Georges Bataille (1929)

Architecture is the expression of the very being of societies, in the same way that human physiognomy is the expression of the being of individuals. However, it is more to the physiognomies of oficial characters (prelates, magistrates, admirals) that this comparison must be referred. In practice, only the ideal being of society, that which orders and prohibits with authority, expresses itself in what are architectural compositions in the strict sense of the term. Thus, the great monuments are raised up like dams, pitting the logic of majesty and authority against all the shady elements: it is in the form. It is obvious, actually, that monuments inspire socially aceptable behaviour, and often a very real fear.

Architecture / This version: Leach, Neil (1997), Rethinking Architecture, London, Routledge, pp. 21

Marc-Antoine Laugier (1753)

Architecture, of all the useful arts is that which requires the most distinguished talents, as well as the most extensive knowledge. Perhaps as much genius, spirit and taste is required therein as for the forming a Painter or a Poet of the first rank. It is a great mistake to think that mechanism is only required; that all is confined to laying foundations, and building walls, all according to rules; the practice of which supposes eyes accustomed to judge of a line, and hands to manage the trowel.

When we speak of the art of building, of the confused heaps of troublesome rubbish, of heaps of shapeless materials, dangerous scaffolds, a frightful game of machines, a multitude of ragged labourers; this is all that presents itself to the imagination of the vulgar, it is the rind, the least agreeable of any art, the ingenious mysteries of which are understood by few, and excite the admiration of all who discern them. Therein are discovered inventions, the boldness of which intimates an extensive and most fruitful genius. Proportions, the use of which declares a severe and systematic precision. Ornaments, the elegance of which discloses a most excellent and delicate thought. Whoever is capable of discerning such a variety of beauties, far from confounding architecture with the lesser arts, will be tempted to place it in the rank of the most profound sciences.

The sight of an edifice, built with all the perfection of art, creates a pleasure and enchantment, which becomes irresistible. This view raises in the soul noble and most affecting idea. We experience therein that sweet emotion, and the agreeable transport that such works excite, which bear the impression of true superiority of genius. A fine building speaks most eloquently for its architect. Mons. Perrault in his writings only appears a knowing man; the colonnade of the Louvre determines him the great one.

An Essay on Architecture / Laugier, Marc-Antoine (1755), An Essay on Architecture, London, T. Osborne and Shipton, pp. 1-3

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1975)

A work of architecture extends beyond itself in two ways. It is as much determined by the aim it is to serve as by the place it is to take up in a total spatial context. Every architect has to consider both these things. His plan is determined by the fact that the building has to serve a particular way of life and adapt itself to particular architectural circumstances. We call a successful building a "happy solution," and mean by this both that it perfectly fulfills its purpose and that its construction has added something new to the spatial dimensions of a town or landscape. Through this dual ordering the building presents a true increase of being: it is a work of art.

A building is not a work of art if it stands just anywhere, as a blot on the landscape, but only if it represents the solution of an "architectural problem." Aesthetics acknowledges only those works of art that are in some way worth thinking about and calls them "architectural monuments." If a building is a work of art, then it is not only the artistic solution to a building problem posed by the contexts of purpose and life to which it originally belongs, but somehow preserves them, so that they are visibly present even though the building's present appearance is completely alienated from its original purpose. Something in it points back to the original. Where the original intention becomes completely unrecognizable, or its unity is destroyed by too many subsequent alterations, then the building itself becomes incomprehensible. Thus architecture, this most statuary of all art forms, shows how secondary "aesthetic differentiation" is. A building is never only a work of art. Its purpose, through which it belongs in the context of life, cannot be separated from it without its losing some of its reality. If it has become merely an object of aesthetic consciousness, then it has merely a shadowy reality and lives a distorted life only in the degenerate form of a tourist attraction or a subject for photography. The "work of art in itself" proves to be a pure abstraction.
In fact the presence of great architectural monuments of the past among the buildings erected by the modern world of commerce poses the task of integrating past and present. Works of architecture do not stand motionless on the shore of the stream of history, but are borne along by it. Even if historically-minded ages try to reconstruct the architecture of an earlier age, they cannot turn back the wheel of history, but must mediate in a new and better way between the past and the present. Even the restorer or the preserver of ancient monuments remains an artist of his time.
The special importance of architecture for our inquiry is that it too displays the element of mediation without which a work of art has no real "presence." Thus even where the work is presented in a way other tan through performance (which everyone knows belongs to its own present time), past and present are brought together in a work of art. That every work of art has its own world does not mean that when its original world is altered it has its reality in an alienated aesthetic consciousness. Architecture teaches us this, for it belongs inalienably to its world.
The ontological foundation of the occasional and the decorative / Gadamer, Hans-Georg (2004), Thruth and Method, New York, Continuum Publishing Group, pp. 149-150

Francis Bacon (1625)

Houses are built to live in, and not to look on; therefore let use be preferred before uniformity, except where both may be had. Leave the goodly fabrics of houses, for beauty only, to the enchanted palaces of the poets; who build them with small cost.

