The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 10

Since the discussion of architectural aesthetics has acquired a fairly recent scientific
pedigree, it is no longer possible - or useful - to discuss beauty in purely subjective
terms. As one New Yorker cartoon put it: "I don't know much about art, but I know
what I'm supposed to like."
Science is the pursuit of quantifying things. Everything can be counted. If you can't
count it, it may not actually exist. Even beauty can be counted. Art, on the other hand,
is the pursuit of experience - counting doesn't lead to beauty therefore, according to
some poets and mathematicians, not to truth. For more on this subject, be sure to
read Ian's Objective Angle, starting on page 14.
HOW BUILDINGS ARE DISCUSSED AFFECTS HOW THEY ARE PERCEIVED.

Architects and laypeople have very different ways of thinking about and talking about
architecture. There is too little common ground and insufficient common language.
This makes the general public feel ignored, as though architects live in a separate
world. If a goal of the profession is to open the dialogue between professionals and
non-professionals, then our best hope is to establish, at the very least, a mutually
understood language.
Ultimately, our goal is not necessarily to distinguish beauty from ugliness, but to find
out why some buildings, especially those that architects seem to like, are perceived as
ugly by members of the general population. Is it possible that by improving our communication, we can improve perceptions of our work and, ultimately, of our profession?
A QUICK REFRESHER ON ARCHITECTURAL DISCUSSION

For over two millennia, architects have had the same mantra: firmitas, utilitas et
venustas, or "make it stand up, make it useful, make it nice." Later, Sir Henry Wotton
translated venustas as delight, which was inspirational, but inaccurate. Venustas refers
to physical beauty (the quality of the goddess Venus). Buildings, according to Vitruvius
and to architects for the next two millennia, have to look good.
1. firmitas, utilitas et venustas
2,000 years ago, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio in his work
De Architectura, proposed that good architecture
possessed these three fundamental virtues, later
translated into English as "firmness, commodity
and delight." This template has endured into the
21st century.
2. Until the late 19th century, architecture was a popular topic of discussion.
At the time that Canada became a country, architectural discussion revolved around styles and ideals of
beauty. Anyone could - and did - participate in the
discussion.
3. Early in the 20th century, beauty became detached
from art.
Now, discussions about art and architecture became the
private domain of philosophers, artists and architects.
4. Architecture and design became attached to utility.
Beauty became a function of usefulness, not artistic
tastes. Form followed function. Many architectural movements ensued.
5. Postmodernism pushed back.
Among its accomplishments, Postmodernism reintroduced building aesthetics. The
discussion of appearances resumed within the profession, but the general public
didn't know what to think.
6. New architectural forms continue to challenge conventional ideas about beauty.
Other considerations, including sustainability, experiential design, branding, etc.
introduce ideals that are neither conventionally aesthetic nor necessarily functional. New forms are experimental and "challenging." The public remains alienated
and baffled.
10 | Read The Right Angle Journal online www.therightanglejournal.ca

FOUNTAIN, PARIS, MARCEL
DUCHAMP, 1917
CREDIT: ALFRED STEIGLITZ,
PUBLIC DOMAIN



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017

Message from the Board
Why aren’t All Buildings Beautiful?
Resilience: The Forest and the Trees
Index to Advertisers
Locations: City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Intro
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - cover1
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - cover2
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 3
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 4
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 5
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 6
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Message from the Board
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Why aren’t All Buildings Beautiful?
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 9
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 10
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 11
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 12
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 13
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 14
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 15
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 16
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 17
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 18
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Resilience: The Forest and the Trees
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Index to Advertisers
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Locations: City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 22
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - cover3
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - cover4
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