Beauty in Architecture

Art has been around for so long that it has become an integral part of a human being’s life. A thorough observation of all forms of art speaks of one common significance – art as the so-called “universal expression of the soul. ” The ancient carvings in an Egyptian cave, the soothing melody of a harp, the beautiful words of a poet, and the abstract objects in a painting all define art as timeless, pure, and perfect. But how far can a universal language serve mankind? Can an old fine-tuned guitar or a gold-textured jug stand as a man’s ally in his lifetime?

It is somewhat ironic to admit to ourselves that we have gotten so used to the notion that the most beautiful will never be the most useful. One form of art though that has stood apart from this irony is architecture. In its most basic explanation, architecture is both a combination of a work of art and science to build and erect buildings. For a builder and designer called the architect, architecture is a monumental task. First, because it is an art that speaks of a meaning; and second, because its completion will serve more than man’s desire for beautiful things.

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Architecture stands so unique from the rest of all artistic forms. A building will stand tall and proud for the entire world to see long after the beauty of the most expensive painting loses its appeal for the eyes. Architecture has a dynamic role to play and to sustain. One vivid example of its difference from all arts is a home. Inside a house are walls with paintings in every corner, an elegant piano in the living room being played by well-trained hands, and a long hallway lined with slender China vases about a foot tall.
Overtime as the family living inside the house grew up and changed physically and mentally, so are their treatment for all these pieces of art. The hands that once played the piano may later find other interests to pursue, one or two of the vases gets broken into pieces because of carelessness or accidents, and the paintings may one day be moved to another room where no one can eventually look at it. A helpless and unhappy ways for these arts to retire. But not for the house.
Children go to school, attend college, and get married but they always come back to the house that have been there since their birth. A few repairs here and there over the years, fresh interior and exterior paints, and an installation of new household technologies may be a part of the family’s growth but the house remains a house. A shelter and a fortress for mankind. It has protected the family from vicious storms and heavy rains, from the terrible heat of summer, from the freezing temperatures of winter. Above all, it has become a symbol of the family’s traditions and cultures.
It no longer portrays a spacious neat place where children, parents, relatives, and friends can gather around comfortably. It has grown into something the inhabitants can be proud of because its structures and textures have been transformed into a representation of status, wealth, achievements, educational degrees, and even religion. This is only a brief and simple example of the importance of architecture in an ordinary life. Moving on to a broader and global view of the existence of architecture, we find buildings and establishments housing larger groups of people.
From the family who lived in the house with occasional visits from friends and relatives, we shifted our eyes towards the cathedral or mosque in the city that symbolizes its flock of followers that goes in and out to worship and pray. There is also the hospital that is structured to accommodate as many sick patients as possible and the palace or mansion that epitomizes the actions and behaviors of a certain type of government and ruler. Bridges made of wood or steel provide a passage for fast and accessible transportation.
The St. Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican became the seat of Catholicism in the world. Buckingham Palace symbolizes the royalty as the reigning ruler of Great Britain and the White House the powerful effects of a nation’s unity. The Chrysler Building exemplifies a wealthy businessman’s passion for automotives. Not only does architecture speaks of religion, government, and education, it also evokes feelings. The Great Walls of China was both a protection and defense from enemies in ancient Chinese times.
Taj Mahal was a man’s undying profession of love for his wife and The Statue of Liberty was a gift of one nation to another. Architecture is more than an expression of our joys, anguish, rage, victories, and problems. Architecture must follow a strict set of guidelines before expressing man’s varying emotions. Tradition and culture lead the guidelines and principles in erecting and building. A man must design and create in accordance to the period or backdrop a piece belongs. Through architecture, the community and its inhabitants can speak to another generation their beliefs, rights, and traditions.
When a building, a bridge, or a church has served its function, when we have declared architecture as more lasting than the rest of the arts, and when we have given the establishments too much credit for serving us loyally, we seek and desire for something more from them. As we evolved mentally and emotionally, we develop dissatisfaction for simplicity, plainness, and mediocrity. We use our common senses to start discerning that which is not plain, simple, and mediocre and the greatest tool for this task is our philosophy.
