Criticism in Architecture - Sample Essay

Criticism in architecture: does aesthetics matter in architecture? „Urgent questions which confront the architect are indeed philosophical questions? (Scruton 1979). In the letter of Goldberg (2003), criticism in architecture is considered as an audience guide to appreciate good design: The purpose of architecture criticism in the general media is to create a better educated more critically aware, more visually literate constituency for architecture… In contrast, Baird mentioned: Today criticality is under attack; seen by its critics as obsolete, as irrelevant, and/or as inhibiting design creativity (2004, p. 1).

The aesthetic experience in architecture is based on the perception of the qualities of the work of architecture. Our most concentrated perceptions of works of architecture are our quality of aesthetic experiences. The term aesthetics was coined by the German philosopher and educator, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, (born July 17, 1714 in Berlin, Prussia/ Germany died May 26, 1762 in Frankfurt an der Oder) who established then the aesthetic discipline as a distinct field of philosophical inquiry (Ziff 2000). Baumgarten believed the aesthetic value of a work of art could be determined by its ability to produce vivid experiences in its audience.

This essay will focus on the understanding of aesthetic implications in the work of architecture based on: ? ? ? ? The relevance of aesthetics in architecture; The relationship between work of architecture and that of art; The query whether aesthetics should be absolute or relative; and The interpretation of aesthetics in some contemporary works of architecture. The quote of Louis Sullivan; ‘Form (ever) follows function’ shows the importance attributed to aesthetics in a design. It is necessary then to start by defining what Baumgarten meant by the term aesthetics.

In the same perspective, Leath argued: Art does not exist independently of the experience of art. Aesthetics, then, is the study of all activity from the perspective that we are orienting ourselves to have certain perceptions (experiences). The aesthetician of visual art should have a good understanding of what combination of form and colour will encourage a certain kind of experience in an audience. The aesthetician of physical activity should know what intensity and type of exercise will have certain effects on the exerciser. Moreover, aesthetics can be applied to reason.

The aesthetician should know what kind of purely rational (if there is such a thing) exercise should produce a certain feeling in the person who is being rational. (1996) According to Welsch cited by Dale and Burrell: Some definitions of Aesthetics are; the appreciation of good design and that which provides good form, the ability to make a harmonious appealing whole from disparate elements, the appreciation of sensuous ( that which appeals to all the senses), that which concerns itself with phenomenological appearance and not substance…(2002, p. 78).

In addition, Dissanayake (1992) approved that aesthetic perception is not something that we learn or acquire for its own sake but is inherent in the reconciliation of culture and nature that has marked our evolution as humans. From the above points of view, we can notice that the aesthetic appeal involves human ability to perceive the value of aesthetics according to their background and degree of knowledge. For instance buildings fulfilling similar functions can be perceived differently according to the cultural belief, the sense of place and the period of time.

If we are to consider the primary role of the building, which of providing shelter against bad weather conditions, all buildings would have been as simple as just shelters. Roth described architecture as the unavoidable art. We spend our lives in and around buildings. Not only do they provide shelter, they shape the way we feel, the way we live, and the way we work. In fact, the history of architecture is the history of culture. The Great Pyramid, the Great Wall of China, the cathedral at Chartres, or the Empire State Building embodies the passions, hopes and dreams of humanity framed in time.

A piece of architecture evolves emotion due to the complexity or the composition of the design and according to the perception of the users. The architect and the user are therefore concerned when it comes to establish the meaning of a piece of architecture (Whyte 2006). According to Dovey (1991), in the creation of places, phenomenological approach is neither dominated by nor excludes aesthetics from its domain; it does not detach aesthetics from social life but treats it as an important and integral part of the everyday life world.

The value and the interpretation of aesthetics in architecture have changed throughout the history of architecture. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (Roman architect and Engineer, first Century B. C. ) mentioned in his multi-volume work ‘De Architectura’ (On Architecture), that a good design has to fulfil three conditions: beauty, usefulness and strength. Adolf Loos, a foe of ornamentation, argued: The beauty of an object only exist in relation to its purpose…the highest degree of functionality in harmony with all other part is what we call pure beauty (Gusevich 1988).

Nowadays, aesthetics is influenced by the new technology which brought new technics exploring the limitation the designs had before. But architecture differs from other artistic fields due to the fact that it is more orientated in the domain of utility (Carlson 1986). This understanding of architecture creates biases and we wonder whether utility should prevail on other functions attributed to works of architecture. According to Poriau (1986, p. 118); „Even technically clumsy, functionally mudded or economically disastrous architecture can have aesthetic value?.

Tschumi (1996) summarised that; „A piece of architecture is not architectural because it seduces, or because it fulfils some utilitarian function, but because it sets in motion the operations of seduction and the unconscious?. Architecture arouses feelings in people. The task of the architect is, therefore, to define what the feelings should be (Gusevich 1988). The purpose of aesthetics is to bring pleasure while establishing a defined relationship between the components of a whole.

Dissanayake (1995) said; „The aesthetic ability enabled us to bracket off the things and activities that were important to our survival, separate them from the mundane, and make them special: we enhanced objects to make them more attractive and pleasurable, more intriguing and more memorable?. According to Greenberg? s (1940) opinion; a good painting had to be stimulating, interesting, creative, original and exciting but not necessarily successful. A poor painting could offend through being superficial, decorative, precious or tenuous but more frequently because it was boring, imitative, eclectic, or employed means made stale by overuse.

This suggestion applies also in architecture and then leads us to the citation; „When creativity of art is moulded by preciseness of science to construct buildings it is called architecture?. The problem encountered by aesthetics in modern period was that it lost its sense of cultural representation. According to Carlson (1986); „the notion of fit is the key to the aesthetic appreciation of architecture in the broadest sense?. The value of aesthetics in architecture is controverted by that of semiotics.

These two concepts have different degree of importance according to different movement in architecture. In Minimalism movement, the work of architecture is set out to expose the essence; essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts. Mies Van der Rohe statement: less is more, implies simplicity and therefore another approach of aesthetics. Deconstructivism movement focus on the finished visual appearance of buildings. According to formalism; the value of art is to be located in its form, which is inseparable from its content.

Kant [1790] described as beautiful an object or mode of representation which causes delight apart from any interest. He mentioned flowers, free patterns, lines aimlessly intertwining, as pleasing despite having no signification, and he having a disinterested and free delight in the experience (Ziff 2000). Scruton mentioned: …Architecture is constrained by external influences. Things have to fit together, and often the ambition of the architect resides not in individuality of form, but rather in the preservation of an order that pre-exists his own activity (1979, p. 12)