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THE NATURE OF BEAUTY Chris Blake student number: 00339105


A dissertation submitted to the Manchester School of Architecture for the degree of Batchelor of Architecture Manchester School of Architecture University of Manchester Manchester Metropolitan University Declaration No portion of the work referred to in this dissertation has been submitted in support of an application for another degree or qualification of this or any other university or institute of learning.

Copyright Statement 1 Copyright in text of this thesis rests with the author. Copies (by any process) either in full, or of extracts, may be made only in accordance with instructions given by the author and lodged in the John Rylands Library of Manchester. Details may be obtained from the librarian. This page must form part of any such copies made. Further copies (by any process) of copies made in accordance with such instructions may not be made without the permission (in writing) of the author. 2 The ownership of any intellectual property rights, which may be described in the thesis, is vested in the Manchester School of Architecture. It is subject to any prior arrangement to the contrary and may not be made available for use by third parties without the written permission of the university, which will prescribe the terms and conditions of any such agreement. 3 Further information on the conditions under which closures and exploitation may take place is available from the Head of Department of the School of Environment and Development.


Contents Introduction

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Chapter 1 - Beauty and the spirit Standards of beauty Two moral poles Poverty of the spirit The act of art

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Chapter 2 - Beauty and use Unattainable beauty What’s the use? The futility of utility

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Chapter 3 - Beauty as a motive Beauty is in the ordinary Concealing the artist Architecture as a backdrop Silence

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Chapter 4 - The fear of beauty The measure of art Vulnerability Reinstating beauty

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Conclusion

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Figures

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Bibliography

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Introduction Is the fulfillment of beauty within the reach of man? This study aims to explore the nature of beauty and whether and by what means man can hope to attain it in the created work. Are there certain universal standards by which judgements about beauty may be made, and, if so, what forms the basis of these judgements? The pre-Enlightenment view was one that placed the sacred at the root of beauty. In more recent times, the work of Luis Barragan is an architecture rooted in a devotion to the spiritual. The architect described this approach in his acceptance speech for the Pritzker Prize in 1980. It was his belief that art could only be understood in light of the sacred. The physical work of art can be seen as the manifestation of God, or is merely an attempt by artists to emulate the qualities of goodness and virtue associated with an intrinsical purity and innocence. Barragan’s faith oriented philosophy is evident in the silent, sacred spaces in his buildings, and his work has partly informed the character of this exploration. The condition of the artist is examined in an attempt to explore the role and nature of motive in the attainment of beauty: is beauty the product of a selflessness shown towards others or can it be embodied in an approach that pursues the promotion of self and the created work? What is the distinction to be made between inner beauty and an outward aesthetic? Juhani Pallasmaa’s The Eyes of the Skin has served as a key text in this regard. He observes a growing orientation towards image and idea in architecture that distances the viewer from the object. He distinguishes between an architecture of tactility and sensuousness and one that is vision-centred and alienating. The selflessness of the artist can be related to an attitude of disinterest felt towards things both in the natural world and created by man. This concept, first put forward by Immanuel Kant, describes the relationship

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between viewer and object as one where both seek only to give to one another. As part of this study, the nature of beauty is discussed in light of Kant’s theory and whether an artform predisposed to use, such as architecture, can be viewed in such a way. Can a building be seen as beautiful since it performs an inherent function? Furthermore, what is the nature of use in architecture, and does a building serve other purposes that are not strictly utilitarian? The beautifying qualities of the man-made work are compared to those of the natural world. The beauty of nature is without evidence of a creator, and man has made many attempts to contrive an approach that removes the artist from the creative process. Artistic movements such as Automatism and Surrealism both explored methods based around chance and the absence of consciousness, where the artist was not engaged in the creative act. Architecture, however, is embedded in the natural world, so, therefore, can the same judgements of beauty be applied? Is beauty some form higher ideal, or is it evidenced in the ordinary, mundane pursuits of everyday life? The artist will often strive for beauty and yet beauty can be discerned in fleeting instances such as in the naive dance of a child or, in the wabi view, the imperfection of a hand fashioned soup bowl. Finally, is there a prevalence in today’s secular culture of a fear of and resistance towards beauty? There is a predominant attitude in the creative world towards the pursuit of the “original”, an approach that rejects inherited knowledge and promotes the satisfaction of self and the ego. This study closes with a brief exploration of the standards by which art measures itself and the nature of the trend to forgo these standards.

Introduction

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Chapter 1 Beauty and the spirit “Without the desire for God, our planet would be a sorry wasteland of ugliness.� Luis Barragan

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Standards of Beauty In his documentary Why Beauty Matters, Roger Scruton states that “There are standards of beauty, which have a firm basis in human nature” (2009). This is a view of beauty that is unaffected by time and circumstance and is grounded in something boundless, which can be perceived by everybody, exclusive of any form of religious belief. The opening quote to this chapter is taken from Luis Barragan’s Pritzker Prize acceptance speech. Elsewhere in his speech, the architect elaborates on the importance of the spiritual in his work: “It is impossible to understand art and the glory of its history without avowing religious spirituality and its mythical roots that lead us to the very reason of being of the artistic phenomenon” (1980). Barragan’s was an architecture of humility, borne from the small Mexican towns and villages in which he spent much of his life. The beauty of Barragan’s architecture is rooted in the spirit of these humble settings and a deep appreciation of the spiritual. To him, “Human life deprived of beauty is not worth being called so” (1980). In his essay Matter and Time, Pallasmaa also discusses an architecture of humility. He writes of what he calls a weak and fragile architecture that envelopes people rather than distancing itself from them. Like Barragan, he cites the haphazard and intimate architecture of traditional towns and villages as one that is spiritually uplifting: “The pleasurable experience of vernacular settings arises from a relaxed sense of appropriateness, causality and contextuality rather than any deliberate aspiration for preconceived beauty” (1999). Such environments were created with no discernible guiding concept or sense of imagery, but are more the result of an additive process informed directly by a multitude of local constraints and immediate need. Barragan located the spiritual at the basis of the existence of beauty. It provides a universal, timeless connection at the heart of human nature, in which fundamental truths about beauty are grounded.

