Brooks’s definition of architecture

In my last post on software architecture, I wrote that software architecture isn’t as concerned with the UI whereas “real-world” architecture is. But not according to Fred Brooks. In his The Mythical Man-Month, he defines software architecture as “the complete and detailed specification of the user interface.”

“The architect of a system”, Brooks continues, “like the architect of a building, is the user’s agent. It is his job to bring professional and technical knowledge to bear in the unalloyed interest of the user, as opposed to the interests of the salesman, the fabricator, etc.” This rhymes well with Mark-Jason Dominus’s opinion that in the design patterns movement, the original intention of Christopher Alexander (the inventor of patterns and pattern languages), for patterns to serve as a communication aid for the dialogue between “users” and engineers (see here – and here).

The most common usage of the term “software architecture” today is in referring to the structure of a system or its high-level design. I wonder if Brooks’s definition was the prevailing during the sixties and seventies. And, if so, when the shift began from being concerned with the UI towards being concerned with the structure.

Personally, I think architecture is relevant at all levels of a system and that it’s a pity for it to be used only in talking about the structure and the highest-level elements. Also, the metaphorical aspect of the architecture is too underemphasized (see here). I’m thinking of writing a book about this. I think there’s a need for philosophical books about software engineering. In real architecture, there’s lots of such books. Who said theories about software have to be so practical and concrete? The field itself is very fuzzy and abstract.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on July 30, 2002. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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