And what better way to apply philosophy in architecture than to criticize a structure for its beauty or ugliness. Once we have applied this philosophy, we discover how sad our evolution has become. As our societies change forth into what we call a modernized world, our “modern” minds would dispose or discard slowly and gradually the old ways and traditions. There is no longer that appreciation for the artistic sides of things. They have been dismissed as impractical, costly, and useless, turning everything we create into mere thresholds of function (McElwee, 1996).
With this realization we go back to our dissatisfactions. Plainness and ugliness cannot stay visible forever, we consciously decide. It is no longer enough for a church to be just a place of worship. It has to speak through its design, color, and texture the religion of the people. To build a bridge is not only to nail pieces of woods and steel together and cover them up with solid cement. It has to be shaped in elegance and style. Monuments are not only a plain sculpture of a legend’s bust or body. It could be a palace or a beautiful arched tower. A business establishment is not merely a tall building.
Its concept of design could be stemmed from a businessman’s view of a successful life. Even a house or an apartment is not at all roofs on our heads and walls on our sides. It could be an outstanding structure among its surroundings. This is a tremendous challenge for architecture. It has to serve its basic purpose and function, and at the same time pass the critical judgment of philosophy, in this case, the philosophy of art and beauty called aesthetics. Of course there are always exceptions from the judgments and scrutiny. Poverty and economic instability are one.
In modern America, the poorest has to live in dilapidated housings where shelter is the only option to survive the cold and the heat. The lower-class struggle everyday to earn a penny for food and clothing. An idea to build a beautiful and spacious home is too bleak to consider. Some might just dwell under the bridges or lie down on the side of the streets. However, modernization has almost found itself among the groups of the poor. It has created, too, a concept that a structure that serves a role other than functionality is simply preposterous. Style, color, and beauty are not among the plans of the design.
They are costly and time-consuming for the owner. Architects are distressingly left with no choice but to build a cheap establishment that takes fewer amounts of time and effort. The concept of architecture has solely described the kind of life a man has with technologies around him. There is no longer a place for art and beauty in a vehicle and mobile revolution. A house or an apartment in this period is no longer designed with curves, arches, and elegance, but with dull straight lines that accommodate enough appliances and technologies the dwellers have in their life.
Aesthetics can help our modern minds get back to the original fundamentals of architecture: that beauty is included together with function and structure (Gatto, 2002). There is so much more in architecture than anything found in a painting on a wall, a sculpture of a goddess, a song of an opera, and a rhyme in a poem. But one should never forget that architecture, too, could stand beside these forms of art and be functional and beautiful at the same time. What then are the criteria for beauty? Do we build houses, towers, and bridges the way we paint a picture or write a song?
In a way, we do but, along with the history it represents, there are aesthetic values to consider. There has to be art and science in architecture. It is the aesthetic value of a piece of architecture that separates distinctly its function and purpose from the beauty and art in its form. It involves a calculative thinking of a mathematician and an expressive feeling of an artist. Beauty in architecture competes with beauty in nature. While nature has been the most beautiful and timeless piece of art ever created, architecture, too, has a responsibility to play as nature to man.
A construction of an object has to make the nature in the background looked more beautiful and appealing. It does not destroy or diminish the surrounding to where it stood. Considering the background was a barren piece of land, the object doesn’t make the whole picture look uglier, boring, and dry. It has to stand out as a distinction from the place, like a garden in a dessert or a lighthouse in a terrible storm. And of course, its beauty has to sustain its purpose. To design and to build is also to preserve its function and appeal.
It takes a specialty and an education to criticize a piece of architecture according to its beauty. According to Scruton, as cited in A Weekly Dose of Architecture website (2006), calling a painting or music beautiful is different from calling architecture beautiful. Only the keenest of eyes equipped with aesthetic knowledge can understand architecture’s details of structure, function and beauty. Beautiful for man is what he perceives as pleasurable to his senses. The colors of a painting, the sound of music, and the grace of a ballerina catches the eyes, the ears, and the sensations.