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“Do not do what I do, see what I saw.” Barragan’s approach was rooted in an appreciation of the values discerned from the towns and villages he’d experienced: Street in a Mexican village.

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Everyone has a spiritual need of which man seeks an element of fulfillment in the experience of a work of art. An exploration of the nature of beauty, and its origin in the sacred, forms the basis of this study.

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Beauty requires an act of creation, and fundamental to this is a desire to share with others a vision of the world. Creation is therefore a selfless act. Beauty can not be selfish. True beauty requires complete disregard for the betterment of self, and total focus on others. It is forgiving and redemptive and understanding; qualities that require putting others first and acknowledging its own weakness. It is the ultimate paradox of the nature of the spirit that those imbued with the greatest power consider themselves least of all. Architecture that resonates in such qualities makes an offer to us to examine them within in ourselves. It is worth noting that meekness and humility can be embodied by all buildings from the most opulent to the most meagre. The wealthiest man can be the poorest in spirit, so long as material wealth or outward aesthetic are not afforded a bearing on this central condition.

Of what worth is life deprived of beauty?: A scene typical of delapidated post war social housing estates.

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Two moral poles In modern times, gratification of self has cultivated a world that has become increasingly devoid of the spiritual. Ours is a culture of desire, where wants and appetites can be satisfied instantaneously. Architecture today offers little resistance to this condition, instead often adopting a position where buildings aim to impose themselves upon the world. Pallasmaa identifies this in The Eyes Of The Skin (1996), observing that, in recent years, art and architecture have become increasingly “ocularcentric”, or focused on image and gratification, centred around the sense of sight. He recognises a prevalence of the disconnection between object and viewer, a kind of alienation where the two are separate, independent entities. A haptic, sensuous architecture he describes as joining viewer and object in a passive relationship. When viewed in light of the spiritual, this argument can be simply

The aim of a purely conceptual art is extinguished in its statement; the physical work needn’t exist: Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965.

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deconstructed between two opposing states: selfishness and selflessness. Architecture with strong haptic qualities aims to give to the viewer, nurturing contact, where both share in a mutual exchange. Conversely, an architecture of ideas and image aims to distance itself from the viewer, thereby alienating itself from them. An architecture of concept and image is self-fulfillling, wishing to elevate the observer to its level. Beauty is predicated on a selfless love of others. The beauty of the natural world can be said to be a show of love towards mankind. It is a love that is unconditional, that seeks only to give and indiscriminately so. The act of creation, rather than being an attempt to emulate the sacred, is an attempt to practise its values and adopt its characteristics. The inherent beauty of the natural world is an act of giving as it was placed here for no use, but for the pleasure of human beings. Describing this beauty, Ruskin said, “The actual flower is the plant’s highest fulfilment, and are not here exclusively for herbaria, county floras and plant geography: they are here first of all for delight” (n.d.). And from the Book of Matthew: “See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-29, New International Version). Solomon, the richest man in the Bible, sought to adorn himself in a way opposed to the humility shown by created things. His motives were misplaced: the display of personal wealth and status. The flower has no motive, only the pleasure of others. Likewise, the flower has no idea to offer, only itself, or, as Albert Einstein put it, “Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most powerful gift” (n.d.). The work of art can invest the ugliest of objects with beauty. The artist can show forgiveness and acceptance, redeeming the object of its shortcomings and elevating it, making it beautiful. It could be said that it is a spiritual ideal towards which the work of art is striving.

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“I feel that there is nothing truly more artistic than to love people”: Vincent van Gogh, Shoes, 1888.

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Poverty of the spirit Recurrent throughout religious texts is the importance of the pursuit of the inner beauty over outward aesthetic. From the book of 1 Peter: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair or the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle spirit…” (1 Peter 3:3-4, New International Version). On the creation

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of architecture, Blessed William of St Mary wrote, “Let those whose care for what is within makes them despise and neglect all that is outward, erect for their own use buildings conceived according to the form of poverty, taking holy simplicity as a model and following the lines laid down by the restraint of their fathers� (as quoted by Herve 2002, p. 83). This is quoted in The Architecture Of Truth, a photographic journal of the abbey at Le Thoronet. This depicts a state of mind that has a bearing on buildings of all types and not just religious buildings. It describes an attitude of humility and acceptance, which gleans from inherited knowledge and experience. A poverty of the spirit is central to the creation of beautiful objects. In order for true beauty to flourish, the attainment of outward beauty must be totally disregarded. Beauty in the arts, and especially in architecture, can be read in the values possessed by a building and how these are outwardly manifested, an assertion that is grounded in its spirit rather than its design. This is to say that beauty can not be

Monastic simplicity in the 21st Century: John Pawson, Novy Dvur Cistercian Monastery, completed 2004.

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The traditional view of the Holy Grail is an expression of humility and meekness.

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predetermined, but is rather the product of a spiritual poverty and desire to pursue core values. Any amount of cosmetic treatment cannot produce a beautiful result if the motive is solely outward adornment and the promotion of self. This is the secular view of beauty that is designed to create dissatisfaction with self, which forms an ideal that is unattainable. Buildings that seek a poverty of spirit will endure long after any architectural style based on aesthetics and ideas. They are beautified by the passage of time, as opposed to stylised, ideated objects that reject the effects of time and are diminished by it. Ultimately, a poorness of spirit connects us with the eternal, allowing us to glance beyond the temporariness of the physical world. It is a state that nurtures values like wisdom and understanding. Such

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values are rooted in human nature and possess a timelessness insofar as they are as fundamental to this generation as to the next and the previous. Such core values form a continuum to which an architecture that pursues them seeks to connect.

