Architecture – Definition, Concepts, Types and Characteristics


What is Architecture?

In general, architecture is the art, in the sense of technique, of designing and constructing not only buildings, but also other objects. In the same way, architecture can be defined as the whole and perspective of a building.  Likewise, some define it as the art of building with the principles of beauty and harmony.  Similarly, the term architecture also encompasses the purely material concept of construction, however, the concept has subsequently expanded to be applicable to all orders.

On the other hand, there are several types of architecture: monastic, civil, military, naval, hydraulic, industrial, funerary, commemorative and monumental. In addition, each civilization has determined a special characteristic in the art of its constructions. Therefore, the origin of architecture is strongly linked to the concept of habitation and dwelling in the primitive human being, which is why this concept is first found in the rudiments of constructive art. It was born from the cave, from the lake dwelling to the more complicated forms.

Definition of architecture

The emergence of architecture stems from the need for human beings, once they went from nomadic to sedentary, to settle down, to build settlements and dwellings where they could shelter from the inclemency of the weather and at the same time, to establish themselves. Thus, the first monuments created by human beings were carved in stone. Likewise, the emergence of architecture has its origin in the idea of shelter that gives the human being notions for the spatial organization, first around the fire and then, the expansion of space according to other needs. Even in very tribal societies, the characteristics of the first constructions can be observed at this time, such is the case of Amerindian, African and aboriginal peoples.

In this same sense, the concept of shelter is intuitively found in gregarious beings such as human beings, it is present in their collective unconscious, strongly introjected to the point of marking the culture of the various societies subsequently established. Therefore, architectural theorists at different times in history such as Vitruvius in antiquity, Leon Battista Alberti in the Renaissance, and Joseph Rykwert more recently, refer to the primitive hut as a myth. Asserting that the human being was enlightened by the gods to build his shelter initially of wood and four walls with a gable roof. Therefore, this is the first concept of house that houses the human being, and that gives origin to the architecture. Thus the word architecture has its origin in the word archetype, which means form.

Definition of architecture

How did it develop?

Architecture from its beginnings is based on the need that human beings had, once they settled in the spaces, to build a dwelling as a shelter. Subsequently, this dwelling changed shape and expanded according to their needs. Thus, architecture has different times and each time has its respective current, as well as a representative theorist. Therefore, Vitruvius, in De Architectura (first century B.C.), pointed out three aspects as characteristics of architecture: firmitas, a term with which he determined the safety in the technical and constructive level, the name of utilitas, to the function to which it is destined, and venustas to the conformed beauty.

For his part, Leon Battista Alberti, in De re aedificatoria (1450-1485), maintained that architecture consisted in the realization of a work which contemplated not only the movement of weights and loads, but also the set of materials chosen, useful because they were at the service of human beings.

In the 19th century, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc classified architecture and the art of building into two parts: theory and practice. According to this author, theory encompassed the art, the rules coming from tradition and science, which could be demonstrated by defined formulas, as well as the practice determined by the adaptation of the theory to the materials, the climate, and the needs to be covered in each case. Similarly, John Ruskin, author of The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), who was concerned with socio-cultural and economic aspects, defined architecture as the art of decorating and composing buildings, emphasizing contemplation as a contribution to the health, strength and pleasure of the human spirit.

Later, a more practical and modern concept of architecture was developed by Sigfried Giedion, who defined architectural creation as the correct application of materials and economic principles to the creation of spaces for humans.

In this sense, architecture presents particularities that allow it to be differentiated from the rest of the arts. The first refers to materials and techniques, defined as the constructive technique, which is the part of architecture that deals with the correct use of materials according to their qualities and nature, so that they satisfactorily fulfill the conditions of solidity, aptitude and beauty. Thus, architecture has several technologies and they can be used alone or in combination. Alexandre Cirici classifies it according to materials and textures in wood architecture, as well as textile architecture, terra cotta architecture, stone architecture, brick architecture, metallic architecture, reinforced concrete architecture and, more recently, architecture using plastic and fiberglass, with their respective techniques. From the societies, the construction technique depends on the technological level of that society and the needs to be covered in each case, which vary according to the times and cultures.  Likewise, the functional aspect is another characteristic of architecture. Therefore, architecture must serve the purpose for which it was created, and it is precisely the functional aspect that gives rise to multiple typologies of buildings.

