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Aesthetics

Generalized philosophical theories of Aesthetics are not well suited to architecture, while they often are suited to art, music and literature. Architecture has elements of function, locality and a range of thematic differences that influence ones appreciation of architectural aesthetics.

Function:
The appreciation of a building is dependent on it functional performance as a means or end to particular functional requirements. Music must be heard to be experienced, like literature must be read to be experienced, however architecture is able to be experienced without being seen. The functional performance of a building has many other considerations than the visual, and functional determinism is part of one’s appreciation of a building. If one removes the functional attributes of a building then it becomes sculptural, no longer architectural. A building which fails to meet its functional demands is appreciated less, and enjoyed less by its users, however is the condition of the occupants experience suitably classified as an aesthetic one. Those which have not experienced the condition of occupancy, do not have their perspective influenced by that experience. Those which have experienced it, will have an emotional response to it, which in turn will influence there aesthetic appreciation of it. Were those experiences to be reasoned out and communicated to another, the experience could be emulated by the other to a limited degree. The functional qualities of a building influence onces aesthetic appreciation of a building, as when one perceives a building it is not only the visual information which is taken into account, but ones understanding of its meaning, its concept, its purpose.

Locality:
Works of art, music and literature (AML) can be realized, performed, moved, produced and reproduced independent of a location. Galleries exhibit art work for a typical 3 month term, music halls support the transmission of sound for concerts, libraries hold and manage access to stored information. In these 3 examples of architectural functions pertaining to art, music and literature, the building is the support structure for an art which has a higher metabolism and mobility. AML is able to move independent of location, while architecture as an art is dependent on site and context. The site proposes challenges, people, culture and events which influence ones appreciation of a building, the site can become part of the architectures aesthetic, perhaps in the way it plays with the land, or the way cultural events engage with it. Locality is a key point of difference between architecture and other forms of art, it is the anchor to one location, a location which is inextricably related to the appreciation of a building.

Architecture – Public Phenomenon:
Art, music and literature don’t impose their presence into ones view, nor take up ‘valuable’ sound space. Art, music and literature are chosen by the observer to be experienced, and should the experience be undesirable, then experience can be chosen to cease. Architecture, on the other hand, is massive and dominant, pushing its presence into view and potentially causing disruption to ones life. Architecture expresses itself to the public without observer consent, it continuously depicts the moment in which is was constructed – material use, composition, construction methods. One has no choice but to perceive and experience. AML is able to survive the hardest cultural disruptions because of a higher rate of renewal, it has less impact on ones daily life, it is able to dabble and choose ideas to express and refine a new direction faster than that of architecture.

Expectations for New:
Architectural aesthetics are expected to change and grow organically from the present style, often moving through moments of reflection upon and imitation of a pre-existing style. The expectation for new is there because we expect technology and quality of life to improve. When a new architectural aesthetic is produced because of a technological improvement, it can be appreciated as a signifier for that advancement. While the observer is not likely to consciously appreciate it as such, its newness to the architectural stock arouses curiosity as one seeks to understand its qualities. The new innovation can take shape in many forms, an incremental advancement is less likely to produce the same effect as a radical innovation because of its subtlety. A radical innovation is one which changes the inter-organization of core architectural concepts, and such a bold change could produce a building risk of social and industry rejection. Newness is not merely appreciated because its new, but because of the meaning is carries and the curiosity it instigates.

Technique:
The capacity of architectural aesthetics is constrained within, and executed by the competence of engineering. Discoveries and innovations in engineering often lead to spin off influences into architectural aesthetics, often with unpredictable uses. “The natural evolution of styles is cast aside, interrupted or set off at a tangent by discoveries that have no aesthetic origin and no aesthetic aim.” (Roger Scruton)

Enjoyment and thought:
Enjoyment is mediated through thought, our previous experiences and expectations, our understanding of history and cultural significance, etc. An aesthetic judgment can be made in relation to the object in question and its relation to man. Use and function come into play with regards to aesthetic appreciation. Our conception of a building determines our experience of it, an incomplete conception of a building, perhaps a single exterior passers-by perspective, will be different from one who has experienced the building under many environmental conditions, explored all the spaces, etc. Conception of the architecture is formed by experience, experience is formed by collective conceptions. What the observer knows greatly influences their experience of it, for example:

You are seeing a Grecian Temple, the weathering appears real the material looks of natural stone. Its cold to the touch, and you imagine the hands of the workers forming the 24 flutings to the columns, tapering gently to the top. The experience of the building is dominated by its scale, grandeur, age and the awe asked by “how did they do that?”

During your experience you learn that it was built recently as a film set, bought after the shooting to become a gallery. The building, with natural stone, built to dimensions in kind with originals was not ‘real’ anymore. Would your experience crash at that realization?

Reasons and experience:
A reason which can be shared and understood amongst others helps with the appreciation of the building. One who has had little experience with a particular building given with such a reason for another’s aesthetic appreciations will have their perception and experience changed.

During an interview (Audio soon to be posted) with Associate Professor Robert Wicks, hosted by myself,  we discussed the nature of aesthetics with a bent on the architectural. An interesting concept raised was the notion of Imaginative Resonance, the manner in which a building has moments which resonate with others. A building which responds well to its history, makes contrasting or balancing statements by orientation and mass, or uses traditional materials non-traditionally can create these imaginative resonances that are enjoyable by the perceiver. The more we know about something influences our appreciation of it, such is with architecture, music or wine. It is not simple to say one building looks better than another because all you may need to do is learn more about the building to appreciate its curiosities.

Primary reference: Architectural Aesthetics by Roger Scruton. British Journal of Aesthetics 13.4 (1973) p 327-345

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