The act of art The work of art transfigures the real in the light of the ideal. It does this partly by acting as a vehicle through which the most significant values can be conveyed. At the root of spiritual fulfillment is a need to give and receive such things as forgiveness, understanding and unconditional love. The products of the spirit affect us in the most meaningful ways and, as a result of their ability to reduce and elevate

The scene of hundreds of years of drying clothes: An old Mediterranean street.

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people to the same level, fulfill the highest ideals of democracy, which disregards such things as wealth and social status. Values such as humility, wisdom and meekness can be discerned in the objects of our everyday environment. The philosopher Alain de Botton explores how we find beauty in objects that possess those qualities we ourselves lack. In his book The Architecture of Happiness, he recognises our astuteness at perceiving human qualities in even the most abstract and simple of objects. Happiness, he observes, can well

Enrichment through decay and weathering: An old red barn.

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up from expressions of love represented by simple geometric objects such as an idea of maternal love portrayed in Barbara Hepworth’s Two Segments and a Sphere (2006, p. 82). Architecture lacks some of the immediate visceral impact of other art forms such as film and music, but has a latent, timeless nature that can be compared to a relationship between two human beings. A building can offer wisdom through its pockmarked features and face worn by the passage of time. It can speak silently of its experience and testify to centuries of human effort and activity. This is not the case with other physical artistic media such as film and painting. The passage of time cannot be conveyed in a painting, for example, which, in order to achieve its fullest effect, must be maintained in the same condition in which it was created. Buildings are ever present, forming the backdrop to our daily lives and acting as host to human events and experiences. As with people, we observe in them and are sensitive to the ways they are shaped and changed by weathering and natural processes. Evidence of the effect of time is emphasised in the use of natural materials such as stone and wood. Materials taken straight from the earth welcome the decay brought on by natural processes as they would had they not been fashioned into a building. Machined materials reject these processes, uncomfortably bearing the marks of decay as if in a parasitic relationship. This is not to say, though, that buildings should be left to decay and crumble into ruins, but achieve a special quality in being allowed to weather and erode.

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Chapter 2 Beauty and use “Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies, for example.� John Ruskin

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Natural beauty The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (2003) put forward that judgements of beauty have a universal validity that is not based on concepts. He determined that these judgements were not governed by rules, but rather by feelings, especially feelings of pleasure. Kant distinguishes between judgements of beauty based on feelings and judgements of perception based on objective sensation. Judgements of beauty he describes in terms of a “disinterested attitude”, where the viewer has no desire for the object: the viewer does not wish to use the object or gain from it, but merely to attest to what it is. Furthermore, judgements of beauty have no motive or end; the experience is enough. Kant’s theory is concerned primarily with objects of the natural world, which are seemingly without creator and can exist in a state of complete selflessness. Manmade objects, no matter the motivation behind them, can be made to meet only selfish ends. At one extreme, even a work of art predicated on a complete absence of utility presupposes a desire to be beheld in that way. In Kant’s view, the experience of an object is influenced by the motives and processes behind its creation. Therefore no manmade object can be viewed with a total selflessness on the part of the object and viewer as the motive will always pursue a purpose. Only with the pure innocence of a child can man act out of a complete selflessness. This is a state that cannot be regained once it has been lost and any notion of selfish desire has taken hold. At some stage a child will begin to seek fulfillment of some form from the creative act, whether it be in the adoration of parents or reward and praise. Picasso once said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” (n.d.). But to create a work of art with the same unmotivated naivety is something altogether different. This being the case, it is impossible to view a work of art with an attitude of disinterest. In Kant’s view, the artwork’s pursuit of beauty is a futile one, and the closest it can come to attaining it is through

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“Art for art’s sake, with no purpose, for any purpose perverts art. But art achieves a purpose which is not its own.” Benjamin Constant: Andre Masson, Automatic Drawing,1924.

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imitation of the natural world: “Nature proved beautiful, when it looked at the same time as art; art can only be called beautiful, when we are conscious of its being art, and yet it looks to us as nature” (as quoted by Scha 2001). Architecture can seek to attain this integration

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by offering itself to become part of the natural world. It welcomes this mimesis partly by allowing the effects of natural processes and weathering to be imparted upon it. A building can speak to us as the natural world in which it is embedded, but we will still be conscious of its being a building. A building will always seem inferior to its natural setting as a consequence of its self-motivation.

An artwork pursues beauty through imitation and integration with the natural world: Henry Moore, Locking Piece, 1963-64.

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What’s the use? Artforms such as painting and sculpture can be beheld with no pertinence to use, but architecture must possess both beauty and utility.

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Therefore, in light of an attitude of disinterest, can architecture be looked upon free from allusions to use and personal gain? Or, what are the benefits of architecture that are not strictly utilitarian? To Gaston Bachelard (1994, p. 6) the primary benefit of the house is to “shelter daydreaming.” Bachelard’s house firstly provides a refuge for the dreamer. The artist James Turrell creates spaces that bring the viewer into intimate communion with nature. His is an architecture free from utilitarian concerns that, in a sense, nurture daydreaming and contemplation. Currently being modified in a remote desert in Northern Arizona is the Roden Crater, his most ambitious project to date. The crater is being converted into a series of spaces that aim to foster a heightened perceptual and sensual awareness, “a naked eye observatory” (Tracht 2003). Such a work can be related to the great cathedrals in its capacity to evoke a sense of awe in the viewer. In his work, Turrell explores the distinction between the use and beauty of light and space: “We don’t really pay much attention to the light itself. And so turning that and letting light and sound speak for itself is that you figure out these different relationships and rules” (Art:21 n.d.). Light and space can possess both beauty and utility together, as well as having one without the other: we use light to read and to illuminate our cities, and this light may not necessarily be beautiful. Turrell’s environments bring the viewer into a relationship with light that asks the viewer to behold it merely for what it is. His sky spaces frame the gentle nuances in the quality and tone of light throughout the day. The beauty of his architecture is centred on perception and contemplation. Light and space form the basis of architecture. Therefore, as in the case of Turrell’s work, can architecture be considered simply as a vehicle that focuses experiences of and relationships with light and space? An architecture that is liberated from utilitarian concerns can be looked upon with greater freedom from a desire for personal benefit. Space with no predisposition to use can be admired for what it is, free

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Architecture that channels experiences of light and space: James Turrell, Sky Space, 2001.

