Architecture is both the process and the product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings or any other structures. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural symbols and as works of art. Historical civilizations are often identified with their surviving architectural achievements.
The earliest surviving written work on the subject of architecture is De architectura, by the Roman architect Vitruvius in the early 1st century AD. According to Vitruvius, a good building should satisfy the three principles of firmitas, utilitas, venustas, commonly known by the original translation – firmness, commodity and delight. An equivalent in modern English would be:
According to Vitruvius, the architect should strive to fulfill each of these three attributes as well as possible. Leon Battista Alberti, who elaborates on the ideas of Vitruvius in his treatise, De Re Aedificatoria, saw beauty primarily as a matter of proportion, although ornament also played a part. For Alberti, the rules of proportion were those that governed the idealised human figure, the Golden mean.
The most important aspect of beauty was, therefore, an inherent part of an object, rather than something applied superficially, and was based on universal, recognisable truths. The notion of style in the arts was not developed until the 16th century, with the writing of Vasari: by the 18th century, his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects had been translated into Italian, French, Spanish, and English.
In the early 19th century, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin wrote Contrasts (1836) that, as the titled suggested, contrasted the modern, industrial world, which he disparaged, with an idealized image of neo-medieval world. Gothic architecture, Pugin believed, was the only “true Christian form of architecture.”
The 19th-century English art critic, John Ruskin, in his Seven Lamps of Architecture, published 1849, was much narrower in his view of what constituted architecture. Architecture was the “art which so disposes and adorns the edifices raised by men … that the sight of them” contributes “to his mental health, power, and pleasure”.
For Ruskin, the aesthetic was of overriding significance. His work goes on to state that a building is not truly a work of architecture unless it is in some way “adorned”. For Ruskin, a well-constructed, well-proportioned, functional building needed string courses or rustication, at the very least.