Architecture is the discipline that has as its purpose the organization of space at any scale, but mainly that in which human beings live. Simplifying one can say that it is mainly concerned with the design and construction of a building or the built environment. Technical and artistic aspects are involved. Together with sculpture, it is part of the so-called plastic visual arts.
The term architecture derives, in Western languages, from the Latin architectus, but of Greek origin: ἀρχιτέκτων (pronounced architéktōn), a word composed of the terms ἀρχή (árche) and τέκτων (técton) meaning “engineer”, “chief builder”, “first maker” or just “architect”. The first term, ἀρχή – connected with ἀρχειν (árchein), “to begin”, “to command” -, expresses in ancient Greek the meaning of “enterprise”, “departure”, “origin”, “foundation” or “guide”. Introduced by Anaximander, ἀρχή finds in Aristotle’s Metaphysics its first complete definition, preserved until modernity. Aristotle distinguishes at least six meanings of the term, which can be traced to the two main meanings of ἀρχή, i.e. first in importance or first in order of time. When value primacy and temporal primacy coincide, ἀρχή expresses divinity: God as the highest value and first cause of all things. The second term, τέκτων (técton), recalls several meanings, including “to invent,” “to create,” “to shape,” “to build”: technical making but also art, manual making but also craftsmanship. The union of the two terms in ἀρχιτέκτων we find for the first time by Herodotus, and is intended to indicate those who provide a rational norm for the construction of anything. The reference to building or housing is not explicit at all; rather, the ἀρχιτέκτων originally deals with what is “buildable” in general. This interpretation is sanctioned by Vitruvius, who defines architecture as an activity that “nascitur ex fabrica et ratiocinatione”, i.e., from the ability to manufacture combined with theoretical awareness. Another interesting aspect is the phonetic permanence and the literal and graphic similarity that the term has preserved in many European languages: architecture in French, architecture in English, arquitectura in Spanish, architektur in German (which, however, adds to it the term baukunst which literally means “art of building”).
Ever since mankind has had the cognitive capacity to organize itself into civilizations, architecture has always existed. Architecture was born primarily to meet the biological needs of man, such as protection from the elements, and for this reason it is among the disciplines most present in all civilizations. Only later, with the development of the division of labor in society, secondary functions were added to the primary function in increasing numbers.
With the appearance of aesthetic characters, architecture was also born as a visual art, but with its own peculiar characteristics. It would be reductive to talk about aesthetic values because a good architecture is often the result of ethical values and anthropological study.
Defining architecture is difficult because the architectural phenomenon has always been present in the culture of man, acquiring characteristics, definitions, functions, spatial and constructive aspects often different or even contrasting from civilization to civilization or from era to era.