On Building / Essays, Civil and Moral, The Harvard Classics (

William Morris (1880)

The word Architecture has, I suppose, to most of you the meaning of the art of building nobly and ornamentally. Now I believe the practice of this art to be one of the most important things which man can turn his hand to, and the consideration of it to be worth the attention of serious people, not for an hour only, but for a good part of their lives, even though they may not have to do with it professionally.

But, noble as that art is by itself, and though it is specially the art of civilisation, it neither ever has existed nor never can exist alive and progressive by itself, but must cherish and be cherished by all the crafts whereby men make the things which they intend shall be beautiful, and shall last somewhat beyond the passing day.

It is this union of the arts, mutually helpful and harmoniously subordinated one to another, which I have learned to think of as Architecture, and when I use the word to-night, that is what I shall mean by it and nothing narrower.

A great subject truly, for it embraces the consideration of the whole external surroundings of the life of man; we cannot escape from it if we would so long as we are part of civilisation, for it means the moulding and altering to human needs of the very face of the earth itself, except in the outermost desert.

The Prospects of Architecture in Civilization / Hopes and Fears for Art (

Walter Benjamin (1936)

Buildings have been man’s companions since primeval times. Many art forms have developed and perished. Tragedy begins with the Greeks, is extinguished with them, and after centuries its “rules” only are revived. The epic poem, which had its origin in the youth of nations, expires in Europe at the end of the Renaissance. Panel painting is a creation of the Middle Ages, and nothing guarantees its uninterrupted existence. But the human need for shelter is lasting. Architecture has never been idle. Its history is more ancient than that of any other art, and its claim to being a living force has significance in every attempt to comprehend the relationship of the masses to art.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction /

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1850)

Ah, to build, to build!
That is the noblest art of all arts.
Painting and sculpture are but images,
Are merely shadows cast by outward things
On stone or canvas, having in themselves
No separate existence. Architecture,
Existing in itself, and not in seeming
A something it is not, surpasses them
As substance shadow.

Michael Angelo: A Dramatic Poem / Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1884), Michael Angelo: A Dramatic Poem, New York, The Riverside Press, pp. 25

G.W.F. Hegel (1835)

The first of the particular arts with which, according to their fundamental principle, we have to begin, is architecture as a fine art. Its task lies in so manipulating external inorganic nature that it becomes cognate to mind, as an artistic outer world. The material of architecture is matter itself in its immediate externality as a heavy mass subject to mechanical laws, and its forms do not depart from the forms of inorganic nature, but are merely set in order in conformity with relations of the abstract understanding, i.e., with relations of symmetry. In this material and in such forms the ideal as concrete spirituality does not admit of being realised. Hence the reality which is represented in them remains contrasted with the Idea, as something external which it has not penetrated, or has penetrated only to establish an abstract relation.

For these reasons the fundamental type of the fine art of building is the symbolical form of art. It is architecture that pioneers the way for the adequate realisation of the God, and in this its service bestows hard toil upon existing nature, in order to disentangle it from the jungle of finitude and the abortiveness of chance. By this means it levels a space for the God, gives form to his external surroundings, and builds him his temple as a fit place for concentration of spirit, and for its direction to the mind’s absolute objects. It raises an enclosure round the assembly of those gathered together, as a defence against the threatening of the storm, against rain, the hurricane, and wild beasts, and reveals the will to assemble, although externally, yet in conformity with principles of art. With such import as this it has power to inspire its material and its forms more or less effectively, as the determinate character of the content on behalf of which it sets to work is more or less significant, more concrete or more abstract, more profound in sounding its own depths, or more dim and more superficial. So much, indeed, may architecture attempt in this respect as even to create an adequate artistic existence for such an import in its shapes and in its material. But in such a case it has already overstepped its own boundary, and is leaning to sculpture, the phase above it. For the limit of architecture lies precisely in this point, that it retains the spiritual as inward existence over against the external forms of the art, and consequently must refer to what has soul only as to something other than its own creations.