It is man’s most basic instinct of his judgment of beauty. That which delights and pleases him is beautiful. That which irritates and disgusts him is ugly. What makes certain things labeled as the opposite of beauty? A look at the surface of beautiful objects evokes timeless joy and appreciation. But to understand why it has delighted us takes a thorough observation and scrutiny of our eyes and minds. Beauty is an association and combination of the aspects of art – color, structure, shapes, texture, etc.
A right combination of colors, a perfect variation of lines and angles, and a precise proportion of each shape constitute a very attractive model of beauty. As mentioned earlier, man’s mentality evolves and changes. Our judgment for beauty deepens together with our intellect. Our feelings towards pieces of architecture vary overtime depending on the type of piece. We may have an understanding tolerance for a house or a store lacking in repairs but we don’t give considerations to a government hall, a church, or a huge commercial building to become less than what they were originally created for.
There are certain levels of judgment applied to different degrees of art. An architecture that houses, sustains, and encompasses a great number of dwellers requires greater attention and care for beauty and its preservations. Judgment is not only based in evolving intellects and mentality. So, too, can our emotions and beliefs towards certain things affect our taste for beauty. Religious biases, political dissents, racial and intellectual discriminations among other things provide a pre-conceived notion of how we view and react to things and objects.
The grandeur of the Vatican may look commanding and dominant for others who see Catholicism as not entirely the perfect religion around. The White House may disgust other countries because of the government’s overbearing tactics in war. Even the handsomely restored Germany may forever be treated with dread and despise by the Jews affected by the nightmares of the holocaust. This is what the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant pointed out (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2006). Man simply has this idea inside his head about a certain object. Through these ideas he forms his judgment and reactions to it.
So when the object has been made visible in front of his eyes, he already discerns it as beautiful or ugly. There is none of the hard work done in a careful assessment and scrutiny of every tiny detail. According to Kant, there are at least four factors to consider in making a judgment of beauty. A man has to experience joy and delight in something he sees as beautiful. The perfect blend of colors in a rainbow makes him smile that is why he calls it beautiful. Our judgment has to agree with almost everyone else, in fact with the whole universe, making the object universal.
The object has to have a role to play other than for display and viewing and creation simply has to serve its purpose that it has been designed for. In Kant’s Critique of Judgment, he emphasized the importance of an experience of observing beauty before judgments as to how and why it is called beautiful are being set up. In Christopher Alexander’s Nature of Order, Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life, he pictures the present generation of architecture as lacking in life (Mehaffy, n. d. ). He blamed architects for the sluggish attitude in designing and constructing buildings.
Architects have developed a similar attitude with the people, that in a technology-ruled and fast-paced world we lived in, we neglect to put details in architecture that breathes life. According to him, life is the most fundamental foundation of a structure. Life is breathing and moving. Architecture should be based on this and not on the robotic and mechanistic way our technologies convey. In our modern scientific way, the use of art has slowly been diminishing. Before it happens completely, let us bear in mind that without beauty in it is like a lonely statue of a hero standing out in a cold hard rain.
The statue has no life and it no longer feels cold or heat. But architecture is an essential part of our life. So its essence and foundation must breathe life. We must take comfort not only for the roof it provides above our heads but also for the pride it makes us feel because of its beauty. Architecture is both a responsibility and a privilege to provide and attract. It has to welcome and not to frighten anyone away. It has to project a remembrance of its existence and not to kill all the memories forever. Even an old uninhabited castle’s haunted feeling depicts the lives of the powerful family who once lived there.
But in our time today, the ugly unoccupied building gives us the shivers not because of the memories left there but of the hideous structure of the place. Architecture should never lose its beauty. After all, its ability to be the symbol of both science and art is what sets it apart. A house, a church, a store, a town hall, and a community that is devoid in beauty lack the true essence and purpose of life – creation. If we are indeed too practical, busy, and perhaps too frugal to incorporate art with our dwellings, then we are better off to live in cold hard unshapely caves. Works Cited

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