What is “good” architecture anyway?

Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India

Most of us have probably had the visceral experience of walking by a building and saying to ourselves – “Wow, that is truly beautiful” and conversely, we have probably also seen a building and thought “Who would ever design something so hideous??”

Interestingly, if we polled a group of diverse people, you would probably find that both of those same buildings would elicit contrasting opinions that contradicted each other… so much so that you might wonder, what is “good” architecture anyway?

Is “good” architecture simply defined by how something looks at first glance or based on how the form and aesthetic makes you feel?

As with anything subjective, the answer may seem fluid and unclear. You may have the purist who insists that only designs that strictly adhere to rules that were created by a set of professed experts can be considered “good” architecture. On the other hand, you have some who feel that only classical architecture has any merit or that expressionist architecture with its propensity to capture aesthetic science as art is the ultimate goal of architecture.

So many powerful notions and opinions – so little blog space to explore. But I shall attempt to wade into this discussion with some of my personal thoughts as to what is “good” architecture.

Patrick’s 6 Keys to Good Architecture and Design

1- The Architecture has a Clear Goal in Mind

Yes, there are times we need to build. We need housing, we need markets, we need community spaces, we need industry – but why exactly are we going to be building this exact structure or development, what needs to be accomplished?

View of Hagia Sophia after sunset, Istanbul Turkey

2- Situs Controls the Design

The variety and undulations of the planet earth make for real beauty. Working within and accentuating what already exists is a necessity. Rather than denuding and flattening a site to stick a predetermined box there -think about what is the best way to emphasize and feature the location and natural features?

Traditional houses with grass on roof in Iceland

3- All Decisions are Deliberate

When you are in a well designed space, everything seems effortless and natural. In reality, that only occurs when extensive time and thought has been invested in advance. Every placement decision has been vetted – the designer personally placed themselves into the design and asked – how will it actually feel to live, work, or stand in this exact spot in relation to the overall space?  

Exterior of modern, architectural house

4- Respect for Context

Conformity or juxtaposition, both have value and both can be correct. But in either case, the architecture should give reference to and harmonize with the surroundings. Trying to cheaply imitate the past with inferior building materials and lack of detail can be much more jarring than a modern design that still incorporates the proportions, scale and massing found in neighboring buildings – is this design responsive and in harmony to its specific urban and natural environment?

Spacious patio in modern house with the ground lined with small pebbles

5- Long Term Sustainability

If we are destroying our earth to create something or it will need to be replaced quickly after using precious resources it is selfish and wasteful at best. A design may be beautiful, awe-inspiring or just downright profitable – but if it cannot be reasonably maintained and sustained over a period of time, what good is it?

Milan, Lombardy, Italy: modern buildings near the new Gae Aulenti square known as Bosco Verticale

6- Capturing the Joy of Existence

In the end, we as humans are living sentient creatures that were designed to enjoy life. Architecture and design, while needing to be practical, should above all embrace the idea that life and time are precious. Buildings and structures are built to serve the needs of humans and should embrace the community in which they are erected – rather than seeking to exclude, how can this project connect and uplift the community in which it is located?

Modern house with garden swimming pool and wooden deck

Patrick Sullivan

10+ year industry veteran and multiple-time Distinguished Achiever award winner and 2017 Richmond’s Finest Business Professional.

Phone: 804.397.5078 
Email: patrick@rerva.com

Click here to learn more about Patrick.

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