What does "beautiful architecture" mean?

What criteria do we need to determine if the architecture in front of us is beautiful or not?


The culture of each nation dictates its own vision of architecture. From the earliest times, we endowed the structures with sacred meaning. European architecture has its origins in Byzantium and Rome. Beautiful, meant to be made according to tradition, to order. Over the centuries almost nothing has changed. One good book on architecture was enough for 200-300 years. Questions about beauty were reduced to a question of conformity to canons.

Few of the classicist architects strove for originality. Among them reigned almost complete unanimity about how should be arranged all the elements of the facade and the internal layout of the building.

Andrea Palladio, Villa Rotonda
Andrea Palladio, Villa Rotonda, Vecenza
Christmas in a Chalet
Christmas, ~1400. The Book of Hours from the Paris Manuscript.
Huntington Library in Berkeley.

The design of the small dwellings of the common people was due to a number of reasons. Building materials and climate limited the ways in which walls, roofs, and facade decoration could be constructed. Getting materials from other regions was an extremely expensive undertaking. We had to use what we had on hand.

In addition, there were no picture books available back then. People didn't often travel by themselves to see unfamiliar architecture. This is why many early Northern European books portray the structure in which Christ was born as a Scandinavian chalet.

Broken landmarks

Next came books, roads, and scholarly travelers. After many expeditions written architectural guides of overseas countries gathered under one roof. It is known that foreign architects were invited to Russia more than once. It was suggested to build in the Italian, French or say Indian manner. Experiments and eclecticism have blurred the concept of norm and canon. What was now considered beautiful and right? After all, anything could be built.

The walls of the Cathedral of the Protection of the Holy Virgin
Postnik Yakovlev and Barma, the Cathedral of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, Moscow

The viewpoint of engineers

And then a new profession came on the scene: engineers. The industrial revolution came. The city needed hangars, train stations, bridges, factories. All this became possible thanks to steel and concrete. The new aesthetics proclaimed that what is functional is beautiful. A bridge is elegant if we are struck by the lightness with which a thin and weightless-looking structure can support a huge number of cars.

Villa Tugendgat
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Villa Tugendgat, Czech Republic
Adolf Loos
Adolf Loos graduated from the Higher Technical School in Dresden in 1905 and wrote the book "Ornament and Crime".

However, soon the manifesto of functionality began to reveal its excessive categoricalness, passing into a ban on the discussion of the beauty of architecture. Engineers took over. A building was considered successful if every element fulfilled a functional role, and unsuccessful if it was decorated in a pattern.

More importantly, the modernist architects remained as romantic as their predecessors. The architecture they created also tried not only to shelter people from the sun or rain, but to evoke a certain mood. They were decorations for the propagated ideal life of the future.

The aesthetic image of modernism was so important to the architects that more than once they betrayed even their own ideals of practicality. The Villa Savoy was an expensive construction fad and was built by hand. The walls and roof were meant to create a special sense of superiority and otherness, just as the jewel-encrusted aisles of a Catholic church during the Counter-Reformation. By Modernist standards, the flat roof was as much of a sham as the Classicist buildings.

Correspondence between the modernist villa landlady
and the architect

Madame Savoy Madame Savoy
There is dripping from the ceiling in the hallway, dripping from the ceiling above the ramp, and the garage wall is completely soaked with water. Moreover, my bathroom is still dripping from the ceiling, too, and in bad weather it floods because water spurts through the skylight.

Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier
This will be fixed immediately. Remember how much the flat roof delighted architectural critics around the world. You should put a table in the hall on the first floor, put a sketchbook on it and ask each guest to write his name and address on it. You'll see how many valuable autographs you'll get.

Madame Savoy Madame Savoy
After numerous demands on my part, you have finally conceded that it is impossible to live in the house you built in 1926. This is about your obligations, so I must not assume the required expenses. Please make it possible to live in it immediately.

f modernist architects were so concerned with beauty, why did they always talk about a scientific approach? For fear of coming under the same suspicion of pretentiousness as their classical colleagues. The rejection of the universal principle of beauty created the conditions for a universal critique of styles. "Science" helped persuade the doubters.

So how does one define a beautiful facade

John Reskin
John Reskin "We want two things from our buildings: that they give us shelter and that they speak to us-talk about what seems important to us and what we need to remember."

And yet it is possible to decide for ourselves the question of beauty. To do so, we have to remember that architecture always speaks to us. It speaks to each person separately, of longing for the past or aspiration for the future, of hospitality or threat, of openness or arrogance, of democracy or aristocracy.

Every object makes a certain impression on us. When we call a building beautiful, it is likely that we like the lifestyle it offers.

The resulting sense of beauty tells us that we have encountered a material expression of our ideas about the good life. This is why judgments about the beauty of architecture turn into more general arguments about people, ideas, and political agendas.

ДFor each person, judging the beauty of architecture is a decision about what is good and what is bad. Talking buildings help us think about values, not just how we would like the things around us to be.