Characteristics of Architecture

Architecture has different styles, with diverse qualities that are interesting to know. Therefore, depending on the style, these characteristics can be identified. However, several of these qualities are common to the different styles.

In general, professionals have different styles to design and the character, design and style of a building or house is called architecture.

Different architectural styles are characterized by the features that make a building or house. In architecture, these features are classified as visual appearance, structure, materials, and historical period and apply to all styles of architecture, including modern.

For example, modern architecture is a style that refers to a large group of similar buildings that emerged in many countries by the practice of various architects between the 1920s and 1950s. Modern architecture first took off in Europe and then made its way into the American style.

The Bauhaus, a German school of art and architecture, had a major impact on the style of modern architecture, with its principle of less is more. When the school was closed due to pressure from the Nazi regime, its faculty emigrated to the United States.

As a result, the Bauhaus influence traveled to America and was renamed the International Style. This International Style was suitable for all countries and cultures, because it was for modern man wherever he existed. So, the International Style is composed of key characteristics, including simplicity of form, functionality, clean structure, lack of ornamentation, and rejection of traditional styles.

Classification of Architecture

Architecture is created to meet the specifications of an individual or group. So the types of architecture depend on the social formation and can be classified according to the role it plays in the community. The types that will be discussed below focus on the national, religious, governmental, recreational, educational, commercial and industrial welfare of society and represent the simplest classification.  Therefore, a scientific typology of architecture would require a more detailed analysis.


This architecture is produced by the social unit of the individual, family and its dependents, animals and humans. It provides shelter and security for the basic physical functions of life and sometimes also for commercial, industrial, agricultural activities involving the family unit, rather than the community. The basic requirements of domestic architecture are simple: a place to sleep, prepare food, eat and work perhaps; a place that has some light and is protected from inclement weather. A room with sturdy walls and a roof, a door, a window and a home with the most immediate needs.


In much of the world today, even where institutions have been in a continual process of change, housing types of ancient or prehistoric origin are in use. In industrialized countries such as the United States, barns are built to a design employed in Europe in the first millennium BC. Thus, the forces that produce a dynamic evolution of architectural style in a communal building are generally inactive in the home and farm.

The lives of average people may be unaltered by the most fundamental changes in their institutions. Economic pressure is the main factor that produces average individuals restricting their demands to a level far below what the technology of their time is capable of sustaining. New structures are often built with old techniques because experimentation and innovation are more costly than repetition.

But in the economy of wealthy cultures, permits and customs encourage architecture to provide amenities such as sanitation, lighting and heating, as well as separate areas for different functions, and these may come to be regarded as necessities. The same causes tend to replace the conservatism of the house with the aspirations of institutional architecture and emphasize expression as well as utilitarian function.


As wealth and expressive functions increased, a special type of domestic and national building distinguished itself by being called power architecture. In almost all civilizations the pattern of society gives some of its members the ability to use the resources of the community in the construction of their houses, palaces, villas, gardens, and places of recreation.

These few, whose advantages are generally presented as economic, religious, or class differences, are able to enjoy an infinite variety of domestic activities related to the customs of their position.


This third type of domestic architecture accommodates the group rather than the unit and thus can be both public and private. It is familiar through the widespread development of mass housing, in the modern world, in which individuals or families find space in multiple dwellings or in individual units produced in quantity. Group housing is produced by many types of cultures, such as communal states to equalize living standards, to ensure a docile, feudal labor force, or by caste systems to bring members of a class together.

Characteristics of Architecture

Types of Architecture

Architecture, like all other arts, has its currents, which have been changing as societies have developed. According to the composition of social and cultures, architecture is classified into Eastern and Western.

What is the legacy of this Art?

Architecture as it is known today has its basis in Roman architecture, since the Romans were skilled and intelligent builders. In their architecture and engineering, they took ideas from the Greeks and other peoples. However, all the ideas that have been implemented in design and architecture were devised by the Romans so that future engineers and architects to this day have imitated them. The architecture of the arch, vault and dome to build huge structures was devised and developed by the Romans.  A vault is an arch used in a roof to support the roof. A dome is a semicircular vault resting on a circular wall. Roman baths and other public buildings often had large arched vaults. Likewise, the Pantheon, a magnificent temple still preserved in Rome, is famous for its huge dome. Likewise, materials such as cement and concrete, also used initially by the Romans, are still used today to help them build much larger arches than others had attempted before.