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from any desire to gain from it. In his book In Praise Of Shadows, Junihiro Tanizaki reflects on the experience of contemplative space. Describing the traditional Japanese toilet, he says, “No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji,

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Sacred domestic spaces: A view into the garden from the dining room of the Luis Barragan House.

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lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden� (2001, p. 9). Much like a Turrell installation, Tanizaki’s toilet is a space where the viewer is allowed to partake in an intimate communion with the natural world. The author likewise explores the beauty of light and, in particular, the dimness or low light that characterises traditional Japanese architecture.

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The futility of utility An architecture that pursues beauty will be useful long after an architecture concerned primarily with utility. The pursuit of utility is a selfish one, and the more selfish the motivation, the uglier and more short lived the outcome will be. There is, after all, no practical use for wisdom and understanding. Architecture that pursues such values speaks of the nature and worth of humanity. We nurture these values in ourselves in order that our lives may have a more meaningful bearing on the lives of others. We make a special effort to preserve buildings that speak to us in this way, even when their use has to be modified and reorganised to meet changing needs. There is both a spiritual and economic price to be paid for the pursuit of usefulness. So many utilitarian high rise housing blocks and office buildings constructed since World War II have long since been demolished. Of the few left standing there is no small amount

Beauty will outlast utility: A converted wheelbarrow.

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of recladding and paint work being done in an attempt to aestheticise them. Today’s consumerist culture is one in which utility is given unprecedented prominence. The objects that furnish our homes, rather than being treated with the care and attention they were once afforded, are made solely to perform a function and are disposed of as soon as they first breakdown. Likewise mass housing is developed with the same temporariness, often with a lifespan of no more than twenty-five to thirty years. In the early 1990s, the Lifetime Homes initiative was developed as a way of providing homes that are longstanding. As well as making houses more accessible, the concept recognised a desire among people to have a home they could live happily in for the duration of their lives. Lifetime Homes stresses the need to accommodate changes within both the individual and family unit. Architecture provides us with a window into the passage of time. A house encapsulates memories and signs of the lives lived in it. It speaks of the longstanding relationship between it and its inhabitants, as well as of previous generations who once lived there. In Heidegger’s view, building is a form of dwelling, which describes the way people are on earth: “...we attain to dwelling, so it seems, only by means of building. The latter, building, has the former, dwelling, as its goal” (as quoted by Everything2 n.d.). Building provides a spiritual connection with the earth, and a house is a place of lifelong serenity and refuge upon it. The longevity and permanence of architecture allows us to accept the realities of being, the passing of time and, ultimately, death.

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Chapter 3 Beauty as a motive “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.” Oscar Wilde

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Beauty is in the ordinary Peter Zumthor describes those latent qualities of architecture that, as with natural things, make it beautiful in its being. In his book Thinking Architecture, the architect writes, “To me, buildings have a beautiful silence that I associate with attributes such as composure, self-evidence, durability, presence, and integrity, and with warmth and sensuousness as well; a building that is being itself, being a building, not representing anything, just being” (2006b, p. 34). As observed by Pallasmaa (1999), beauty can not be preconceived. It can be neither sought nor attained, but is rather “… a logical result of having everything in the right place,” he says, quoting Erik Bryggman. In other words, the pursuit of beauty is self-defeating. The architect can not hope to achieve a beautiful result by employing methods that focus on the attainment of beauty. The pursuit of beauty is rather achieved indirectly by focusing on inner qualities such as those described by Zumthor. Such values can be discerned beyond any amount of make-up and cosmetic treatment. True beauty can not be achieved through mere outward adornment and decoration. Pursuing beauty can lead to the alienation of the viewer, producing results that are too often bereft of spiritual fulfillment. At the beginning of the 20th Century a number of artistic movements sprang up that explored a more analytical approach to the subject. The Imagists in poetry sought clarity of expression in reaction to the excessive abstract language of Georgian Romanticism. Item 1 of The Imagist Manifesto states, “To use the language of common speech, but to employ exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word” (as listed by CPCW 2007) Their approach to beauty was through absolute integrity to their materials that rejected any form of ornate or flabby usage of them. As the poet uses words, so the architect uses materials, and he must express clearly and with integrity the values of the materials at

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Beauty in the everyday: Peter Zumthor, Bruder Klaus Chapel, completed 2007.

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his disposal. In terms of the Imagist idea of using the exact word to express the intention, this can be related in the use of materials sourced locally that have a precise relationship to the building and site. Tanizaki writes, “The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life” (2001, p. 29). The attainment of beauty requires an act of faith, resulting as a consequence of other, much lesser objectives. By pursuing noble objectives such as wisdom, integrity and understanding, the created object will far more likely be one from which beauty results. This is to say that the architect has only an indirect control over the eventual appearance of the building, an aspect that, in today’s culture, has claimed such importance. The architect today is under pressure to create beautiful looking objects, with lessening regard given to the building’s spirit or inner value. A converse approach, which recognises the powerful silence of a building

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and its anonymity as part of the backdrop for human events, will yield objects of a more enduring beauty.

