On Architecture and the Nature of Decay
The functional purpose of aesthetic design and the new responsibility of the Right
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, "Veduta di altra parte della Camera Sepolcrale di L. Arrunzio"
Is there confusion in the little isle?
Let what is broken so remain.
The Gods are hard to reconcile:
’Tis hard to settle order once again.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Lotos-Eaters
Beauty — to what end?
Architecture is the most accessible and most public of all the art forms; every soul alive today and tomorrow is a stakeholder in architecture: you most likely live in a house, work in a building, or several, and walk past myriad other structures many times each day. Architecture exists to serve the general population, who experience a certain value, either positive or negative, from the architecture that they see. Hegel, in his lectures on aesthetics, states:
For when architecture serves a purpose, the real purpose is there independently … as human individuals as a community or nation for ends which are universal
The beauty of aesthetics in architecture did not appear out of thin air; rather, it has been developed and cultivated, as all art forms have, through many generations, and, like other art forms, good architecture maintains a timeless appeal. As functional art, however, it serves a purpose other than precipitating introspection: it is there to solve a problem, be that of housing or workspace or some other meaning. As American architect Joseph Esherick wrote:
Beauty is a consequential thing, a product of solving problems correctly
Man does not need to be taught to appreciate beautiful architectural design; it is innate in his being. As one appreciates the beauty of nature, of the patterns in the petals of flowers and the treetops which may never touch, one appreciates architecture and the mathematical beauty which comes with it. In a universe of disorder, beauty is found in attempting to reduce the entropic qualities, in creating order out of chaos.
Architectural design, i.e. of a single building, is borne out of an individual’s desire for a certain amount of chaos or order, somewhere on a scale of zero to one. This individual is the architect. If he is to strive for more order than chaos, then his building will be as those before it; it will fit into the local area, it will elicit good feelings in the public who see it, it will be aspirational, and it will be inoffensive. If he is to strive for more chaos, the building will take on a life of its own, for chaos is a hard thing to control.
It is in the nature of humanity, for the most part, to strive towards order [Nick Land has left the chat]. It can therefore be argued that there is a morality of right and wrong positively associated with order and chaos. If one is to believe, as one should, in an objective morality and an objective sense of right and wrong, and that aesthetics are both a product of and precipitative of a certain worldview, then one can deduce that there are certain styles and traditions relative to the various cultures of the world which act most in favour of the common good. English philosopher Roger Scruton wrote in relation to this:
It is the outcome of thought and education; it is expressive of moral, religious and political feelings, of an entire Weltanschauung, with which our identity is mingled. Our deepest convictions seek confirmation in the experience of architecture, and it is simply not open to us to dismiss these convictions as matters of arbitrary preference about which others are free to make up their minds, any more than it is open to us to think the same of our feelings about murder, rape or genocide.
With a deterioration of a public sense of moral right and wrong in our current age, the deterioration of architectural standards have followed suit. Modernist architects do not seek to appeal to the masses; they seek only to appeal to other architects, and to organisational bodies who will reward their creativity and vision with prizes and awards. Daedalus would be ashamed. The exponential ridiculousness of their designs are largely due to an idea which Curtis Yarvin refers to as the “selective advantage of dominant ideas”. In short, to have a view that goes against the grain, in this instance as a contemporary architect saying “modern architecture is objectively bad”, is counterintuitive to that individual’s place in the architectural world. He will not get commissioned for building projects or be given awards if he believes the whole culture is a sham.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, “Veduta dell’Arco di Tito”
The responsibility of the public
There is no easy fix for what can be described as a drastic and accelerated change of worldview. The first step, however, is clear: responsibility must be taken. There is a difference between responsibility and blame. It is difficult to blame anyone for what has happened: is the architect to blame for designing a horrid building, or is it the institution in which he was taught to design in such a way? Where did the institution come by their views? Such is the problem with the cathedral. Responsibility, on the other hand, is much easier to place. It is the responsibility of anyone who cares about the problems to help develop the solutions; architecture is, after all, for the purpose of the public good, and it is moral and correct to have the interests of your neighbours in your heart, at least according to God’s commandments. It is for such a reason that an increasing proportion of the youth are drawn towards more right-wing viewpoints and political parties, especially in the working and lower-middle classes where such beliefs have always been held, but have only recently become “right-wing”. James Ellis, popularly known as Meta-Nomad, outlines this changing demographic well:
If one is to look for other reasons as to why conservatism and right-wing political thought is gaining traction with the youth, they need look no further than what it is the right-wing sells: responsibility. The disrespectful chaos of the left ultimately leads nowhere, and now more than ever the chaos has become physically emboldened by the ‘paradise time-islands that are Universities. And so when the young are surrounded by nothing but disenfranchisement, disrespect and blame, those who are sensible look for the groups taking the full force of the burden, those owning up to having to deal with the problem - whatever it may be - themselves.
This is not to say that people should join whatever right-wing political party is local to them, be they the Conservatives or the Republicans or whatever. It is not about politics; politics are part of the problem. I, myself, do not subscribe to any party political ideology; I do not vote in elections; I do not support any particular politician.
The purpose of this writing is not to provide a solution to this problem. This would be a momentous task and inconceivable for a single person to provide. What I do hope to achieve, however, is to encourage you, the reader, to acknowledge that it is partially your responsibility to be concerned about the current state of affairs. As I mentioned before, this change will only come with a drastic change in worldview, which starts with one person at a time. It is not about going backwards, it is about understanding the fundamentals of what is important for the wellbeing of society as a whole. It is bigger than just bricks and stone. I hope that you agree.
The artwork in this article is from Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Venetian classical architect, archaeologist and artist. He died in 1778, and was buried in a church which he helped restore.
Take care, and do keep in touch.
NB: A small portion of this piece has been lifted from an upcoming work I have been producing for the Orthodox Conservatives think tank, of which I am the lead researcher in relation to architecture and aesthetics. This piece expands on some of the ideas mentioned here, and provides some policy recommendations to the government on how best to begin to solve certain problems within the overall question of architecture. You can follow the organisation on Twitter to keep up to date with the progress of this piece, and to read some other valuable commentary; it should be made available in the coming weeks.