Architectural Art

Tomas Saraceno’s Cloud Cities installation at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin

Art galleries and museums seem to be showing with greater frequency artworks about architecture, many of them by artists who have studied architecture.

It’s all very interesting, but is it architecture or is it art?

After all, art is a discipline that is completely open to every conceivable method, medium, and process. It has, for about a century now, been freed from the traditional academic categories of sculpture, painting and drawing to include conceptual art, installation art, performance art, land art, video art, photo-based art; and what we might call “architectural art” (which is arguably a form of installation art). Art is no longer restricted in terms of media, and is no longer practiced exclusively by painters or sculptors, but by artists who use multiple types of media to explore certain ideas from different angles. Architecture can be one of these ideas, and architectural construction one of those media, but if it’s in an art institution, then it’s art, not architecture.

There are fundamental differences between art and architecture. The most important one being that art is autonomous, while architecture has only a degree autonomy. In other words, art has an artistic freedom that architecture does not. But here we’re obviously talking about architecture as “buildings”, not gallery installations. As soon as an architect constructs something in a gallery (or in any institutional context involving a gallery or museum), then architecture becomes art.

When architecture occurs outside the privileged context of an art institution, however “artistic” or “sculptural” it may be, architecture will be architecture and not art.

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

One comment

  1. I think it is an idea based on a binary vision of art and architecture. For me it is not divided on the base of its context or location. Still it very much depends on how one defines art and architecture. I believe in the Art that is happening out of gallery or “white cube”, and it is still -in many cases- art and not architecture. Although many of these kinds of arts can be understood as Architecture and vice versa.

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