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Architecture and Evolution: I. The Importance of Architecture
A short foundation on why beauty matters
Ever since humans started building, they have been engaging in architecture, a word derived from the Greek word arkhitekton or ‘chief creator’. Architectureis the art and technique of designing and building, as distinguished from the skills associated with construction. The practice of architecture is employed to fulfil both practical and expressive requirements, and thus it serves both utilitarian and aesthetic ends.
The great value of aesthetics in architecture can easily be derived from the fact that all advanced human civilisations have spent vast amounts of resources on it. Amongst societies that could afford to devote considerable resources to it, it has been a universal human phenomenon independent of time, culture and place. In ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman architecture, aesthetics already played a prominent role - In the homes found in Pompeii and Herculaneum, millions of visitors today still appreciate the murals the Romans adorned their chambers with.
Across the Atlantic, native American civilisations also engaged in the practice of aesthetic design in architecture long before Europeans first landed on their shores.
The value of architecture is therefore universal. It is not specific to any culture, time or environment. What determines the value of architecture must be intrinsic to human nature. It cannot be the result of cultural transmission - It could not have started in one place and subsequently spread to another. Where human civilisations arose, they developed their own architectural traditions independently, in adaptation to their specific environments, economic circumstances and aesthetic preferences.
Not only does history teach us the value of architecture; it is also confirmed by psychological and neurological research. The aesthetics of the built environment affect our mentaland physical wellbeing and even affects childhood brain development.
More recent economic data also shows architecture to be a valuable economic good. Every year, millions of tourists visit cities like Venice, Florence, Prague and Paris in large part for their architectural beauty. Although this value is largely external - That is, the value of a building’s beauty does not fully accrue to its owner - and therefore cannot be calculated with complete accuracy, its significance is evident.
Because of the magnitude of architecture’s value and its impact on human wellbeing and development, it is important to determine what should be considered ‘good’ architecture as opposed to ‘bad’ architecture. After all, an understanding of how architecture impacts public health and creates or destroys consumer value could allow governments and developers to become more competitive by increasing the satisfaction of whom they serve: the public.
In this series, the criterium for ‘good’ architecture will, as would be supported by most, be its impact on human wellbeing, which includes the degree to which it possesses beauty. Conversely, ‘bad’ architecture will be that which affects human wellbeing negatively and does not possess beauty, but ugliness.
Now that we have established that beautiful architecture matters, we can move on to the next article. We will look into one of the most universal and important themes in architectural history: symmetry.
Click here for the next article of this series.
Encyclopedia Britannica, retrieved 11 September 2021: https://www.britannica.com/topic/architecture
Weich, S. et al., May 2002, ‘Mental health and the built environment: Cross – sectional survey of individual and contextual risk factors for depression’, The British Journal of Psychiatry
‘Mental Health and the Built Environment: More Than Bricks and Mortar?’, David Halpern, 2014
Caspari, S. et al., 15 February 2011, ‘The importance of aesthetic surroundings: a study interviewing experts within different aesthetic fields’, retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-6712.2010.00803.x
Jedon, R., de Paiva, A., December 2019, ‘Short- and long-term effects of architecture on the brain: Toward theoretical formalization’, Frontiers of Architectural Research, retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095263519300585