Our everyday life is largely determined by the architecture that surrounds us every day. [...] The architecture creates the necessary structural framework in which we move. Human society would be inconceivable without architecture. ”( Jürgen Tietz : 1998 In: Geschichte der Architektur des 20. Jahrhundert .)

Important topics

Shape: In the St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, colors, materials and ornaments emphasize the partial shapes of the building
Construction: Leipziger Messe
Orientation and energy standard : Passive house "Wohnen am Depot" in Frankfurt am Main (Architect: Stefan Forster )

The architects repeatedly deal with certain topics , regardless of style and era . These topics are also the fundamental criteria of architectural criticism . They have to be considered anew with every design that is generally unique .

  • Space : The definition, dimensioning, disposition, assembly and formal design of spaces is the most important task of architecture. See : Space (architecture)
  • Positioning and orientation : The positioning of a building in the landscape or on the available area ( property ) and its orientation determine the appearance of the building, the degree of privacy in relation to public space, the development , the relationship between outside space and Interior .
  • Function : The good functioning of a building is the primary goal of a design. This applies to the functional processes, the technical functioning of the building envelope as well as aesthetic and non-technical functions that a building has to fulfill. Since architecture is one of the few practical arts (see also design ) that has a utility value in addition to aesthetic value, it is always in the field of tension between art and function . See also : List of structures by function
  • Shape : The shape of the building, i.e. the floor plan , shape and cubature as well as proportion are aesthetic aspects that cannot be derived from function alone. A design cannot be created based on all boundary parameters. In addition, there is always the component of aesthetic and formal design. See also: Category: Design
  • Construction : In order to create the desired rooms and functions, choosing the right construction is crucial. Cost and deadline factors must also be considered and comfort standards must be achieved. The skeleton construction allows a freer floor plan , for an apartment block the room cell construction may be the better solution. The scope of the possibilities is continuously expanding. See also: Construction
  • Facade : The facades , i.e. the outer shell of a building with regard to materials and colors, are left to the discretion of architects and builders, with the influence of building authorities and monument protection.
  • Legibility : This is understood to be the extent to which “what is in it” can be recognized from the external appearance of a building, for example what function it has, what construction, what internal structure or what meaning. Whether a building should show this to the outside can be answered very differently. A church or a train station building are usually quickly recognizable as such. The French National Library, for example, has the shape of four opened books and thus signals its function to the outside world. The architects Herzog & de Meuron took a more subtle approach to the library of the Eberswalde University of Applied Sciences , where the facade is covered with photo motifs, which symbolizes the information content of a library to the outside. Other buildings, on the other hand, conceal their insides behind a facade.
  • Relationship to the environment : The idealized model of architecture is the design of a building that is connected to the environment in a multilayered manner. A building can blend in with its surroundings or be deliberately designed as a contrast. The relationship is established externally, for example through design, color design and choice of materials. Visual references, room sequences and routing outside and inside play a decisive role in the relationship between the building and its surroundings.
  • Idea reference : In the context of the preservation of monuments, certain places, streets, squares or buildings have a special meaning. The ideal reference is derived less from formal-aesthetic aspects, but from one or more historical events, circumstances or a special historical context in which an area or a building stands or stood, e.g. B. certain sections of the former wall or the crossing point Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, birthplaces or living or working places of important personalities, places of political upheaval etc .; Even if there is no architectural historical significance, architects and planners have to take the ideal reference into account when it comes to demolitions, reconstructions , conversions, conversions or extensions of such historically and socially specific places.
  • Sustainability, ecology and energy consumption : Since the 1980s, and increasingly since the debate about global warming , sustainability , ecological construction and the reduction of energy consumption in buildings have become important issues in architecture. Many buildings have high heating and cooling energy requirements; projected over the life of the building, there is considerable potential for energy savings. When designing buildings, the orientation , the shape of the structure, the building envelope and the building materials are also chosen with regard to ecological aspects. This has some effects on the architecture of the buildings. Under the heading of solar architecture , concepts are summarized which aim to minimize energy consumption as far as possible. Many contemporary buildings today achieve good energy standards .
  • Costs : The budget that the client provides for the construction of a building is a key factor that determines the quality of the result. Often, design decisions are made based on the budget, so it has a significant impact on the architecture. The topic of costs accompanies the planners through the entire planning and execution process.
  • Other keywords that frequently appear in the architecture debate are:


