It was once thought that architecture, sculpture, and painting belonged together. Indeed, they were admirably intertwined at various points in history—in the ancient cultures of East and West, and in the European Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. With the rise of the merchant class to power in the 19th century, the plastic arts began to lose their interdependency and to separate. Part of this was due to the general fragmentation of society into competing social units. Part was the fragmentation of knowledge into various specialized fields, of which architecture, sculpture, and painting were, in the arts, prime examples. And no small part was economic. Buildings became real estate that often trades hands for money, as are paintings and sculptures. Today, it is rare to find these three arts united in any but the most tentative way.

Ironically, perhaps, their separation enabled them to influence each other in ways they never did before. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that we find examples of paintings and sculptures having a direct influence on architectural design. It is as though their independence from each other gave them an intellectual and artistic parity, and allowed architects and painters (later, photographers, filmmakers, and video artists) to learn from each other’s works. Before this separation, it is impossible to think of an architect who adopted in his (they were all male, back then) work, methods or forms from a painter. After the separation of the arts, this influence began to appear, and is sure to increase in the future.

The examples offered here are only the most obvious. In this sense, they are an invitation for others to contribute examples from their own points of view and knowledge. No doubt this topic will produce fascinating coffee-table books in times to come, as well as many PhD. dissertations. More importantly, the exchange between the visual arts will continue to transform each of them, and not least the art of architecture.


Painting by Theo van Doesburg (1918) and plan for the Barcelona Pavilion, by Mies van der Rohe (1927):



Painting by Kasimir Malevich (1915):


Designs by Zaha Hadid for the Media Park, Dusseldorf (c.1990):



Collage by Richard Hamilton (1956) [inset: collage by Marcel Duchamp (1919)


Design by Peter Cook for Instant City (1968):



Painting by a Paramount studio artist for War of the Worlds (2005) [inset: drawing by Lebbeus Woods for the High Houses, Sarajevo (1995):


“Spider” Constructions by Hernan Diaz Alonzo (2007):


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