What is Architecture?



For most people, architecture is a discipline shrouded in mystery.  Of course, we all have a rough idea of what it entails (building design, right?).  And some, if not most of us, have a favourite building (this writer’s favourite is the Guangzhou Opera House designed by the late, great Zaha Hadid).


However, there’s a lot more to architecture than people realise (certainly a lot more than fancy buildings and notable designers).


This blog shines some much needed light on architecture as a practice, including information on its history and importance, as-well as its inter-relationship with structural engineering.


Architecture – a Brief History and Importance


From the early structures of the ancient Mesopotamians, right through to the post-modernist style that dominated the West in the 1980’s, buildings and the various styles in which they are built shape civilisations and our perception of them.  For instance, it’s hard to think of Rome without conjuring up an image of a pillared temple; the same can be said for Japan and its Pagodas.


According to Vitruvius, Roman author, architect and civil engineer, “architecture is an imitation of nature”.  Indeed, as birds and bees built their nests, so did humans construct houses from natural materials that protected them from the weather.  Architecture, however, in all its forms, has long since transcended mans need for shelter.  Part art, part science, modern architecture has served as a means of artistic expression and a major impetus for economic and social progress.


What Exactly Does an Architect Do?


We’ve so far ascertained that an architect designs buildings-think hospitals, office blocks, opera houses, even homes.  But there’s a lot more to it than that.  As alluded to earlier, the role of an architect is that of part-artist and part-scientist…


When a commercial or private client has a building in mind, an architect is approached in the first instance to come up with a design for the project.  The design is a plan, a blueprint used by those involved in the construction phase later on.


When implementing the design or plan phase, there are many different elements an architect must take into account.  These include:


Function (i.e. how exactly will the structure be used?)


The utility of a building is of utmost importance.  For instance, a hospital will need many small and medium sized rooms to serve as operating theatres, appointment rooms and wards.  On the other hand, the design of an airport will typically incorporate a series of vast chambers, to cope with the large numbers of people that pass through every day.


Form (i.e. what will it look like?)


In his work, De architectura, the Godfather of architecture Vitruvius stressed three core tenets of architecture: strength, functionality, and beauty.  The third tenet, beauty, refers to the aesthetics of a building, both inside and out.  Inside, the building must be easy to navigate and feel inviting.  Outside, a building should not only be pleasing to look at, but fit in with its surroundings.


Building Regulations (i.e. is it safe to use?)


Safety and longevity are other factors that an architect must consider.  At the end of the day, the last thing a client wants is a building that people are unable to escape from, or worse still, one that is prone to collapse.  Architects must incorporate safety measures such as fire doors and escape routes into the design of a building.  They must also work closely with structural engineers to ensure the design is feasible (i.e. remain upright and impervious to the elements).


The Relationship Between Architecture and Structural Engineering


Although 2 entirely separate disciplines, there is a strong relationship between architecture and structural engineering.


In order to describe the relationship, it helps to understand that architects and structural engineers approach the design of a building from different perspectives and have an opposing set of priorities.


  • Architects are artistic, creative and more connected to the aesthetics of the structure. Ultimately, it is the architect’s job to envisage not only what a structure will look like, but how it will function (if you would like more information on the role of an architect, visit our dedicated architect services page);


  • On the other hand, structural engineers are more quantitative and numbers driven. Structural engineers are concerned with the frame of a structure, calculating how it will remain upright against the elements and the different forces it will be subjected to.


However, it is this dichotomy that drives modern building design.  There is also a lot of overlap between the two professions.  Ultimately, architects and structural engineers are required to work side by side during the design phase of a building, relying on each other’s various skill sets to ensure that the end product will be structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing.


As with most relationships, communication is key.  Architects and structural engineers are required to co-ordinate with each-other and the construction team throughout the life of a building project.  This is to ensure that the technical specifications set out in the building’s design plans are obeyed and the building will be safe to use.


Part of the HLN Group of companies, HLN Engineering Ltd has a close working relationship with its sister company HLN Architects.  We are therefore in a unique position to offer clients a multi-disciplinary approach to building design.


If you require an architect for a domestic project or to work as part of a multi-team commercial build, call today on 02080 996 388 or send an email to mail@hlngroup.co.uk.


Alternatively, visit the contact page for information on our regional offices.

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