Artchitecture: Blurring the Lines Between Art and Architecture

As many can say who practice architecture, my interest in architecture peeked because of my interest in art. Throughout my childhood and in my high school years, I enjoyed drawing and painting. I even took a printmaking mentorship and airbrushed t-shirts as a summer job. I was fascinated in the different processes and found creating art pieces a relaxing and therapeutic endeavor. In my later years in high school, my interest began to shift toward design, seeing it as a not-so-distant cousin of what I knew of fine art. I was always interested in collecting objects as a hobby, but now my worldview of these objects was changed. How did the design or the construction of an object change the way it was used and how I interacted with it? How did the space I inhabited impact and influence me? This was a transformative time, as I began to think of design as a more interactive and functional form of art.

The distinction between art and architecture can be summed up as simply as: architecture serves a purpose, while art does not. There is not necessarily any function in a piece of art. It serves only to make a statement or evoke a feeling. Although, it is the blurring of these lines that start to create something truly interesting - when the integration of art and architecture occur so that architecture isn’t merely a place to hang a painting on a wall. One can categorize these overlaps in three ways: Artists Exploring Architecture, Architects Exploring Art, and Collaboration or Integration. Below are some examples I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

Artists Exploring Architecture

Artists create something architectural or tectonic. Sculpture begins to define, frame and create space.

15 Untitled Works in Concrete by Donald Judd

It’s no secret that Donald Judd dabbled in the world of design and architecture, with furniture designs as well as a close community of fabricators, architects and engineers for various projects. His concrete boxes in Marfa, Texas, “15 Untitled Works in Concrete”, 1980-1984 are sited in a specific context, spread along a defined axis in a small desert town, framing views of the landscape beyond. They are grouped in clusters, studying different adjacencies and massing relationships, appearing like a small village from a distance. Human-sized in scale, the boxes seem to beg the patron to experience them spatially, up-close and personal.

Architects Exploring Art

Architects create space that does not serve a purpose, but instead exists to communicate an idea and evoke a feeling.

Holocaust Tower by Daniel Libeskind

An example of this category that I found particularly moving were two installations created by Daniel Libeskind in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The photo above is taken within one of the experiential spaces in the museum, titled “Holocaust Tower”. The space is not temperature controlled or artificially lit. The sole source of light coming through the tall tower is a tiny slit in the roof above, evoking a feeling of entrapment, isolation and hopelessness as one can only hear the faint sounds of the outside world beyond massive concrete walls.

The Garden of Exile by Daniel Libeskind

A trip through the museum ends with “The Garden of Exile,” a piece dedicated to the experience of European Jewish exiles that were forced from their homes during the Second World War. The tall, dense concrete boxes stand straight while the floor is tilted at a 12 degree angle, designed to disorient the visitor, changing their perception for what feels like an eternity. As the visitor looks towards the sky high above, willows sit atop the boxes, giving a faint and distant feeling of hope and groundedness.

One feels a little bit sick walking through it. But it is accurate, because that is what perfect order feels like when you leave the history of Berlin.
— Daniel Libeskind

Collaborations / Integration

Architects and artists cooperate to create a unified piece of art and architecture.

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

Some of the best examples of collaboration and integration between architecture exist in Mexico. After all, it was this country that coined a movement advocating integration of arts and modernist architecture - “Integración Plástica”. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and extending well into the 1950s, Mexico was reshaping its identity as an independent nation, celebrating its indigenous heritage while embracing modernism. This idea was communicated largely in part to large-scale murals funded by the Mexican government. One of the most significant institutions was being re-claimed and re-sited by a new Mexico and became a poster-child for the “integracion plastica” movement: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. It’s here that one can still marvel at work by great Mexican muralists like Rivera, Orozco, Siquieros and O’Gorman all while admiring architecture by Candela, Pani, and Gonzales de Leon.

Since the beginning of human beings’ time on earth, art and architecture have existed in union. Think of the endless cave paintings that are discovered. Thousands of years later, we find ourselves marveling over these creations captured in a distant time, trying to interpret a past being’s message created in their most intimate of spaces. This union of art and architecture is special and innately human, as it’s where the most basic needs of shelter and human expression collide.

Jaclyn Lieck, LEED® GA, Intermediate Designer

Jaclyn Lieck, LEED® GA, Intermediate Designer