An architecture made by hand from local materials: Annie Heringer and Heike Roswag, METI School, Bangladesh, 2010.

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Concealing the artist Just as the object and viewer must engage in a humble, passive dialogue, so too must the object’s creator adopt a mindset of servitude and submissiveness. Beauty can only be achieved from a position of meekness and humility that is expressed in the spirit of the building. The architect must seek to detach himself from his work and forgo ideas of personal expression and representation. For the artist to be actively concealed in the work of art requires an act of selflessness and even sacrifice. In doing this, the artist seeks to emulate the beauty of the natural world, which itself does not boast evidence of a creator. It is an acceptance on behalf of the artist that the artistic product be a portrayal of values rather than a statement of ideas. This is particularly pertinent in the case of architecture, which is intertwined with the natural world.

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Movements in art such as Arte Povera explored the idea of the detachment of the artist from the work of art. In recent times the artist Banksy has maintained complete anonymity, in spite of works made in prominent public spaces in major cities throughout the world. Though this approach is typical of that taken by graffiti artists to avoid detection, it is interesting to see an artist who, after ten years in the public eye, still has no face to put to his name. His aim seems to be solely the pleasure of the viewer. That his work adorns public places and buildings means Banksy can’t even claim ownership of it, and it’s often cleaned away and destroyed within days of being created. His work is even known to

Art without ownership: Banksy, Mild Mild West, Bristol, 2007.

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have been auctioned, with the successful bidder being given the responsibility for its removal. This has much in common with the architect who doesn’t claim ownership over the completed work. The architect has less freedom for personal expression and acts in a subservient role to the building’s patron. In a different way, the artist Donald Judd employs a refinement and precision in his work that hides any evidence of his hand. The effect of

Art free from human error: Donald Judd, Untitled copper ten units by, 1969.

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this concealment is a heightened experience of the finished work. Any visible fastenings are positioned with such accuracy as to have been placed with a total purpose and deliberateness that dissolves human error. In Judd’s work, consideration of the artist is surmounted by the purity of the final artistic product. Some of the great works of architecture are without evidence of authorship. Describing Chartres Cathedral, Orson Welles (1974) said, “And this has been standing here for centuries; the premier work of man, perhaps, in the whole Western world, and yet it is without signature.” This magnificent building was the work of a great collection of anonymous artisans all working towards a common goal. This is building on a grand scale that still holds to the highest ideals of beauty. And there is no single individual or even group of individuals there to take credit for it.

Architecture as a backdrop “Good architecture should receive the human visitor, should enable him to experience it and live in it, but it should not constantly talk at him,” says Zumthor (2006b, p. 33). An object can possess a powerful beauty in its being and does not have to be steeped in conundrums and mental puzzles. Such a pursuit could be said to be a form of egotism. Like things in nature, buildings give silently to the viewer, offering themselves in a mutual passive exchange. Buildings are embedded in the natural world, sitting silently in the background and not pronouncing themselves by way of ideas or authorship. Zumthor talks of that quality of architecture that causes it to appear to be “anchored” to its setting, as if the site and building would seem to be incomplete without one another. In his book Anchoring, Steven Holl likewise writes of those qualities that form a continuum between the architecture and its site. Pallasmaa cites an intervention at the Acropolis in Athens as a work where the architect values a respect of the context, forgoing any notion

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of self aggrandisement: “The work of Pikionis is a dense conversation with time and history to the degree that the design appears as a product of anonymous tradition without drawing attention to the individual creator� (1999). To Pallasmaa the success of Pikionis’s design lies in its ability to blend seamlessly into its setting, announcing neither itself nor the architect. It is as if to say there is a power in its invisibility and capacity to go unnoticed. Wabi is a Japanese concept that finds beauty in imperfect, incomplete, temporary things. It is a state of spiritual impoverishment that seeks to reduce things down to the absolutely essential. Wabi can be found in objects that accept the processes of decay and weathering in a way that acknowledges the inevitability of death and the transient nature of existence. It is a condition that finds joy in the simple occurrences and

Architecture that blends in, forming a backdrop for human events: Riches Hawley Mikhail Architects, Clay Field, completed 2007.

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The worship of erosion and decay: A wabi scene.

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events in nature, such as the gentle sound of rain on leaves or the first fall of snow. Wabi rejects materialism and excess and nurtures self contentment. There is wabi in an old brick wall, coated thickly with moss and the clay roof tile spotted with lichen. Objects are made by hand from natural materials that utilise a palette of earthy hues: browns, blacks and greys. Architecture that embodies these qualities is content to stand quietly in the background in silent communion with the natural world. It embraces the inevitable onset of decay as it undergoes a kind of synthesis with the natural things around it, which wither and die. This synthesis of architecture and nature speaks of a state of humility and authenticity. Here, architecture finds fulfillment in itself; it is content simply to be. Wabi objects have a silent, concealed beauty that waits patiently to be revealed.

