by George Cibinel, M.A.A.,O.A.A.
Corbett Cibinel Architects, Winnipeg, Manitoba
What is the "Art" in architecture and why do we need it? When a new building project is considered, the question ultimately posed to the architect is, "what is the most that we can do with the architecture of this building in order that we get the most out of the life of this structure?" Answering this question is the Art of architecture.
Art, to the artist, is in the expression of a belief -- and behind every great achievement there is a passionate belief in something. The dictionary defines the word "believe" as: to accept as true or real; to have faith, confidence, or trust in the truth or value of something; to have an opinion; to think.
In every great work of art there is a strong clear theme that runs through it from tip to tip. The clarity of this theme springs from the strength of a belief and from the determination to pursue it. When we appreciate a piece of art we are experiencing an awareness of a harmony of parts; adjacencies that are effortlessly resting together; ideas that fit, touching, nesting like spoons in a drawer; like layers of strata in the earth, pressing and shaping each other; like the structure and movement of a field in a breeze, each "part" is a part in a puzzle with an imprinted inflection of another. We subliminally read the underlying order in the structure of a work of art just as we read the underlying order in the natural world; and it makes sense, and it rests, and we appreciate it, and we applaud it. Even a work of art that depicts chaos or contradiction would have to have, in the consistent application of its central theme, an underlying order.
The Art of architecture is in putting "parts" together, in finding out first of all what the parts are, and in the prioritized organization of their expression. They are functional, programmatic, formal, technical, and a relationship to goals outside of the immediate project. The "parts" can be fitted together in a number of ways, of course. As a matter of fact, it is hard to get any handful of leading architects to agree on any one solution. That is because each architect has differing pursuits in architecture brought about by a different set of beliefs, and only by adhering strongly to clear beliefs does each make a worthy contribution within this field.
All buildings should be expressive about something that is important to us. That is the "spirit" of a building and its reason for being. In that way buildings become greater than just a collection of objects. As an architect I believe that one of the most important things to consider when we create buildings and spaces is the importance of community - the idea that a community is more than a group of people in the same locality. It is a group of people having identity, common interests, and a need for sharing, participation and fellowship. Good architecture creates the ability for people to come together, as a natural part of their daily routines, and express their purpose. That belief in its self organizes spaces and places in ways that are naturally interesting to people and connect people, so that people amalgamate there, integrate with others, and in that way make themselves part of a community and build community. That belief leads to designs that "connect" people, create the pleasure of being in the community, foster the growth and strengthen the community, and define our culture.
As an art form, architecture involves many mediums and faces many limitations in its realization, requiring a mastery of technology, visual arts, programming and communication. It balances parameters in budgets, construction, and multiple-stakeholder goals in order to evolve its final form. But these are like happenstance functions that operate at a sub-functional level -- almost like computer code that exists in the background of a computer program. After all the budgetary restraints, timelines and other limitations are met, all that remains is a building portraying an image - a message to all who experience its walls. At the end of the design and construction process, the only thing remaining in the present is our experience of the fabric of buildings, and all of the messages that they leave for generations about their place and time. Buildings remain, as signifiers of the status of our culture, like static icons of beliefs, whether we intend it or not.
Architecture is a very public art in that it affects everybody. I believe that architecture makes a difference in the way we live and that the function of architecture is in its external artistic form: to allow us to understand something about our world and the people here; and to inspire future generations to know who they are and where they are going.