Where the grey line cuts between Fine Art and Architecture in Ugandan practice

By Arch. Kasozi Peter, Lecturer International University of East Africa (IUEA)

Fine art has been referred to as a visual art primarily developed for aesthetic expression. This definition is used to distinguish Fine arts from applied arts, which apart from being art forms developed for aesthetic purposes also have some practical function. (Wikipedia free Encyclopaedia Nov.2013)

It is not rare to categorize architecture as an art form amongst the other historically known Art--‐forms as Painting, Sculpture, Music, Dance, Drama and Poetry. Because creative Visual art and related professions are historically known to have spear headed the way to scientific disciplines that gave birth to several professions in the field of Engineering, Physics and sometimes Biology.

However, the definition of fine Art is not a constant, it varies from culture to culture. The same can be said about the definition of Architecture it has not been static. Today, various schools of Architecture are sometimes grouped together with schools of engineering, or with schools of fine art, while in other scenarios they are set apart from the pack to realize their own artistic lineage linked but not directly controlled by a philosophy of fine art. In cases where the scientific approach to architecture overrides other approaches that help define architecture. The concept of Architecture as a visual art is manifest in a different mode altogether, but even with such a measure, Architecture remains largely visual. Therefore the quest for the GREY line between architecture and fine art is well blurred right from the architecture Education process. However the neglect of this line could generate a confusing practice atmosphere for architects since the line becomes less and less blurry as architects mature into true professionals in practice. To an extent that sometimes the architectural fraternity starts to see it as a fine black line.

The power and impact of any form of fine art lies in the strength of its aesthetics expression and the roles that aesthetics plays in the neighbourhood or the community in which the fine art has been set. Therefore when drawing a fine black line or a grey line between architecture and fine art. A clear philosophy must be developed explaining aesthetics and the component elements that actually define aesthetics. More so in a scholarly world where it’s largely perceived that architecture is a sub set of fine art.

If we assumed the meaning of architecture as simply based on the visual perception of things or objects in the form of architectural artefacts being observed. Then doing Justice to the definition of architecture in practice as well as in physical form would be futile. A meal’s appearance wouldn’t automatically confirm that the meal is tasty or disgusting unless the taste buds are allowed to do their job while the Nose is left to choose whether the smell befits taste able food or not, because all these are part of a comprehensive perception of a good meal.

Pier Von Meiss (1990) approaches the subject of aesthetics as a way of perceiving our environment both in the built and Natural via a systematic format where the five senses he categorizes as Seeing, Listening, Mobility, Tactility, and Smell are all engaged in the perception and experience. These senses are definitely not only as a result of individual likes and dislikes but also as a result of Cultural Experience and Time needed for any culture to evolve. This is because at each point in time of evolution of a culture, the perceptions and experience change at an almost similar pace.

When the Eiffel tower was built in the 1930 in Paris, The French Urbanites were largely critical of its design and place in the aesthetic perceptions of the urban scape. However, the Eiffel tower is today perceived as a super land mark for the city of Paris, even though some people might still object to its character as an object of aesthetic quality, Cultural experience and Time has certainly made it a contributing factor to the aesthetic value of The Parisian Urban scape that could
straightaway link it to the five senses used by pier Von Meiss to define aesthetic value.

In Uganda, the Kasubi tombs originally a king’s palace later turned into “Amasiiro G’aba Ssekabaka” in 1890. The factor of Time and Experience of New colonial and other architectural styles had become a very cause for people not associating the traditional Architecture of the tombs with aesthetic architectural appeal, However the absence of the heritage artefact since it was destroyed by fire in 2010 has shown that both Elite as well as non-Elite members of the Ugandan society considered it an artefact of classic Ugandan Heritage architecture that is worth restoring.

Architecture and fine art, the clash in practice.
The clash on whether the pedigreed of any architecture is a fine art or not starts at the first inception idea sketches and continues up until when the architectural ideas are built/implemented, occupied and finally demolished. Some circles have defined architecture as an art of scientific, cultural and artistic expression of spatial organization where if the spatial organization in question passes the test of time then that spatial organization can become a form of fine--‐art / visual art.

The field of architecture in Uganda, right from university training has often been exclusively grouped with the science and technology department partly because it has been perceived more as a science than an art. In the recent past there has been a trend to amalgamate the visual arts department with the college of architecture at some Ugandan universities for example Makerere University. In most Ugandan architectural practices the position of an artist to work alongside an architect is a rear occurrence since the belief is that most of the work produced in Ugandan architectural offices is largely intended for construction rather than for consumption as visual aesthetic expressions on paper. It is here that the clash is born in practice especially when an almost limitless request for conceptual proposals becomes the order of the day on a single project. That usually signifies money lost in practice offices even before the implementation begins.