Lectures on Aesthetics

Blaise Pascal (1651)

It is thus that geometry, arithmetic, music, physics, medicine, architecture, and all the sciences that are subject to experiment and reasoning, should be augmented in order to become perfect. The ancients found them merely outlined by those who preceded them; and we shall leave them to those who will come after us in a more finished state than we received them.

As their perfection depends on time and pains, it is evident that although our pains and time may have acquired less than their labors separate from ours, both joined together must nevertheless have more effect than each one alone.

Preface to the Treatise on Vacuum / Blaise Pascal: Minor Works, The Harvard Classics (

Edward Young (1745)

Too low they build, who build beneath the stars.

Night Thoughts (Night Eight: Virtue's Apology or The Man of the World Answered)

Michel Foucault (1982)

A patient in a mental institution is placed within a field of fairly complicated power relations, which Erving Goffman analyzed very well. The pastor in a Christian or Catholic church (in Protestant churches it is somewhat different) is an important link in a set of power relations. The architect is not an individual of that sort. After all, the architect has no power over me. If I want to tear down or change a house he built for me, put up new partitions, add a chimney, the architect has no control. So the architect should be placed in another category – which is not to say that he is not totally foreign to the organization, the implementation, and all the techniques of power that are exercised in a society. I would say that one must take him – his mentality, his attitude – into account as well as his projects, in order to understand a certain number of the techniques of power that are invested in architecture, but he is not comparable to a doctor, a priest, a psychiatrist or a prison warden.

Space, Knowledge and Power: Interview with Paul Rabinow / Originally published in Skyline Magazine, March 1982. This version: Leach, Neil (1997), Rethinking Architecture, London, Routledge, pp. 373

Saint Luke the Evangelist (75)

[28] For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
[29] Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
[30] Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Gospel According to Luke / University of Michigan Library Digital Collection (

Hammurabi (1753 BC)

228. If a builder build a house for some one and complete it, he shall give him a fee of two shekels in money for each sar of surface. 

229 If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death. 

230. If it kill the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death. 

231. If it kill a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house. 

232. If it ruin goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means. 

233. If a builder build a house for some one, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means. 

The Code of Hammurabi / The Avalon Project at Yale Law School (

Marcus Aurelius (167)

Dost thou not see how the handicraftsmen accommodate themselves up to a certain point to those who are not skilled in their craft- nevertheless they cling to the reason (the principles) of their art and do not endure to depart from it? Is it not strange if the architect and the physician shall have more respect to the reason (the principles) of their own arts than man to his own reason, which is common to him and the gods?

The Meditations (Book Six)

Thomas Jefferson (1785)

A country whose buildings are of wood, can never increase in its improvements to any considerable degree. Their duration is highly estimated at 50 years. Every half century then our country becomes a tabula rasa, whereon we have to set out anew, as in the first moment of seating it. Whereas when buildings are of durable materials, every new edifice is an actual and permanent acquisition to the state, adding to its value as well as to its ornament.

Notes on the State of Virginia (Query 15: Colleges, buildings, and roads) / Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library (

Francois De La Rochefoucauld (1678)

One may say of temper as of many buildings; it has divers aspects, some agreeable, others disagreeable.

Reflections Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims (Reflection 292)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)

As, before putting up a large building, the architect surveys and sounds the site to see if it will bear the weight, the wise legislator does not begin by laying down laws good in themselves, but by investigating the fitness of the people, for which they are destined, to receive them.

The Social Contract (Book II, Chapter 8) / Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library (

Honoré de Balzac (1834)

The events of human life, public as well as private, are so closely connected with architecture, that most observers are able to reconstruct nations or individuals with entire accuracy, in respect to their habits, from the remains of their public monuments or by examining their domestic relics. Archaeology is to social nature what comparative anatomy is to organic nature. A mosaic discloses a whole social epoch, just as the skeleton of an ichthyosaurus implies a whole creation.

The Quest of the Absolute / Balzac, Honoré de (1899), The Quest of the Absolute, Philadelphia, George Barrie & Son, pp. 5

G.K. Chesterton (1909)

I sometimes fancy that every great city must have been built by night. At least, it is only at night that every part of a great city is great. All architecture is great architecture after sunset; perhaps architecture is really a nocturnal art, like the art of fireworks. At least, I think many people of those nobler trades that work by night (journalists, policemen, burglars, coffee-stall keepers, and such mistaken enthusiasts as refuse to go home till morning) must often have stood admiring some black bulk of building with a crown of battlements or a crest of spires and then burst into tears at daybreak to discover that it was only a haberdasher's shop with huge gold letters across the face of it.

