All: I agree with Daniel. My love of beauty was the dominant reason for my decision to become an architect and it is still an over-arching drive and motivation in my work, regardless of the type of project. I am greatly disappointed that the word "beauty" and the discussion of aesthetics has virtually disappeared from our architectural education and practice. Equally disturbing is the fact so many new buildings are designed without beauty as an essential goal, resulting in another generation of mostly sterile, austere, unattractive, unappealing, and sometimes even inhumane architecture. Architects mostly deserve the criticism they receive that they are creating ugly, uninviting architecture-buildings that people do not want to occupy. We need a return to the preeminence of beauty in architecture.
Allen Roberts, FAIA
Salt Lake City, Utah
For science beauty is objective, "out there".
In their fascinating book The New Story of Science, Robert Augros and George Stanciu develop the growing conviction that in the sciences, and perhaps most of all in physics, beauty is considered to be a powerful pointer to the truth of a theory. The elegance of an equation is often better evidence of its truth than an experiment would be. Given the enormous importance of experiment in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine, this is an extraordinary observation. Some might think it outlandish. In a lapidary sentence Augros and Stanciu lay down one of the basic theses of this volume: "All of the most eminent physicists of the twentieth century agree that beauty is the primary standard for scientific truth." Richard Feynman, another Nobel Prize winner, for his work on quantum electrodynamics, and one of the most noted of twentieth-century physicists, formulated the conviction in even stronger terms when he remarked that "you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity." Equally well known and respected as a founder of quantum mechanics, Werner Heisenberg has written that the truth of his theory "was immediately found convincing by virtue of its completeness and abstract beauty". It makes sense to find Heisenberg generalizing his conviction in the remark that beauty "in exact science, no less than in the arts . . . is the most important source of illumination and clarity".Notable in the field of mathematical physics, Henri Poincaré commented that "it is because simplicity and vastness are both beautiful that we seek by preference simple facts and vast facts." We notice in this requirement for valid scientific discoveries, namely, that they be elegantly simple and yet vast, the classical philosophical traits of the beautiful: unity and wholeness.
I agree with Stephen Altherr that taste and beauty is quite different. Although, I think taste has more to do with education than social class although that is where it is marketed and becomes a public lifestyle. I think taste can be acquired through study and experience as there are some basic standards or guidelines to base some judgment on within the discipline or culture one is operating in.
On the other hand beauty has been described in Kenneth Dahlin's response; quoting from Kant. there is a "disinterested pleasure" in beauty, that the beautiful object pleases not due to some functional value it has for us (and thus prejudice in us) but pleases immediately and for its own sake. It is the one thing which doesn't satisfy us upon taking it in (such as water quenching our thirst) and is an end in itself.
F. Jeffrey Murray's response included a observation from Elaine Scarry's book 'On Beauty and Being Just'. She suggests that the experience of beauty is a certain specific kind of pleasure that 'decenters' or 'un-self's' us, because it shifts our attention away from ourselves [unlike other forms of pleasure that do the opposite].
I think beauty is that something that is outside of ourselves and we don't control it by our willing it. From this understanding, I think one can judge the difference between the original Kahn's Kimball and Piano's. Walking into the original building elicits an overall sense of beauty that is not experienced in the addition. In the addition, one can appreciate the elegance and beauty of the architectural details but there is not that overall feeling of something above and beyond the physical environment as one experiences in Kahn's building.
Whenever we experience the beautiful, there is also an incompleteness; a sense of something lacking. There exists that unsatisfied longing for the perfect beauty. I think all architects have experienced the following in our effort to create something.
All artists experience the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardour of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpting, their creating is no more than a glimmer of the splendour which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit." Letter to Artists" Pope John Paul II 1999
I thought David Morales' answer on grading students was very well thought out and I think it is important to emphasize to students the importance of working towards making our buildings have a sense of beauty that current and future generations can enjoy.
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