To this day, concrete is made by mixing split stones with sand, cement and water, allowing the mixture to harden. The Romans did not invent this material, but they were the first to make its use widespread.

On the other hand, the construction of the new stadiums, have the ideas of origin in the Romans. These large open-air structures could seat thousands of spectators, so the same purpose is served by today’s stadiums. The Romans used concrete to build tunnels, as in the case of the Colosseum in Rome. As in those times, the tunnels make it easy for spectators to reach their seats. Likewise, modern American soccer stadiums still take advantage of this feature.

In this regard, another legacy of Roman architecture that continues as an innovation to this day is the widely copied triumphal arch.  This arch is a huge monument built back then to celebrate great victories or events. So, a famous example of this arch is the Arc de Triomphe (Arc de Triomphe) in Paris, France. This monument celebrates the victories of the French Emperor Napoleon in the 1800s. Today it is the national war memorial of France.

Most important artists and/or representatives

Most important artists and/or representatives

The following is a brief description of some of the most renowned architects of the technological era.

Frank Owen Gehry (Toronto, Canada, 1929)

Gehry considers architecture to be an art, and he also thinks that making a building is like making sculpture. He has worked on successive projects without abandoning other fundamental aspects of architecture, such as the functionality of the building and its integration with its surroundings. Some of his most outstanding works are: Frank Gehry’s House (California), Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao Spain), Hotel el Marqués de Riscal (El ciego, Spain), Casa Danzante (Prague Czech Republic), DG Bank Building (Berlin Germany).

Antoni Gaudí (Barcelona 1852-1926)

Gaudí is one of the most famous architects of the 20th century, of Catalan origin, considered the greatest exponent of modernism. This architect stands out for his use of curved lines, technological innovations, and the use of motifs taken from nature as models of form, whose characteristics give Gaudí’s architecture a unique and personal stamp. His transcendent and unique work is the church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, even though he was unable to complete it.

Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe (Germany 1886-1969) 

Van der Rohe is another famous architect of the Bauhaus movement, of which he was the director. The architectural style of this famous architect is to employ advanced structural techniques, as well as Prussian classicism. He also designed with steel and glass, and in the academic field, he was dean of the Chicago School of Architecture during his exile in the United States. Likewise, his most emblematic work is the Seagram Building in New York, being valued as the maximum expression of the international style.

Frank Lloyd Wright: (U.S.A. 1867-1959)

Wright devised and developed a new concept regarding the interior spaces of buildings, similar to those he applied in his prairie houses, designing spaces in which each room or room opens to the others, achieving a great visual transparency, because the profusion of light conveys a sense of spaciousness and openness. Likewise, seeking to differentiate one area from the other, making divisions with light material and ceilings of different heights, getting rid of unnecessary solid enclosures. Thus, it is due to Wright the difference between “defined spaces” and “closed spaces”. It should also be noted that Wright studied Mayan architecture with great attention, applying a reminiscent Mayan style in several of his houses.

Aspects to take into account in Architecture

There are two main aspects that every architect must know in order to develop his profession in the best way, they are of vital importance and of great utility

Exoskeleton in Architecture

The exoskeleton is a biomimetic model for the rehabilitation of social housing. In particular, buildings constructed in Europe in the post-World War II period suffer from material and social degradation requiring architectural, functional and structural interventions.

The state-of-the-art analysis underlines the importance of the envelope in the definition of new performances and standards. Using a biomimicry approach, the exoskeleton is shown to be a structural building envelope capable of solving complex problem sets integrating different building systems.

Adaptability turns out to be a fundamental property to define effective seismic and structural behavior, but also to respond to changing user needs and environmental conditions.

Descriptive Memory of Architecture

According to architectural theorists, memories are products of the body’s experience of physical space, and to cement the theorem, memories are only as good as the buildings.

