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Architecture Definition

What does Architecture mean?

Architecture Definition

Architecture is one of the terms in our language that is more talked about than dealt with. Even experienced architects can't stop discussing what the essence is of Architecture. Such as: can architecture even be defined?

But what does architecture mean, what are the most current definitions of architecture and why is architecture widely used and accepted? Read the Dragon1 Term Definition here.


Architecture, as a field of work, is the art and science of designing and building structures, such as churches, houses and bridges. But also organizations like enterprises and governmental institutions.

Architecture, as in an architecture of a structure, is a total concept consisting of a set of coherent constructive, operative, and decorative concepts (that is or to be) applied onto a structure.

Architecture in general can be seen as a conceptual structure with three dimensions: operation, decoration and construction.

“An Architecture of a Structure = a total concept of a structure, consisting of a coherent set of constructive, operative and decorative concepts”

Writing Good Definitions

Writing a good definition is hard to do.

There are six aspects to measure how good a definition is:

  • Does the definition describe what the term is about?
  • Does the definition give meaning to the term?
  • Does the definition only uses previously defined terms?
  • Does the definition quantify and qualify?
  • Are there any counter examples for the definition?
  • Is the definition not circular?

The Dragon1 definition for architecture presented here complies to all three aspects: it only uses predefined terms, it quantifies and qualifies and it has no counter examples.

Vitruvius was the source of inspiration for the Dragon1 Architecture definition

In De Architectura, Vitruvius (c. 80 BC) asserted that there were three principles of good architecture:

  • Firmatis (Durability) - It should stand up robustly and remain in good condition.
  • Utilitas (Utility) - It should be useful and function well for the people using it.
  • Venustatis (Beauty) - It should delight people and raise their spirits.

In Dragon1 Firmatis is projected onto constructive concepts. Utilitas is projected onto operative concepts. Venustatis is projected onto decorative concepts.

These three names for the concepts were carefully chosen. In building architecture and enterprise architecture (business administration and information sciences) there are constructive, operative and decorative concepts.


A structure, like a church or enterprise, is a system with three dimensions: construction, operation and decoration.

A system is a whole of collaborating entities realizing a common goal. Not all systems are structures but all structures are system.

A concept is an idea, approach, way of working, abstraction of an implementation. A concept is a conceptual system.

A principle is the enforced way an entity or a sytem works, producing results. Every concept has many principles, such as a first principle.

Architectures are used for designing and realizing structures that are very functional, very beautiful and can withstand time and disasters, like flooding, wars and earthquakes.

Because architecture (according to Dragon1) focusses you on using concepts and their principles to design integral and durable solutions, you will be able to address a variety of (conflicting) requirements from stakeholders. For instance reducing or controlling complexity, dealing with continuous change and supporting transformation.

So this can actually be called the function of Architecture: to make a structure more useful, aesthetic, stronger and adaptive than is possible without architecture.

Operative concepts will make the structure functional, decorative concepts will make the structure appealing (to the most important stakeholders) and constructive concepts will make the structure strong (withstanding disasters).

Suppose you want to have an office building that in time can be transformed into a shopping mall or nursery home, one can at best do that with architecture. Architecture supports the transformation of the structure.

Structures where an architecture has been applied onto successfully, are often known by their own name and have many books written about it (such as The Rome Colosseum and The Paris Palais Garnier).

For reasons of simplicity, instead of structure, one could use system as where the architecture (total concept) is applied to.

The IEEE 1471 / ISO 42010 definition of Architecture contains Errors

IEEE 1471 / ISO 42010 defines Architecture as: "fundamental concepts or properties of a system in its environment embodied in its elements, relationships, and in the principles of its design and evolution" - (link often does not work) and Definition on (link often does not work either).

This architecture definition allows for things to be labeled as architecture, which in fact are not:

  • This architecture definition does relate architecture to a system and not to a structure. So the earth's weather system has an architecture by this definition, but also a bag of sand has an architecture. This link of wikipedia about architecture shows architecture normally relates to structures and not in the first place to systems.
  • This architecture definition does not require for constructive concepts and does not require for a coherent set of concepts. Architecture in this way can be a set of unrelated 'fundamental?' functional concepts. So waving your hands, walking and talking, three unrelated fundamental functional concepts of the human system together do form an architecture by this definition.
  • This architecture definition does not link or relate principles to the concepts. But principles are in fact the enforced way the concepts work producing results. You cannot have principles without its context: the concept. Principles in this definition are probably used more in the sense of design rules or business rules.

The IEEE 1471 / ISO 42010 definition does not form a sound basis for architecture, as one can easily create something that is compliant to the definition, label it architecture, but is not architecture. This definition does not exclude enough.

Common Misunderstandings

1. Architecture is a formal description of a system. No, Architecture is NOT equal to a description. Even if you do not write down or describe the architecture of a structure, it still has one or more architectures. An architecture (a total concept) of a structure can be described, also architecture as in the art and science of designing and building structures, can also be described. But that does not mean that the description IS the architecture.

2. Architecture is the structure of components. No. Components are 'things', 'replace parts', 'pieces of systems', used at physical and implementational level, but not at logical or conceptual level. A component is an 'technical implementation' of a (part of a) concept. If you would take away or rearrange some components out of a structure, still the architecture (the total concept) of the structure stays. If you take away some concepts, you will actually change the architecture. The word structure actually means arrangement of component, so this is a circular definition.

Also when you say that architecture is the structure of components, we still don't know what the components are part of. Is it a system or a structure or what? So saying that architecture is the structure of components is not true.

3. Architecture is a set of rules or agreements. Various communities that use architecture as a consultancy or advisory instrument often state that architecture is a set of rules or agreements. A rule or an agreement is something that is very optional and so not something you can always trust upon. A set of rules or agreements can be synonym to design. You or others can always decide not to follow a rule, or to disagree. Architecture is a total concept, meaning the total of coherent concepts agreed upon to be applied onto a structure.

Writing down a formal description of a system, modelling the structure of components and their relationships, putting up rules and coming to agreements is more than useful work for architects. But that does not mean it is architecture.


For Architecture we use the symbol of an arc.


Two examples of Architecture are:

  • The Colosseum in Rome
    The building architecture (the total concept) of the Colosseum: An elliptic Amphi Theatre
    Concepts that are part of the architecture (total concept) of the Colosseum are 'arena', 'podium', 'gladiator', 'tribune', 'arches', etc...
  • Palais Garnier in Paris
    This structure is often described as a total work of art.
    The architecture (total concept) of the Palais Garnier is a monumental palace of opera, music and arts.
    Concepts that are part of the architecture (total concept) of Palais Garnier are 'le facade', statues, stage, grand foyer, stairs, the world’s first removable ceiling frame, etc...

Every enterprise architect should visit these two structures!

Further reading

Are you interested in reading more about what does architecture mean?

Architecture encloses the art of free hand sketching a total concept and principle details.

And if you want to do some sketching yourself, why not read: Le Corbusier Sketchbooks, Vol. 4, 1957-1964

Our intention is not to provide a complete dictionary on enterprise architecture here, but to provide only the most frequent used words in the field.

If you have a suggestion for us to improve the list or a definition, please contact us via

Architecture Definition Document

If you are starting with or are working with enterprise architecture, it is always a good thing to create a document with your architecture definition to state what architectures are recognized in the organization and what the context and goal is of these architectures.

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