What is Architecture

What Is Architecture?

Brian K. Seitz

12/18/97 2:55 PM

What is Architecture? Within the construction industry there are numerous definitions and it becomes the topic of many heated debates. When one changes disciplines the use or rather misuse of the word can become downright ridiculous. Just recently I became embroiled in this debate again within the Information Technology domain.

I listened patiently as a Technical Evangelist and Marketing manager tried to sway me to there perspective regarding what an architecture is and what is a platform. Arguing about semantics, yes. Esoteric conversation most likely, splitting hairs maybe. However, having an architectural background –the real one—I find the hair on the back of my neck stand on end when I heard ill-informed opinion and poor logic specifically when It comes to my original training and occupation. I still consider myself as an architect on loan to the software industry.

That being said, I thought I would document a universal definition of architecture I derived several years ago during a similar argument in the same information technology domain. My definition I believe is succinct and to the point:

“Architecture are the rules for the selection and usage of components and/or elements to achieve a stated functional objective.”

The proof to this theory is as follows:

If you examine the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., Notre Dame’, and St. Patrick’s Cathedrals, you unquestionably state that each is an excellent example of Gothic Architecture. If however, you match up floor plans, site elevations, and detail sheets they’ll not quite match up. Thus blueprints are not architecture, but rather a representation of an instance of architecture. Then maybe it’s the materials? If we compare material call-out sheets for each of these fine structures we notice some similarities and some differences. However, we’ll notice the same material call-outs for other architectures. I could build a very nice Gothic Cathedral out of Steel, Plexiglass, and Epoxy. So the materials are not the architecture. Maybe it’s something else?

I can see the materials being used in specific structural and functional ways. An Architect created these dwellings by selecting and using the materials in specific ways. S/he would create cavernous rooms with towering walls, exaggerated by shadows and sheets of muted light through stain-glass windows. These non-structural elements are used to create a specific aesthetic or functional objective. Thus, it is not the stone, glass, and wood that created the architecture, but the why or the rules that determined the selection of the stone, glass, and wood that are selected and used that creates the architecture.

So, if we generalize this statement we arrive at my original premise. “Architecture are the rules for the selection and usage of components and/or elements to achieve a stated functional objective.” A test to determine whether one has drawn an Architecture or a Design instance is rather simple Knowing these two facts: 1) Architectures can have multiple instances 2) Designs can only have one instance (i.e., you can only implement them one way.

Here is the test I call Brian’s test case for distinguishing between design and architecture and its corollary, Brian’s Probable Architecture Maxim. “If you can only implement a specification one way, you have a design.” “If you can implement the specification in more than one way, you have a high probability you have specified an architecture”

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About briankseitz
I live in PacNW in a small town and work for Microsoft as a Enterprise strategy and architecture SME. I enjoy solving big complex problems, cooking and eating, woodworking and reading. I typically read between 4-8 business and technology books a month.

One Response to What is Architecture

  1. Randall says:

    Brian, glad to see another COFES regular has taken up blogging! Looks like Microsoft has some debugging to do — I\’m sure you didn\’t write this blog in 1997!

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