When Does Building Become Architecure

This must be the oldest question in the book and still, no one has a definitive answer.

I had a pint with an old friend, who works for the Forestry Commission, recently. She deals with invasive species and is busy organising a holocaust of Rhododendrons, Japanese Knot Weed and the devious Grey Squirrel. We were talking about our respective jobs and my friend asked me to explain at what point can one consider a building becomes Architecture? are all buildings architecture? and if so do bus shelters count?


That question has been around for a long time and, despite many attempts, there isn’t an easy answer.

Trying to head off an existential crisis, I trotted out the old maxim by Vitruvius, that great buildings must embody "Commodity, Firmness and Delight". That is they must by worth what was paid for them, be durable and inspirational. I'm not sure if that explanation really does it, because in today's world, there is a great deal of subjectivity and uncertainty over all three of those criteria.

I think that a better explanation is to make an analogy, to compare the difference between buildings and Architecture to the differences between food and cuisine and between noise and music.

We no longer eat food just to stay alive, we have the the luxury of playing with our food. We use cuisine as entertainment, as a symbol of national culture and as a way of signifying social status. The way a dish is presented tells you something about the person who made it and also about the person who ordered it. Arranging food on a plate so that it looks good doesn't make that food taste any different, it all goes to the same place after all, but it makes the dish more appealing. We eat food for nourishment, we use cuisine to communicate our values, aspirations and identities. Noise becomes music when it has rhythm and melody, when there is a relationship between the different sounds, when it ceases to be random and thoughtless. For this to happen someone has to take charge of the noise and give it meaning. Architecture is like this, it takes aspiration and ambition, it doesn't just happen by accident, its deliberate. Like cuisine, we no longer build just for shelter but if we invest values, aspiration and identity into our buildings we make them Architecture. Like music, if we stop assembling materials in a random manner and decide to give them rhythm and deliberate order, we start making Architecture.Now, I want my friend to tell me at what point does a group of trees become a forest?