What is Architecture? (Art?)by Steven Holl
While artists work from the real to the abstract, architects must work from the abstract to the real. While art may legitimize itself as an object or an event, architecture dissolves into a blur of buildings. Architecture, under all of its constraints of engineering safety, function, climate responsibility and economy, sometimes transcends to inspire us with ideas in space and light—qualities achieved in the abstract.
Some artists qualify the difference between architecture and art as “use” versus “lack of use.” This characterization truncates “use.” What is the “use” of music if not to stir the spirit? Equally a “function” of architecture is to inspire with a construction of luminous spatial energy. Its highest “use” is to deeply move us.
Encountered by the body moving through space; architecture’s volumes, connected in a path of overlapping perspectives, surround us like music. Space is “listened to” with a step forward, a twist of the body, a tilt of the head. A wash of light dissolving in perspective propels the body forward, from foreground to middle ground and onward, as a distant view becomes the new foreground. Interior and exterior converge. Drawing us from one location to the next,architecture is the art of space.
A work of architecture has an idea—an organic link between concept and form. This idea is a hidden thread connecting disparate parts with exact intention. Pieces cannot be subtracted or added without upsetting fundamental properties. The phenomena of space, light, material/detail—as understood by others—convey the art, whether or not the organizing idea is fully grasped.
STEVEN HOLL is the principal architect for Steven Holl Architects. Considered one of America’s most important architects, he is recognized for his ability to blend space and light with great contextual sensitivity and to utilize the unique qualities of each project to create a concept-driven design. He specializes in seamlessly integrating new projects into contexts with particular cultural and historic importance. Steven Holl has been recognized with architecture’s most prestigious awards and prizes including the 2012 AIA Gold Medal and is a tenured Professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture and Planning.