Architecture, in its most rudimentary sense, arose to fulfill the basic human needs of shelter and protection. Our Stone Age ancestors — the first architects — built simple structures, piling one rock upon another. Later, during antiquity, came monumental architecture: towering pyramids, ziggurats, stupas, shrines, and temples. Distinct styles developed from one period to the next. Byzantine, Gothic, Baroque, and Rococo forms gave way to modern architectural expressions such as Art Deco, Brutalism, and Minimalism.
Over the centuries, architecture became much more than simple shelter and protection. It became an art form, one widely celebrated by artists and philosophers. “Ah, to build, to build!” wrote poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. “That is the noblest art of all the arts.” Poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, meanwhile, famously called architecture “frozen music.”
Unlike Longfellow and Goethe, however, most architects never become household names, even if their structures have helped define the very nature of the streets, towns, and cities we live in. Here, then, are some quotes from architects past and present, from Christopher Wren to Zaha Hadid, about the unique importance of this overlooked art form.
Architecture aims at eternity.
— Christopher Wren
Christopher Wren's many notable buildings in London include St Paul's Cathedral, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and the Old Royal Naval College.
Architecture is the will of the epoch translated into space… It must be understood that all architecture is bound up with its own time, that it can only be manifested in living tasks and in the medium of its epoch. In no age has it been otherwise.
— Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is a pioneer of modernist architecture whose buildings include Farnsworth House (Illinois), Crown Hall (Chicago), and the Barcelona Pavilion (Barcelona).
Form follows function.
— Louis Sullivan
Louis Sullivan is a modernist architect whose buildings include the Wainwright Building (Missouri) and the Bayard-Condict Building (New York).
If I allow the fact that I am a Negro to checkmate my will to do, now, I will inevitably form the habit of being defeated.
— Paul R. Williams
Paul R. Williams designed the homes of numerous celebrities, primarily in Southern California, including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and Barbara Stanwyck.
To create, one must first question everything.
— Eileen Gray
Eileen Gray designed and built the famed modernist villa E-1027 in France.
Never turn down a job because you think it's too small; you don't know where it can lead.
— Julia Morgan
Julia Morgan designed more than 700 buildings in California, most famously Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
Architecture should be working on improving the environment of people in their homes, in their places of work, and their places of recreation. It should be functional and pleasant, not just in the image of the architect's ego.
— Norma Merrick Sklarek
Norma Sklarek is most famous for designing the United States Embassy in Tokyo and the Terminal One station at Los Angeles International Airport.
As an architect you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown.
— Norman Foster
Norman Foster is the designer of London City Hall, 30 St Mary Axe (the “Gherkin”), Wembley Stadium, the HSBC Main Building in Hong Kong, and many more.
Architecture is not based on concrete and steel and the elements of the soil. It’s based on wonder. And that wonder is really what has created the greatest cities, the greatest spaces that we have had.
— Daniel Libeskind
Daniel Libeskind is best known for designing the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the master plan for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site.
Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea.
— Yoshio Taniguchi
Yoshio Taniguchi is best known for his redesign of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Architecture can’t force people to connect; it can only plan the crossing points, remove barriers, and make the meeting places useful and attractive.
— Denise Scott Brown
Denise Scott Brown and her husband and partner Robert Venturi designed various buildings for Yale University and Princeton University, and museums such as the Seattle Art Museum and the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London.
One of the great beauties of architecture is that each time, it is like life starting all over again.
— Renzo Piano
Renzo Piano's buildings include the Centre Pompidou (Paris), The Shard (London), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York).
There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?
— Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid's major works include the London Aquatics Centre, the Broad Art Museum (Michigan), the MAXXI Museum (Rome), and the Guangzhou Opera House (China).
Photo credit: Everett Collection Historical/ Alamy Stock Photo