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Architecture and Evolution: VI. Universal Principles for Good Architecture
As shown in the first three articles of this series, the evolution of our species has left us with innate aesthetic preferences. Summing things up, these include an appreciation of several types of symmetry and ornament, including ornament involving human and animal representations, foliage, flowers and spirals. More human universals in this domain may exist, but those are beyond the scope of this series.
In chapter V I have shown how, when some conditions hold, architecture evolves through an evolutionary process by aesthetic selection. This process would result in architecture that is optimally adapted to our aesthetic preferences, which are at least partly innate.
From these facts, we can deduce the following set of universal principles for designing beautiful architecture. The more strictly the architect abides by these principles, the more beautiful his designs.
1. Humans have an innate aesthetic preference for symmetry. If the architect’s goal is to create beautiful designs, he should strive to make sure viewers of the structure will be exposed to symmetry from as many positions as possible.
2. Humans possess an innate aesthetic preference for ornament and for some types of ornament in particular. This includes natural forms such as human and animal representations, foliage and flowers. Ornament should therefore play a principal role in architecture if its goal is to create beauty. Again, if the architect’s goal is to create beautiful designs, he should strive to make sure that those who view his structures will be exposed to ornament from as many positions as possible. The same applies to well-defined borders.
3. Architectural evolution through aesthetic selection results, over time, in architecture that is optimally adapted to our innate aesthetic preferences. To design aesthetically appealing structures, architects should therefore draw inspiration from and copy each other’s work, selecting for beauty. In principle, he should also keep to the conventions that characterise an architectural style, such as the design and proportions of a corinthian column. This does leave room for creativity, but the more perfected and thereby beautiful the architectural designs already conceived are, the less room there is to create more beautiful forms by deviating from what already exists. The more beauty exists, the more architects should be willing to copy.
Uniqueness and beauty are therefore more likely than not to be at odds with each other. If the architect aims to create beauty, copying and drawing inspiration from others should form a significant part of his work. He should not strive for uniqueness.
One might think that applying universal principles in architecture limits the architect’s creativity. It might, but given what has been shown so far it is more likely to lead creativity in the direction of creating value.
The ability of an architect to abstract timeless principles for beauty from the built environment enables him to apply them creatively, like many architects around the turn of the twentieth century did, which lead to the Art Nouveau style. The result is architecture that is both innovative and beautiful.
These principles for architectural beauty are universal, because they follow from human nature and the way in which architecture evolves towards its most beautiful potential. As long as our nature with respect to beauty does not change, these principles will remain universal.
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