  • Music : Music and architecture have long been part of human culture . In ancient Greece and Rome they were much more closely related than they are today. The theory of proportions in architecture (especially the Renaissance ) refers to the theory of harmony in music. Architects, musicians and philosophers have not only sought and created connections between the two arts over the centuries, but have also given each other new impulses. The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling said in 1859: Architecture is frozen music . Arthur Schopenhauer reads in a similar way : Architecture is frozen music. The acoustics of a building also play a major role (e.g. in opera houses, concert halls, theaters, etc.).
  • Psychology: Psychology deals with architecture from different angles. The Situationist group of artists dealt with this research area in the 1960s (see “ Psychogeography ”).
    Studies show that architects and laypeople have completely different perceptions of architecture. This is based on the different levels of knowledge and the resulting different perspectives. The architectural ideas of laypeople are also strongly influenced by the media and role models.
    psychology emerged from the knowledge about the interaction between humans and the built environment . The color psychological effect of the design of interiors and facades is also important. So architectural psychologists are able to z. B. to design patient-oriented practice rooms. Schemes and survey instruments for assessing offices, apartments, schools, universities and hospitals are required. Architectural psychology draws its findings from empirical studies. It is not to be confused with the spiritual teachings of Feng Shui .
  • Sociology: The sociology of architecture is about the symbolic interaction between socially active people by means of the constitution and design of spaces , for example cities , landscapes ( parks ), houses , bridges , monuments or special components (towers, doors, etc.) up to Interior design ; thus also about the profession of architect, about building policy, the construction industry and living .
  • Legislation: In almost all countries, buildings are subject to extensive legal regulations and official supervision . The necessary conditions u. a. Stability, operational safety, urban integration, technical supply and energy efficiency all have an impact on the architecture.

See also

Portal: Architecture and Construction  - Overview of Wikipedia content on architecture and construction


About architecture

  • Wilfried Koch : Architectural Style - European Architecture from Antiquity to the Present. 27th, revised edition 2006, ISBN 978-3-577-10089-2 .
  • Louis Hellman : Architecture for Beginners (Architecture AZ - A Rough guide). Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1988, ISBN 978-3-499-17551-0 .
  • Hermann Hipp , Ernst Seidl (ed.): Architecture as political culture. philosophia practica. Reimer, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-496-01149-1 .
  • Joshua Comaroff / Ong Ker-Shing: Horror in Architecture. Oro Editions, San Francisco, California, USA 2013.
  • Visionary Architects , University of St Thomas, Library of Congress Card Number, 68-24454. SW Swan Services, New York 1968.
  • Gerrit Confurius : Architecture and Intellectual History. The intellectual place of European architecture. transcript, Bielefeld 2017, ISBN 978-3-8376-3849-3 .

reference books

See also “literature” in the articles: History of Architecture , Architectural Theory


see also Category: Architecture in Film


motion pictures

Web links

Commons : Architecture  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Architecture  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Architecture  - Sources and Full Texts

Online databases on architects and buildings

Literature research

Articles, presentations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Ernst Georges : Comprehensive Latin-German concise dictionary . 8th, improved and increased edition. Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hanover 1918 ( [accessed on August 8, 2018]).
  2. ^ Wilhelm Pape , Max Sengebusch (arrangement): Concise dictionary of the Greek language . 3rd edition, 6th impression. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig 1914 ( [accessed on August 8, 2018]).
  3. a b Vitruv : Ten books on architecture. Translated and annotated by Dr. Curt Fensterbusch. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1964, ISBN 3-534-01121-X , p. 45.
  4. Heiner Knell : Vitruvius architecture theory. An introduction. 3. update Aufl. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2008, ISBN 3-534-21959-7 .
  5. ^ Virginia Savage McAlester: A Field Guide to American Houses. The Definite Guide to Identifying and Understanding America's Domestic Architecture . 2nd Edition. Knopf, New York 2013, ISBN 978-1-4000-4359-0 , pp. 548 f .
  6. Daniel Buggert, Karl R. Kegler: Copability is fundamentally linked to a promise Interview with the psychologist Stephan Grünewald on the effect of media images in architecture. in: archimaera (issue 2/2009).
  7. ^ Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster , Chair R. Bromme, Topic: Expert-lay communication in architecture
  8. Article by the architectural psychologist Ralf Zeuge on the design of patient-oriented practice rooms ( memento from July 25, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) In 'Zahnärztliche Mitteilungen', zm 98, No. 12 from June 16, 2008, pages 88-89
  9. ^ Seminars by Riklef Rambow, BTU Cottbus
  10. ^ Research work by Rotraut Walden , University of Koblenz