Are buildings and architecture synonymous?

Martin Kapell


It has always been an interesting question for me as to whether a distinction can be made between buildings and architecture.  That is to say between structures that improve the world and those that only provide a function and just take up space. This is more than just a distinction between good architecture and bad, is no architecture better than bad architecture or pseudo architecture? Is Stuyvesant Town better than the awful buildings lining 4th Avenue in Brooklyn? Are there, in fact, buildings totally without architecture or does the very fact of building, particularly building something big, require a level of intention, decision making and choice that inevitably makes the built thing architectural?

Then I saw this photograph of a large group of buildings, perhaps an entire neighborhood in Pyongyang, North Korea, and the question was answered. This entire section of the city has been intensely developed, with tall buildings, and yet is totally devoid of architecture – this much is immediately clear, is it so different than the public housing projects of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago or any number of other cities? More difficult to understand, perhaps, is what it is that’s missing, the presence of which would make these structures more than just buildings.

Pyongyang, North Korea

Pyongyang, North Korea

If you didn’t know better, it would be easy to believe that the Pyongyang buildings are really some kind of ominous rendering of the set for some sort of apocalyptic sifi movie or a primitive Sim City-esque computer game run amuck – buildings sprouting and growing as the result of some mutant, metastasizing algorithm rather than a place for real people and real families to live.  Nothing differentiates one building from another or one use from another or one part of a building from another.  And, as horrifying as the skyline of these buildings might be, I can only imagine that the street level is even worse with endless blocks of undifferentiated streets.