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Silence For Barragan, silence was a constant aim of his work: “In the gardens and homes designed by me, I have always endeavoured to allow for the placid murmur of silence” (1980). To be allowed to enter into intimate communion with buildings requires silence, and the challenge to the architect is to achieve this. The contemplative confinement of Tanizaki’s Japanese toilet can only reach its fulfillment given there is, “… quiet so complete, one can hear the hum of a mosquito” (2001, p. 9). Tanizaki’s reflections on the Japanese toilet portray this idea of silence and contemplation as one that is reserved not only for sacred spaces. The practise of silence however is a way of connecting us with the sacred. Cistercian monks, and particularly the Trappist branch, practise silence as a way of assuring fraternal community and to bring forth the values they hold to be of true importance. To a Trappist, absolute silence allows the mind to be open to the influence of the spirit, to acknowledge ones weakness and show a willingness to allow God to accede. Central to this experience is the need for solitude and a desire to nurture a life of peace and self reflection, free from the noise and distraction of the world. Again, in the words of Barragan: “Only in intimate communion with solitude may man find himself ” (1980). Today, the house rather acts as a vessel through which we experience the world via the constant influx of sound and imagery. The layout of the living room is such that the best vantage may be gained towards the television. The TV is also now commonplace in the bedroom, the last domestic refuge of serenity and ritual. Sthapatya Veda is a concept of architecture, originating in India, which centralises the value of silence. Buildings are built around a “silent core” or Brahmasthan, which acts as its central axis and is believed to connect the building’s inhabitants with the “wholeness of Cosmic Life” (Maharishi Foundation International 2002). This has

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much in common with the Western monastic view of silence that seeks to draw the practitioner closer to a higher world. This principle is also more widely applied to the layout of towns and cities, and countries even need to have at their centre some form of Brahmasthan. Zumthor talks of being able to discern the soul of a building (2006b, p. 42). Often the house of a loving grandparent, for example, can convey the same feelings of warmth and comfort as those given by the grandparent themselves. The soul of a building can be felt in attempting to project a vision of happiness into it. There is even an unusual recent trend in Japan where city dwellers taking trips to the countryside can rent traditional country homes complete with a pair of grandparents. There can be sensed a union of common values between a building and its inhabitants. The viewer can perceive a relationship with a building as with a relationship with another human being.

The synthesis of dwelling and dweller: A grandmother’s living room.

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Chapter 4 The fear of beauty “I look forward to an America, which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.” John F Kennedy

The fear of beauty

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The measure of art In a recent article in The New English Review, Theodore Dalrymple writes, “The successful modern artist’s subject is himself, not in any genuinely self-examining way that would tell us something about the human condition, but as an ego to distinguish himself from other egos, as distinctly and noisily as he can” (2009). Dalrymple observes an absence of the spiritual in art as part of a trend towards the emphasis of “originality” and self-promotion. The absorption of the ego prevails as part of a predominant recent trend towards the marketing of the artist and artwork as a product or brand. It is an art of sensation and spectacle that seeks to depart from the line of inherited knowledge. The pursuit of originality is one that rejects tradition and desecrates

An art that acknowledges the importance of a connection to the sacred: Mark Rothko, Rothko Chapel, 1971.

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21


knowledge. In one sense every human act is purely original, given its position in space and time, but, in another, the idea and intent will never be without precedent. In the words of King Solomon, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, New International Version).+ In the article, Dalrymple also seeks to dispel the parallel, which is often made, between art and science in terms of the progressive accumulation of knowledge. Science sheds light on existent truths about the physical world, whereas art is the physical revelation of truths about human nature. A scientist today will have incomparably more knowledge to call upon than his counterpart one hundred years ago. The work of the artist, on the other hand, does not supersede, by way of truth and accuracy, that which was created previously: the work of art has its basis in the human condition, which is constant and unaltered. The teachings of such figures as Buddha or Jesus Christ or Confucius are a reflection of this condition and are as valid to today as when they were first spoken. Core values form a continuum from which art is borne, and it is a disregard for these values that leads to an art that is spiritually bereft and that lacks beauty. The human condition is a standard that the artwork can choose to reflect. The great works of the past, despite any amount of success in realising this, do not provide a guarantee for the creation of a spiritually enriching art. De Botton recognises the authority of the artistic over the scientific in architecture: “Just as the secrets of good literature have not been for ever unlocked by the existence of Hamlet or Mansfield Park, so the works of Otto Wagner or Sigurd Lewerentz have done nothing to reduce the proliferation of inferior buildings” (2006). The artist has a standard by which judgements of beauty can be made, and he can observe, from the great works of the past, the degree to which these standards have been sought.

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The lessons taught by the great works of the past are no guarantee for great architecture: Louis Kahn, The Salk Institute, La Jolla, California, completed 1966.

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Vulnerability The tendency towards the satisfaction of the ego can be viewed in terms of a fear of vulnerability and an expression of weakness. To show an appreciation of beauty could therefore be said to demonstrate a reliance on others and an admission of fallibility. By emulating the sacred and pursuing core values, the artist exposes their own condition as well as a willingness to accept inherited knowledge. Through alignment with the sacred, the artist seeks to submit this reliance to another body; an act that is often achieved through faith rather than understanding. This may be faith in other people by way of a gesture of selflessness, which recognises a need for other people and a desire to give and to be given to.

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Beauty offers nothing by way of material benefit. The lesson of the flower is one of total selflessness. It offers itself completely for the enjoyment of others and asks for nothing in return. Attainment of this ideal is what the work of art seeks, and this requires an act of sharing by the artist. Art that serves purely the promotion of the ego is faithless and seeks self fulfillment on its own terms. The acknowledgement of beauty renounces a position of autonomy and self dependence, which represents much of the problem behind allowing beauty to flourish. When happiness can be attained only through that which is within the limits of personal reach, it becomes increasingly difficult to accede this pursuit to others. Buildings are used as a measure of the value of self and as such are often made to embody qualities of strength and self dependence. The house is a statement of worth in the world. It concretises personal achievement. Companies erect office buildings that display their wealth and authority to the world and to their competitors. This is a form

A self promoting architecture: Ian Simpson Architects, Hilton Tower, Manchester, 2006.

