Architecture, the art and technique of designing and building, as distinguished from the skills associated with construction. The practice of architecture is employed to fulfill both practical and expressive requirements, and thus it serves both utilitarian and aesthetic ends. Although these two ends may be distinguished, they cannot be separated, and the relative weight given to each can vary widely. Because every society—settled or nomadic—has a spatial relationship to the natural world and to other societies, the structures they produce reveal much about their environment (including climate and weather), history, ceremonies, and artistic sensibility, as well as many aspects of daily life.
The characteristics that distinguish a work of architecture from other built structures are (1) the suitability of the work to use by human beings in general and the adaptability of it to particular human activities, (2) the stability and permanence of the work’s construction, and (3) the communication of experience and ideas through its form. All these conditions must be met in architecture. The second is a constant, while the first and third vary in relative importance according to the social function of buildings. If the function is chiefly utilitarian, as in a factory, communication is of less importance. If the function is chiefly expressive, as in a monumental tomb, utility is a minor concern. In some buildings, such as churches and city halls, utility and communication may be of equal importance.
The present article treats primarily the forms, elements, methods, and theory of architecture. For the history of architecture in antiquity, see the sections on ancient Greece and Rome in Western architectures; as well as Anatolian art and architectures; Arabian art and architectures; Egyptian art and architectures; Iranian art and architectures; Mesopotamian art and architectures; and Syro-Palestinian art and architecture. For later historical and regional treatments of architectures, see African architectures; Chinese architectures; Japanese architectures; Korean architectures; Oceanic art and architectures; Western architectures; Central Asian arts; Islamic arts; South Asian arts; and Southeast Asian arts. For a discussion of the place of architecture and architectural theory in the realm of the arts, see aesthetics. For related forms of artistic expression, see city; interior design; and urban planning.
Architecture is created only to fulfill the specifications of an individual or group. Economic law prevents architects from emulating their fellow artists in producing works for which the demand is nonexistent or only potential. So the types of architecture depend upon social formations and may be classified according to the role of the patron in the community. The types that will be discussed here—domestic, religious, governmental, recreational, welfare and educational, and commercial and industrial—represent the simplest classification; a scientific typology of architecture would require a more detailed analysis.
Domestic architecture is produced for the social unit: the individual, family, or clan and their dependents, human and animal. It provides shelter and security for the basic physical functions of life and at times also for commercial, industrial, or agricultural activities that involve the family unit rather than the community. The basic requirements of domestic architecture are simple: a place to sleep, prepare food, eat, and perhaps work; a place that has some light and is protected from the weather. A single room with sturdy walls and roof, a door, a window, and a hearth are the necessities; all else can be considered luxury.
The history of architecture is concerned more with religious buildings than with any other type, because in most past cultures the universal and exalted appeal of religion made the church or temple the most expressive, the most permanent, and the most influential building in any community.
The typology of religious architecture is complex, because no basic requirements such as those that characterize domestic architecture are common to all religions and because the functions of any one religion involve many different kinds of activity, all of which change with the evolution of cultural patterns.