Tremendous Trifles (XX. The Giant)

John Dewey (1931)

If we turn to an art that in many ways is at the other pole, architecture, we learn how ideas, wrought out at first perhaps in highly technical thought like that of mathematics, are capable of direct incorporation in sensuous form.

Art as Experience (Chapter II. The Live Creature and Etherial Things) / Dewey, John (1980), Art as Experience, New York, Perigee Books, pp. 29

Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)

Actors, mimes, dancers, musicians, and lyric poets are all related at a fundamental level and inherently united in terms of their instincts, but they have gradually specialized and separated off from each other - to the point where they have become opposites. Lyric poets were linked with musicians the longest, and actors with dancers. - Architects do not represent a Dionysian or an Apollinian state: for them it is the great act of will, the will that moves mountains, the intoxication of the great will that demands to be art. Architects have always been inspired by the most powerful people; architects have always been under the spell of power. Buildings are a visible manifestation of pride, the victory over gravity, the will to power; architecture is a way for power to achieve eloquence through form, sometimes persuading, even coaxing, at other times just commanding. The highest feelings of power and self-assurance achieve expression in a great style. Power that does not need to prove itself; that scorns to please; that does not answer lightly, that does not notice the presence of witnesses; that is unaware of any objections to itself; that rests fatalistically within itself, a law among laws: this is how the great style expresses itself.

Twilight of the Idols / Nietzsche, Friedrich (2007), The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols,  Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 197

Victor Hugo (1831)

We repeat it, these hybrid constructions are not the least interesting for the artist, for the antiquarian, for the historian. They make one feel to what a degree architecture is a primitive thing, by demonstrating (what is also demonstrated by the cyclopean vestiges, the pyramids of Egypt, the gigantic Hindoo pagodas) that the greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation's effort, than the inspired flash of a man of genius; the deposit left by a whole people; the heaps accumulated by centuries; the residue of successive evaporations of human society,—in a word, species of formations. Each wave of time contributes its alluvium, each race deposits its layer on the monument, each individual brings his stone. Thus do the beavers, thus do the bees, thus do men. The great symbol of architecture, Babel, is a hive.
Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending, pendent opera interrupta; they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops it according to its fancy, and finishes it if it can. The thing is accomplished without trouble, without effort, without reaction,—following a natural and tranquil law. It is a graft which shoots up, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which starts forth anew. Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.

Notre-Dame de Paris (Book 3, Chapter 1)

Oscar Wilde (1889)

But Nature is so uncomfortable.  Grass is hard and lumpy and damp, and full of dreadful black insects.  Why, even Morris’s poorest workman could make you a more comfortable seat than the whole of Nature can.  Nature pales before the furniture of ‘the street which from Oxford has borrowed its name,’ as the poet you love so much once vilely phrased it.  I don’t complain.  If Nature had been comfortable, mankind would never have invented architecture, and I prefer houses to the open air.  In a house we all feel of the proper proportions.  Everything is subordinated to us, fashioned for our use and our pleasure.  Egotism itself, which is so necessary to a proper sense of human dignity, is entirely the result of indoor life.  Out of doors one becomes abstract and impersonal.  One’s individuality absolutely leaves one.

The Decay of Lying

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1856)

As soon as men begin to talk of art, architecture, and antiquities, nothing good comes of it.

English Traits (Chapter 16)

René Descartes (1637)

I was then in Germany, attracted thither by the wars in that country, which have not yet been brought to a termination; and as I was returning to the army from the coronation of the emperor, the setting in of winter arrested me in a locality where, as I found no society to interest me, and was besides fortunately undisturbed by any cares or passions, I remained the whole day in seclusion, with full opportunity to occupy my attention with my own thoughts. Of these one of the very first that occurred to me was, that there is seldom so much perfection in works composed of many separate parts, upon which different hands had been employed, as in those completed by a single master. Thus it is observable that the buildings which a single architect has planned and executed, are generally more elegant and commodious than those which several have attempted to improve, by making old walls serve for purposes for which they were not originally built. Thus also, those ancient cities which, from being at first only villages, have become, in course of time, large towns, are usually but ill laid out compared with the regularity constructed towns which a professional architect has freely planned on an open plain; so that although the several buildings of the former may often equal or surpass in beauty those of the latter, yet when one observes their indiscriminate juxtaposition, there a large one and here a small, and the consequent crookedness and irregularity of the streets, one is disposed to allege that chance rather than any human will guided by reason must have led to such an arrangement. And if we consider that nevertheless there have been at all times certain officers whose duty it was to see that private buildings contributed to public ornament, the difficulty of reaching high perfection with but the materials of others to operate on, will be readily acknowledged.

Discourse on the Method (Part II)