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Series Two

Art in Architecture

Written by Jonathan Lees RIBA.

Chapter One – Creating a Beautiful Home

Creating a beautiful home through architecture is as much about design as it is emotion. Arhitecture is the complex and carefully designed structure of everything around us, whether it be natural or built by humans. It is the collaboration of many parts of a holistic environment that induces emotion from the physical, visual, olfactory and spiritual perspectives, as much as performing the practical functions of everyday life.

‘Architecture is not just a visual art. It is a physical sculpture, an acoustic melody and a delicate painting

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by Jonathan Lees | Chapter One - the importance of art in architectural design

Joinery Oak ceiling boss for chandelier hook

An oak panelled ceiling with boss for chandelier hook – Jonathan Lees Architects


Architecture is not just a visual art. It is a physical sculpture, an acoustic melody and a delicate painting. It is the use of proportions to create perfect compositions. Architecture is the invention and poetry of objects and spaces working together to create the contextual backdrop to our life experiences. Harmonic proportions and sensory factors influence our designs and are themselves enhanced by the creation of a space. The most personal and resonant exercise is the creation of a home and it is our role, as the artist and Architect, to nurture and explore a vision of ‘home’ and to bring it to life, in whatever form, through design.

Bright contemporary Architect designed house

A Cornish country home – J Lees Architects



‘What we do not always see, is how we can enrich our experience of these environments…..’

The home is not just a building. It is an array of spaces filled with personal objects, items of furniture, art works and trinkets that make our environments so individual to each of us, enabling us to create, over time, our own personal home. What we do not always see, is how we can enrich our experiences of these environments by creating a space in which our home can occupy, a stage to display our items or keepsakes and a backdrop to our everyday. Art and craft is often used to enhance and enrich a space with beauty, whether it be with cabinetry, fireplaces, decorative plasterwork or ornate staircases. A style appropriate for the backdrop is often present before the creation of the space is considered. In other words, for many of us, the home is already formed with our belongings, our tastes and our styles, it is the space that these collaborate with that is yet to be created. So, we are never really creating a beautiful home from a blank canvas.

Country house Architect design for Kitchen

Kitchen diner in country mansion – J Lees Architects


English Architect country house orangery

Snug in country mansion – Jonathan Lees Architects


Our aim as designers, is to create spaces that form a multitude of incidental surprises that are found and enriched by the inquisitive, ambitious homeowner.

Ornate carved Oak column by Arts and Crafts Architect

Carved column capital designed by Jonathan Lees Architects


‘A beautiful, well designed building can vastly alter the way in which we live.

For me, building has always been about art. I cannot understand why people, particularly Architects, cannot exclusively use the word ‘beautiful’ when describing a building. We use that description for a painting or natural landscapes, why not a building? It is almost as if it is a requirement that an Architect must come up with an intelligible alternative to that word, in justification for their artwork, that forms at least a whole paragraph, but ultimately boils down to the same thing. Why should it be so uncouth to build a building where the design principal is for it to be beautiful for the sake of creating a beautiful home or space? Why is this treated with disdain? Is it a sign of our times that the building must first convey a humility in its presence, prove its sustainable credentials or be seen as having an honorable use that benefits society before it can be described as being beautiful? Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, but there are many examples of buildings that have been built purely as monuments to how beautiful we can make something, and these buildings have a resonating and profound effect on the way in which we enjoy our lives and the well-being of our state of mind. A beautiful, well designed building can vastly alter the way in which we live. A well-proportioned room, based on the golden ratio for example, will influence all of our senses from sight, smell and sound, to the tactile, sub conscious and physical experiences of spaces that affect our mindset.
The first impression of a space should enliven us and inspire a sense of appreciation of the art of spatial design, with the function, sustainability and practical nature being performed effortlessly and instinctively in the background.

‘The overall composition of the piece may be formed and directed by the Architect, but the small, detailed brushstrokes are delivered by the many wonderful and talented trades…..’
Natural stone award winner stone carving

A stone garden folly in construction – J Lees Architects


Stone mason carving intricate flowers

Stone cartouche being carved by masons at AFJones and designed by Jonathan Lees Architects


Building for me, is the celebration of craft. Whether it be the design, or the skill of the individual artisan who is beautifully adding to the construction, it is the celebration of the skills developed over years of experience that has passed down through generations or been taken up by an enthusiastic, ambitious artist. From the bricklayer skillfully laying handmade bricks in lime mortar in a perfect rhythm, to a stone mason fitting beautifully carved decorative stone, or a carpenter fitting an elegant window or door, the skill of the artisan who made the object, and the skill of the fitter who is patiently installing the object are creating art in building. The overall composition of the piece may be formed and directed by the Architect, but the small, detailed brushstrokes are delivered by the many wonderful and talented trades that we have in our country. Creating a beautiful home or building is thus an ensemble piece of art, with a curator at its heart.

Arts and Crafts outdoor fireplace

Details on outdoor brick fireplace – J Lees Architects


Traditional Oak pergola in garden

Oak garden loggia rafters – J Lees Architects


Developing the composition of a painting is similar to the design of a building, whether it be in the development of the plan or the elevations, the building is a kit of parts that is assembled in such a way that it becomes a compositional piece. Some are impressionist, some traditional landscapes, some manga cartoons, but always there is a parallel relationship with art. The two are inextricably linked. But are architects thought of as artists anymore? Or are they technologists? Has technology influenced the development of architecture so much that architects have become more focused on technical and engineering ability over artistic skill? You would need to survey the profession to find out.

Jonathan Lees  RIBA

The ‘Art in Architecture’ series is continued in;

‘Chapter 2 – Leaving things to the imagination’

Return to the Writings Library for more essays and Project Profiles

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