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Beauty of Architecture
Architecture exists all around us all the time and could be described as the only truly public art form displayed that is constantly at the mercy of the public’s view to be judged: good or bad. The immediate connection between the beauty of architecture and what one feels when they see beautiful architecture makes it difficult in defining beauty as a quality, but rather an emotion evoked by the aesthetic appeal. For a building to become iconic and timeless, it must be beautiful. Why? Because beauty in architecture brings us pleasure and a sense of happiness. But where did beauty in architecture begin, or to the question the understanding of what beauty actually is?
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Beauty is one of the most enduring themes of Western philosophy that dates all the way back to a Greek Philosopher Plato in 428-347BC. (Jackson R 2016, p. 40) Plato believed that beauty is not something that can be defined or tangible. He believed beauty is subjective to each viewer and that the viewer may change their perception depending on who is describing it. (Jackson R 2016, p. 62) This analogy is shown in Plato’s Cave where the prisoners in the cave can see nothing around them except for the shadows in front on them. Unaware of what the true forms of the objects actually are. When one prisoner is set free and dragged out of cave, he does not believe what he is seeing for the first time is real. Then realises his former view of reality is wrong and begins to understand the world around him through truth and knowledge. Whereas the prisoners in the cave only mistake the appearance for reality. This analogy by Plato is key to people’s perception about beauty, justice and good. (Garvey J & Stangroom J 2012, p. 76) Theoretically by understanding the Allegory of Plato’s Cave in the architecture sense, one can design and build environments that would appeal to all blemished shadows that we represent. (Jackson R 2016, p. 63)
Marcus Vitruvius (78 – 10BCE) a Roman engineer and architect, and a great admirer of Greek architecture shared similar thoughts and understandings of the principles of architecture with Plato. (Pont G 2005, p. 82) “For Vitruvius buildings should always be three things: beautiful, stable and useful”. (Pont G 2005, p. 76) He believed in harmonious relationships between the parts of a building and explored many different ratios to achieve proportions that reflected the society in which he lived. “Vitruvius also believed the proportions of the human body, as they related to a building, as well as the daily direction of the sun and winds should be considered when designing any structure to ensure the general health and wellbeing of its occupants, both physically and psychologically”. (McDowall C 2014)
A philosophy that was lost for many years and then rediscovered in early 15th Century when Vitruvius’s book on Architecture known as De Architectura was found in Monte Cassino Abbey and translated from Greek into Italian, French, Spanish, and English. (Craven J 2018) Vitruvius’s theories and principles inspired the architects and designers of the Renaissance to build in a style that referenced the classical Roman and Greek architecture. Architecture designed with reference to the ideal human proportions and whole ratio numbers thus creating harmoniously balanced buildings that were aesthetically pleasing. (Craven J 2018) A new standard of beauty derived from classical arbitrary, nature and humanity.
Renaissance architecture paved the way for humans to look at architectural beauty in a new way. An opportunity to see the world through their senses, using the environment as a part of the thinking process. Just like art, architecture has evolved with each movement in response to society and other cultural influences, so has human response in relation to the type of architecture that has been built through out the ages. How much a building may be considered beautiful or not beautiful is different for each person based on whether the building brings aesthetic pleasure. (Gardner B 2008) Good architecture and design brings a positive distraction and a sense of happiness, it is a universal need of human beings. (Why Beauty Matters? 2015) An example of architecture that was deemed ugly by design and is now an iconic architectural structure that represents love and romance is Eiffel Tower. (Alvarez L 2016)
The consequence of bad architecture is that it can conjure negative feelings. They can make people uncomfortable and feel unwelcome. Shocking buildings push the boundaries and force emotions to the surface. What a building that is deemed bad or ugly does is challenge people perception of themselves and the world they live in, it forces people to evolve. It’s not a question of whether a building makes people feel good or bad, it’s about being moved, the emotional connection. The sense of intensity, passion and involvement. All feelings that link people to seeing a sense of beauty within architecture and the environment around them.
The experience of beauty is fundamental to what makes us all human. We may find beauty in different things at different times; however, the joy found in surrounding architectural space and form is universal. As spatial compositions continue to evolve and so too will our understanding of the meaning behind beauty.
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