A layman outside the circle of Architecture practice takes a little longer understanding the difference between Fine art and Architecture let alone understanding architecture. While for some enlightened developers a subconscious treatment of architectural work as a Fine--‐ art is a disease or rather a daily game where there is continued request for proposals with heavy artistic expression qualities, not for the purpose of understanding a proposal from the implementation perspective of it, but just for visual enlightenment. In case of fine art as visual expression, a potential fine art buyer/seller or collector could enter a gallery and examine the pin ups without the immediate intention to buy an artefact but to fulfil his or her visual contentment until he decides to buy.

In architecture this is usually considered as a case of time wastage in the form of money since a proposal rejected for particular site will not fully be used on any other site without being redone or rethought to fit that new site. Thus rendering architecture as fine art before implementation an economically unsustainable approach compared to considering architecture as fine art after it’s been implemented and has passed the test of time.

The economic unsustainability of architecture as fine art before implementation also infringes on the copyright interests of the architect since whoever sees the inception or concept scheme ideas before implementation can use his mind to store and reproduce them after wards for befitting situations.

Architecture as systematic inquiry (research)
Approach to design at various Ugandan firms would vary from the process of seeking aesthetic expression to a process of research or systematic inquiry into a situation before making a design intervention. These two approaches will most likely not yield the same results in terms of artefact but will certainly yield an artefact. When designing, most architectural firms make systematic inquiries into the purpose, intent, stakeholders ... of project before undertaking the task of design development. The valuable
Sketches that are produced by the design team at this stage are rarely considered as final products for aesthetic expression to which a monetary value could be attached for they are
Only pointers to the design team as it continues its design development to working drawings. The sketches are however attached to a time input which time input can be converted into monetary terms.

Sketching as a form of inquiry common to both Fine art and Architecture would be more considered as trial and error inquiry in the field of architecture, where in architecture it is not directly monetary, but the time input to it as an inquiry. While sketching in the field of fine art is more likely to be the final critical expression to which a monetary value could be attached and sold as a final artefact.

In architectural practice where the expressionist pens off, the architect technician, engineer and detailer takes over working hand in hand with the systematic inquiries from the economic, scientific and social cultural disciplines so as to refine the expression into working, structural, detail and shop drawings that can be used at the contract execution stage

While the aesthetic expression is Fine--‐Art and could be sold for a price or be a quest for an art collector. The resulting commissioned physical building will eclipse the aesthetic expression before the building in terms of creation of embedded philosophies, knowledge, experience and thus new resultant aesthetic expressions

Fine Art as visual art for Aesthetic expression is based on immediate involuntary responses that result into development of preferences (Karl .T. Ulrich; 2006). While aesthetic response is likely to influence subsequent systematic inquiry, it might not directly influence monetary value of the final critical inquiry in architecture

This because positive aesthetic expressions resulting into highly positive involuntary responses towards a design development might not persist in the face of mounting negative critical and analytical inquiries showing that the originally perceived positive response does not result into positive architecture.

Systematic inquiry in architectural design development would most likely include the interdisciplinary approaches from the fields of humanities, economics and science to do justice to a design project development, which results into an artefact that gives great experience but also performs well in its economic, social and cultural contexts. Fine art artefacts on the other hand will have a smaller field of influence on the community for which they are meant because they are generated from a less broad multi/inter disciplinary approach than architectural artefacts. Even though they like architectural artefacts can
Perform as media for aesthetic expression.

While time will test the positive aesthetic expression of architectural artefacts and most certainly determine whether those artefacts perform more as “art” over time, a fine art piece done in half the time of another fine art piece could fetch a lot more monetary value than the latter and never be able to be surpassed by the latter even in the long--‐run. Further still in architecture a combination of good creative expression and good interdisciplinary research could generate a less valuable project in the short run, but, the same project could modify itself into a pricelessly more valuable project in the long run as
It goes through an experiential social metamorphosis created by the social context in which
It has been located.

While the processes that generate fine art as visual art for aesthetic expression will be part and parcel of the process of creation of artefacts/ buildings in architecture. The process in architecture will take a little longer and will tend to be more multi and interdisciplinary than it is in fine art. Therefore, “time which is more directly linked to, than induced by monetary value in architecture practice will be the only factor that possesses more power to draw the line between fine art and architecture more black than grey.”

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