• B. Harper Howard

Architecture: An End-In-Itself

The words building and architecture are often used synonymously, respectively meaning either the process of constructing something or the practice of designing and constructing something. However, the differentiation between the two goes far beyond the ability to design the building being constructed versus simply constructing a building which has already been designed. The act of building is a simple means-to-end progression culminating in a relatively inconsequential place with a low correlation of value while architecture is a living and adaptive being which culminates in a very important place with a high correlation of value. Architecture, as a being itself, is not a means to anything but is simply an end found most apparently in a theoretical state at the conclusion of a conditional process based on the means-to-end process of building.

A means-to-end process is a process in which a desired outcome, the end, is achieved through specific actions, the means. In the context of determining value, the ends are the things which have inherent value to us or things which we value ­­at all times whereas the means do not have inherent value and are only given value in certain situations. Regarding our built environment, the ability to assign values to the means-to-end process is what differentiates the act of building and architecture; architects can be builders, however, builders cannot be architects. Simply building has a very tangible means-to-end process with simple values whereas architecture has intangible qualities with complex and high values.

Leon Battista Alberti’s architectural ordering system is an ideal example of a means-to-end process as it relates to building. With his buildings, Alberti wanted to create structures which were pure in form and, accordingly, assigned a high value to a cohesive wholeness which could have nothing added and nothing removed without sacrificing that unity. To achieve this, Alberti assigned a lower value to proportions and rationality. Alberti’s work on Santa Maria Novella’s façade encapsulates these ideas perfectly demonstrates Alberti’s expert use of proportions. Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye is another ideal example of a means-to-end process as it relates to building. Le Corbusier, given little restriction from the Savoye family, sought to create a new modernist home and accordingly assigned a high value to the utilization of elements which embodied that: his five points of architecture. For Corbusier, in order to create a modern home, the design must incorporate pilotis, open floor plans unobstructed by load-bearing walls, free facades, ribbon windows, and roof gardens.

Architecture transcends building through its ability to adapt and respond accordingly. Like animate beings, the architectonic being responds to the needs of the environment in which it exists. Architecture responds to social, economic, and ecological forces in a rapid, ever-changing and evolutionary manner. The architectonic being, comprised of the thoughts, ideals, and beliefs of its animate being’s counterpart, has consistently aided in the advancement of civilization. When the Roman State sought to increase their power and spread their empire further, they used the architectonic being to express that notion. Public buildings increased in scale and functionality, adapting to the needs of the state, expressed the Roman desire to appear powerful and stable. Aqueducts were built and employed to increase functionality to support larger population sizes as well as numerous more architectural accomplishments including a number of five-story apartment buildings in the Roman city of Ostia. More than a thousand years later, that same architectonic being is still adapting to growing population sizes. In 1884 the Home Insurance Building, a ten-story skyscraper, was built in Chicago as a response to the continued increase in population densities as well as the growing commerce and technological advances of the time. One hundred and twenty-five years after the construction of the ten-story Home Insurance Building was completed, the architectonic being evolved once again to produce an amazing one-hundred-and-sixty story skyscraper. The Burj Khalifa stands as a manifestation of unprecedented human progress, international cooperation, and embodies the new prosperous Middle East. The architectonic being, seen in the Burj Khalifa, is a direct embodiment of the essence of the talent, ingenuity, and initiative of its animate being’s counterpart.

American painter, Mark Rothko, once stated “there is no such thing as a good painting about nothing.” When a structure transcends the tangible act of building, evolving into the theoretical act of living, it becomes the architectonic being.

Immanuel Kant’s ‘end-in-itself’ theory states that beings have an inherent high value, independent of anything else – beings exist and, therefore, beings have value. Because the architectonic being exists it has an inherent value. With an inherent value, beings become an ‘end’ without necessitating ‘means’. The architectonic being, as an entity itself and encompassing the essence of animate beings, has an inherent value and is an ‘end-itself’ which is void of any applied ‘means’. However, because the architectonic being is an inanimate entity, its state of being can only be found at the end a conditional process which begins with the means-to-end process of building.

Architects distinguish themselves from builders because of the intent behind their actions. Architects do not seek to create buildings, buildings are just the tools architects use to manifest their ideas and beliefs which are then spread through society via the presence of the architectonic being. This intangible end, a theoretical moment at the end of the conditional process, this is architecture, these are where the beliefs held by the architect are imparted on society, and this is the architectonic being, an inherent end with value independent of anything else.

While Leon Battista Alberti used a means-to-end process to create a unified whole for the façade of Santa Maria Novella, the architecture of the structure lies in Alberti’s theoretical application of the idea that architecture should be easily available to, and understood by, the common people; the idea that architecture should no longer be an artform reserved for the rich and the noble changed architecture and society as a whole. Le Corbusier used a means-to-end process to create a ‘modern home’ in Villa Savoye but the architecture of the structure lies in Corbusier’s theoretical application of the idea that architecture can change the way people live; the idea that a home can be a machine for living, suited directly to human needs and the way we live. Because of Corbusier and Villa Savoye, buildings began to work around the way inhabitants used them rather than inhabitants working around the way buildings were constructed. Both Alberti and Le Corbusier manifested their ideas and beliefs and imparted those ideals on society through the use of the means-to-end process of building which is what sets them apart as architects rather than simply builders.

While the words building and architecture are often used synonymously, architecture is a theoretical place that transcends building to become an architectonic being which can only be found at the conclusion of a conditional process based on the means-to-end process of building. Because of this, architecture does not have a means-to-end process, Architecture, as a being itself, is not a means to anything but is simply an end.