The mind palace, also known as the memory palace or loci method, is a mnemonic device believed to have originated in ancient Rome, in which elements that need to be memorized are attached to some kind of visual cue and strung together in a situated narrative, a journey through a space.

Science writer and author Joshua Foer covered this technique in depth in his book Moonwalking with Einstein, in which he trained for and eventually won the U.S. Memory Championship. To memorize long lists of words, a deck of cards, a poem or a set of faces, mental athletes, as they are called, merge a familiar place, i.e. the house they grew up in with a self-created fictional environment populated by the objects on their list.

What is a House or School of Architecture?

It is an architectural style of building that is imposed and taught as a school of architecture. Such as the Prairie School architectural style or Prairie Style. The style is usually marked by horizontal lines, flat or gable roofs with wide overhanging eaves, windows grouped in horizontal bands, integration with the landscape, solid construction, craftsmanship and discipline in the use of ornament. The horizontal lines were thought to evoke and relate to the broad esplanades and treeless expanses of the native American prairie landscape.

The Prairie School was an attempt to develop a native style of architecture in tune with the ideals and design aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts Movement, with which the craft guilds shared and as an antidote to the dehumanizing effects of mass production.

Most representative schools of Architecture

There are some schools or houses that have stood out in the passage of history, due to a unique excellence, here we leave you the list of the most representative houses of architecture:

Farnsworth House

It is a very specific house design devised and built by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe between 1945 and 1951. It is a one-bedroom weekend retreat house in what was then a rural setting, southwest of downtown Chicago, adjacent to the Fox River, south of the city of Plano, Illinois. The house is made of steel and glass and was commissioned by Dr. Edith Farnsworth, a prominent Chicago nephrologist, as a place where she could pursue her hobbies of playing the violin, translating poetry, and enjoying nature.

Le Corbusier’s Domino House

This style of architecture, which later became a school and a trend in building design, was conceived by Le Corbusier when he was only 27 years old, so called because the houses could be joined end to end like dominoes, and with a design plan, to combine domus and innovation.

In November 1914, one-fifth of the Belgian population was homeless. The solution was taken from Le Corbusier’s simple and ingenious design of a standardized two-story house composed of concrete slabs supported by columns and a staircase, no walls, no rooms, just a skeleton. The architect hoped to patent the idea and make his fortune in partnership with the concrete company of his friend Max Du Bois.

This was to be a housing assembly line, like the one Henry Ford had invented only the year before. But, finding no sponsors, he was forced to abandon the idea. Ironically, the architect, had Fordist standardization in mind and yet produced the perfect architectural symbol for an era obsessed with customization and participation.

Curutchet House

The Curutchet House, a building by Le Corbusier, located in La Plata, Argentina, was commissioned by Dr. Pedro Domingo Curutchet, a surgeon, in 1948, and included a small medical office on the first floor. The house consists of four main levels with a courtyard between the house and the clinic.

The design of the house is that of a single-family dwelling and medical office, which was declared a national monument in 1987 and is currently the headquarters of CAPBA. Dr. Pedro Domingo Curutchet chose the architect Le Corbusier after an intense search among various Argentine architects and not finding one that met his expectations in terms of the design he wanted. Le Corbusier accepted the proposal but made it clear that he was not traveling to Argentina, so he appointed Amancio Williams, whom he trusted to be in charge of the direction of the work, and who had a great influence on the final design of the project.

Bauhaus School

Bauhaus is a school of design, architecture and applied arts that existed in Germany from 1919 to 1933. It was based in Weimar until 1925, in Dessau until 1932, and in Berlin in its last months.

The Bauhaus was founded by architect Walter Gropius, who combined two schools, the Weimar Academy of Arts and the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts, into what he called the Bauhaus, or building house, a name derived from the inversion of the German word Hausbau, construction of a house.

Gropius’s building house included the teaching of various trades, which he saw as allies of architecture, the matrix of the arts. By training students equally in art and technical craftsmanship, the Bauhaus sought to end the difference between the two.

Beginning in the mid-19th century, reformers led by English designer William Morris had sought to bridge the same divide by emphasizing high-quality craftsmanship in combination with fit-for-purpose design. By the last decade of that century, these efforts had led to the Arts and Crafts movement.