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Architectural Analysis and Criticism

As part of my learning process, I am trying to create my own guide that I can use to analyse and criticize buildings.

When a building is conceived and built, the roots of its creation and its external aesthetics are so multi faceted and intertwined, its sometimes hard to understand where to start from to be able to logically and clearly construct a picture in my head as to why a building looks the way it does and why the Architect made decisions to create the form you see when you are standing in the street admiring the building in question.

panoramic view of London in monochrome
London is a capital of multiple building types and designs

Definition of Architecture

I think it is important to understand what architecture is and how to define it before you are able to sensibly analyse a building using a process or formula. To mention the three words “what is architecture?” is an invitation to start a debate that is as big and as comprehensive as inviting an opinion and answer to the question “what is religion?” and will invite many tens of thousands of opinions from scholars artists philosophers over many years.

So in order to keep it very simple, I will suggest that Architecture is an art form as well as a form of construction. The Online Cambridge Dictionary Defines art as the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful or that express feelings

Therefore I have decided to approach this subject in two ways,

Objective and Subjective Analysis

Objective being, the facts about the building itself that are non debatable and concrete, literally and Subjective being the artistic side of Architecture which is based on feelings, experience and emotion

Objective Analysis


Every building has its place in the timeline of construction and is placed in a particular time that influences its appearance, its use of materials and technologies that were available to the laborers to make a successful building.

Reason for commission

To understand why a need developed to construct a new building at its location, will lead us to understand its physical form and give us a better insight into why the architect made the decisions at the time to create the final view of the building. This also leads into the question of the purpose of the structure, be it retail, residential, commerce, municipality or public.


This encompasses the main areas, whether the building is in a city or a rural location, including its typography, is it on flat, sloping rocky ground, also taking into what climate zone the site is located - Tropical, Dry, Temperate, Continental and Polar.

Building Materials

contrasting textures and grey colour tones on a wall
Textures and Colours create emotion and a tactile experience with the individual

The reason different types of materials are chosen for a project cover the following areas

Material Performance - Its physical and sensory aspects

Manufacturing - production process, assembly and finishing

Experience - How a material causes the user to react through perception, association and emotion

Context - Context of sample use, its physical and cultural context

Cost - The budget available for the project in relation to time and location constraints

The Architect - It is possible to categorize this part of the building analysis into both Objective and Subjective as the architect is chosen both for his or her talents as well as their previous projects, reputation, ethics and their cultural background.

Style - This is embedded in the position in time that the building was built allowing it to be historically identifiable

Physical - This can often link in with an architects personality and style of designing in relation to the buildings size, shape, use of texture, colour and light.

Subjective Analysis


Buildings always provoke a reaction to the viewer, as mentioned above, their creation form a basis of artistic expression and art is interlinked with emotion, so feelings of happiness, sadness, lightness and darkness are expressions that can be felt from a building's form.

Aesthetics and Beauty

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Anatolia, Turkey
The Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Anatolia, Turkey, built with Vitruvius's guidance

Vitruvius’s Triad

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman author and architect, he wrote many books including De Architectura, within this work he conceived the Vitruviun Triad, which consists of three building virtues, firmitas - strength, utilitas - functionality, and venustas - beauty.

It is possible to still apply these virtues by assessing a building though its functional aesthetics and the beauty of how the architect has developed a solution to a problem and how well this works in reality. The difference between a good architect and a great architect is how they have crafted and designed the solution and how beautiful the end product is and how elegant the interaction of use is with the client of the building.

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