Enduring Misconceptions about Architecture – Part 1

By Terry Blevins, Fellow of The Open Group, Enterprise Architect at Enterprise Wise LLC

I can’t pretend to know what folks thought about in ancient times. Did people ask if architects and architectures were useful or whether they were needed? In some areas today, I hear those questions; less in the area dealing with physical building spaces, but in the Information Technology space these questions create fear, uncertainty, and doubt that needs to be overcome to be successful.

I think these questions are fueled by a number of misconceptions, some of which may apply in both the Information Technology and the physical building spaces. The following lists some of these misconceptions and why I believe they are just that – misconceptions.

Misconception: Architecture is engineering

Using two definitions found by simply googling the words engineering and architecture (results below), I see why it is confusing to people – darn, engineering looks like super architecture! Both share the tasks of design and building.

Engineering is the application of mathematics, empirical evidence and scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge in order to invent, innovate, design, build, maintain, research, and improve structures, machines, tools, systems, components, materials, and processes.

Architecture is both the process and the product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings and other physical 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.

So what is the distinction – for me it isn’t too hard when I think of what the architects typically do and compare it to what engineers typically don’t redo! Yikes that sounds strange doesn’t it? For the architect the challenge usually starts with answering the questions “what is really needed and what are the characteristics of what is needed?” The engineer on the other hand mostly knows what is needed (many times because an architecture exists), and starts out answering the questions “how are we going to build it and what materials should be applied to satisfy the characteristics?”

Imhotep, sometimes call the first architect, most probably started out answering the question “what is needed to house the souls of our pharaohs, what should these structure symbolize, and how long must they stand?” These questions were answered and maybe resulted in the first drawing of a step pyramid along with a descriptions of desired height, the description of the tomb rooms, desire for it to be “eternal,” and need for it to symbolize ascension. Then I can envision Imhotep answering the other questions presuming the design of the step pyramid “what materials should we used and how will we build it?” resulting in the choice of cut stone, limestone polish, the plan to do one level at a time, etc. Answering the former is architecture, answering the latter is engineering. Oh and in case you missed it, yes an Architect can also be an Engineer!

So bottom line – architecture and engineering are, or should be, different! The engineer makes the architecture a reality bringing material to bear, whereas the architect describes that desired reality bringing clarity to what is needed.

Misconception: An architect must be a developer

I have heard it from more than one person, especially in scenarios were the focus was software. If you can’t code you shouldn’t be an architect! I guess maybe in ancient times someone might say it you can’t lay brick, you shouldn’t be an architect.

To be honest, I understand this to an extent. I know many great architects that were builders and/or software developers. Some say it is necessary for an architect to be a developer in order to understand what can be built – in other words to be realistic. But I also know of great architects that weren’t builders or developers. And some believe that this type of architect will reach beyond what is typically thought possible to inspire new building techniques and new materials.

The bottom line here is that it doesn’t hurt for an architect to have a background in building and/or developing, but certainly doesn’t have to be a builder or developer when architecting.

If some of this makes sense, please check out the upcoming Part 2 of this blog series.

@theopengroup

Terence Blevins, a Fellow of The Open Group, is owner of Enterprise Wise LLC and a semi-retired Enterprise Architect. He is currently a Director of The Open Group Governing Board and an active contributor to the Healthcare Forum within The Open Group.

He has been involved with the architecture discipline since the 80s, much of which was done while he was Director of Strategic Architecture at NCR Corporation. Terence has been involved with The Open Group since 1996 when he first was introduced to The Open Group Architecture Forum. He was co-chair of the Architecture Forum and frequent contributor of content to the TOGAF® framework including the Business Scenario Method. Currently he is excited to help the Healthcare Forum work on Boundaryless Healthcare Information Flow.

Terence was Vice President and CIO of The Open Group where he contributed to The Open Group vision of Boundaryless Information Flow™.

He holds undergraduate and Masters degrees in Mathematics from Youngstown State University. He is TOGAF 8 certified.

3 comments

  1. Hi there. Nice article! congrats!

    IMHO, I think architects are different from architects, in way that a “software” architect is different from the “real world” architect, in sense they do different things in their fields. For me, the “software” architect is mandatory to write real code, otherwise he can miss the point and become just a “diagram drawer” without expertise in fields like concurrency, availability, ….

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pepe, You make a great point! Since I have written software I can’t disagree with the importance of having that experience before doing software architecture! Your comment brings up another potential Blog topic perhaps about a useful categorization of the different types of architects based upon what they actually do, and/or produce, differently!!! Take care, Terry

      Like

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