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of egotism that seeks only the promotion of self and that rejects fundamental standards of beauty. A converse approach is one of courtesy that aims to make the visitor feel welcome and comforted. Maggie’s Centres form a new typology that is characterised by a vulnerability and self exposure that is aimed at nurturing a feeling of calm and acceptance in the visitor. Like a building designed in accordance with the principles of Sthapatya Veda, Maggie’s Centres are developed around a centrally themed core, which, in their case, is the kitchen. This room acts as the building’s hub, an activity space that forms a warm cosy heart at its centre. The welcoming character of the buildings exudes to the design of their overall scale and layout, with a smaller domestic scale being adopted to allow the centres to nurture a feeling of homliness. This willingness to offer itself can be applied to all building types and not merely those with a charitable cause, such as these cancer treatment centres.

A home with community at its heart: Maggie’s Centre, London, Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, completed 2009

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Reinstating beauty “To my dismay, I have found that an alarming proportion of publications devoted to architecture have banished from their pages the words beauty, inspiration, magic, spellbound, enchantment…” (Barragan, 1980). In an article written for The Independent nearly ten years ago, Richard Rogers identified a nervousness about beauty among our civil servants and politicians who “will always shy away from any discussion of even the most commonplace aesthetic values.” Like Barragan he laments a scarcity of the language of beauty in our society: “Again and again while writing the Urban Task Force’s report,Towards An Urban Renaissance, I was strongly advised not to use words like ‘beauty’, ‘harmony’, ‘aesthetic’ and even ‘architecture’ if I wanted the report to be taken seriously by those who counted” (2001).

Can works that attain such beauty be described in neutral, emotionless terms?: Michelangelo and others, Laurentian Library, Florence, completed 1571.

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Why are such terms so absent from discussions about the character of our urban environment and instead replaced with politically correct, neutral language that abstains from making meaningful, qualitative judgements? It requires an act of courage to reveal hidden inner truths and to measure beauty according to the values that are inherent within all of us. To make a judgement of beauty is to reveal these truths and is a reflection of the degree to which we pursue these values ourselves. It is not a question of taste or personal preference, but a judgement based on standards, which enables us to connect with one another at the most fundamental level. It bridges religion and culture and background. Everyone is able to appreciate a beautiful piece of music just as we are predisposed to travel the length of the world to visit spiritually uplifting, beautiful architecture in whichever country, whether it’s the Taj Mahal, the Ryoan-ji Temple or the Sagrada Familia. The language of beauty must re-entre the dialogue of our everyday lives. The perception of beauty is reserved not merely for the informed or the “cultured�, but is for anybody who would acknowledge personal weakness and a desire to seek the betterment of others. Perhaps this is where the fear of beauty is rooted. Or perhaps, as Rogers observes, it is related more to the fickle trends of greed and profitability, which are endemic of our society and its attitude towards to the pursuit of core values. Whichever proves to be the case, it is evidently incumbent upon us to reinstate an emphasis on beauty that nurtures a selfless approach to architecture, which emulates the purity and innocence of the natural world. It is an approach that gives to others by prompting them to marvel in the beauty of creation; it is an approach that upholds the spiritual fulfillment of others over personal gain and the promotion of the ego; it is an approach that upholds core values of understanding, unconditional love, meekness and humility. An aversion to beauty will foster transient, loveless environments, which are bereft of meaning

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and the enduring core values on which standards of beauty make their foundation.

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Conclusion Beauty is imbued in the act of giving. It is a selfless pursuit that seeks only the pleasure of others, and it cannot be attained as the result of any motive towards the fulfillment of selfish desires or aims or ambitions. It is rooted in human nature. Peter Zumthor uses the term “The hard core of beauty� (2006b, p . 29) in his book Thinking Architecture, and this seems to encapsulate, quite succinctly, the nature of the human condition. It seems that common to all people is this innate capacity to judge and perceive beauty according to some common standard. These standards relate to core values, which form the building blocks of a meaningful existence, such as wisdom, unconditional love and understanding. The experience of beauty is entirely inclusive and can be more readily attained through a willingness to cultivate a spirit of gentleness and simplicity. This could be described as a desire to achieve a spiritual poverty, the result of which will be manifest outwardly. Wabi objects evidence a self weakness, which is rooted in a spiritual deprivation. The worship of decay and imperfection acknowledges an impoverished state of being. Being embedded in nature, the beautifying qualities of architecture can be determined in direct relation to objects in the natural world, on which pure judgements of beauty can be made. Natural things have no agenda, but are placed here solely for our pleasure and enjoyment. True beauty can be perceived only in objects completely free from purpose and use. Immanuel Kant (2003) identified this problem where, this being the case, man cannot hope to attain beauty, as any attempt at creation will be predicated on a purpose. It is as if the hard core of beauty within us all is entirely noble and selfless, yet there is nothing man can do to avoid acting out of a purpose of some form or another. The pursuit of beauty, therefore, is rather a problem of motive than

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aim: to have beauty as the goal is to be defeated from the outset, but to proceed motivated by selflessness and the benefit of others will yield a greater beauty. The artist must adopt a position of self deprivation and weakness that places himself below others and elevates the needs of others above his own. The promotion of ego will only produce results that serve that purpose alone and not be of benefit to his audience. The nearest architecture can come to attaining a selfless beauty is through the imitation of this quality of the natural world. This is not so much through literal organic and plant-like forms, which were the signature of such movements as Art Nouveau, but more in the way a building allows nature to act upon it and offers itself to the world. By welcoming weathering and the corrosive effects of natural processes, a building conveys a fragility that helps us to accept the transience of life and its inevitable end. The natural world stands silently waiting for its beauty to be revealed, and it is within this context that buildings place themselves. Junihiro Tanizaki observed how communion with the sacred can be had in the most unlikely of domestic settings. His toilet is a place of solitude and confinement from where he sits silently while entering into an intimate encounter with the world outside his window. Luis Barragan likewise had a deep understanding of the sacred, and his houses and gardens grew from an appreciation of the silent beauty of the natural world. To quote him one final time: “A perfect garden - no matter its size - should enclose: nothing less than the entire universe� (1980).

Conclusion

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Picture credits 1 2 3 4 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

(11) A scene from a Mexican village. Photo jfelse01, available from: www.flickr. com. (12) A delapidated tower block. Photo Mickal, available from: www.flickr.com. (13) Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965. (15) Vincent van Gogh, Shoes, 1888. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (16) John Pawson, Novy Dvur Cistercian Monastery, Prague, completed 2004. (18) An old Mediterranean street. Photo Shadow 13777 www.flickr.com. (19) An old red barn in the rain. Photo The New No.2 www.flickr.com. (25) Andre Masson, Automatic Drawing,1924. Museum of Modern Art, New York. (26) Henry Moore, Locking Piece, 1963-64. Kew Gardens. (28) James Turrell, Sky Space, 2001. Photo Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery. (29) A view into the garden from the dining room of the Luis Barragan House. Photo Rene Burri. (30) An old wheelbarrow is given a new lease of life. (35) Peter Zumthor, Bruder Klaus Chapel, 2007. Photo Danda, available from: www.designcrack.com. (36) Annie Heringer and Heike Roswag, METI School, Bangladesh, 2010. (37) Banksy, Mild Mild West, 2007. Photo Getty Images, available from: www. telegraph.co.uk. (38) Donald Judd, Untitled: copper ten units, 1969. Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York. (40) Old house with a decaying double decker bus. Photo Fray Bentos, available from: www.flickr.com. (41) Riches Hawley Mikhail Architects, Clay Field social housing, completed 2007. Photo Riches Hawley Mikhail Architects. (43) A grandmother’s living room. Photo Everything and the rest, available from: www.flickr.com. (46) Mark Rothko, Rothko Chapel, 1971. (48) Louis Kahn, Salk Institute, completed 1966. (49) Ian Simpson Architects, Beetham Tower, Manchester, 2006. Photo Darby Sawchuk.

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24 (50) Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, Maggie’s Centre, London, 2009. Photo Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners. 25 (51) Michelangelo and others, Laurentian Library, Florence, completed 1571. Photo entertainment.howstuffworks.com.

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Bibliography Books BACHELARD, GASTON (1994) The Poetics of Space. 2nd ed. Massachusetts: Beacon Press BLOOMER, KENT C. and MOORE, CHARLES W. (1977) Body Memory Architecture. London: Yale University Press BURRI, RENI (2000) Luis Barragan. London: Phaidon Press Ltd. DE BOTTON, ALAIN (2006) The Architecture of Happiness. London: Penguin Books Ltd. FRAMPTON, KENNETH (1995) Studies in Tectonic Culture. Cambridge, Massechusetts: MIT Press HEIDEGGER, MARTIN (1971) Building, Dwelling, Thinking. New York: Harper Colophon Books HERVE, LUCIEN (2001) The Architecture of Truth. London: Phaidon Press Ltd. HOLL, STEVEN (1989) Anchoring. New York: Princeton Architectural Press HOLL, STEVEN (1996) Intertwining. New York: Princetion Architectural Press KANT, IMMANUEL (2003) Critique of Pure Reason. re-issue of the English translation by Norman Kemp Smith of the original 2nd edition. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. MERLEAU-PONTY, MAURICE (2002) Phenomenology of Perception. 2nd ed. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge

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NORBURG-SCHULZ, CHRISTIAN (1980) Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture. London: Academy Editions PALLASMAA, JUHANI (1996) The Eyes of the Skin. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons RASMUSSEN, STEEN EILER (1959) Experiencing Architecture. Cambridge, Massechusetts: MIT Press TANIZAKI, JUNICHIRO (2001) In Praise of Shadows. 2nd ed. London: Vintage VIDLER, ANTHONY (2000) Warped Space – Art, Architecture and Anxiety in Modern Culture. Cambridge, Massechusetts: MIT Press ZUMTHOR, PETER (2006a) Atmospheres. Basel: Birkhauser ZUMTHOR, PETER (2006b) Thinking Architecture. Basel: Birkhauser

Electronic references ART:21 (n.d.) Roden Crater [WWW] Available from: http://www.pbs.org/art21/ artists/turrell/clip1.html [Accessed 10/01/10] BARRAGAN, LUIS (1980) The Pritzker Architecture Prize Ceremony Acceptance Speech [WWW] Available from: http://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/1980/ ceremony_speech1.html [Accessed 01/12/10] BRAINY QUOTE (n.d.) Vincent van Gogh Quotes [WWW] Available from: http:// www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/v/vincent_van_gogh.html [Accessed 24/02/10] THE CENTRE FOR PROGRAMMES IN CONTEMPORARY WRITING (2007) Imagism [WWW] Available from: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/ imagism-def.html [Accessed 10/01/10]

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DALRYMPLE, THEODORE (2009) Beauty and the Best [WWW] Available from: http://www.newenglishreview.org [Accessed 02/03/10] EVERYTHING2 (2002) Martin Heidegger on Building, Dwelling,Thinking [WWW] Available from: http://everything2.com [Accessed 10/01/10] HEALING PHILOSOPHY (n.d.) Flower Quotes [WWW] Available from: http:// www.healingphilosophy.com/2008/07/flower-quotations.html [Accessed: 01/02/10] MAHARISHI FOUNDATION INTERNATIONAL (2002) Maharishi Sthapatya Veda: Architecture in Accord with Natural Law [WWW] Available from: http:// www. sthapatyaveda.com [Accessed 10/02/10] PALLASMAA, JUHANI (1999) Hapticity and Time [WWW] Available from: http:// iris.nyit.edu/~rcody/Thesis/Readings/Pallasmaa%20-%20Hapticity%20and%20 Time.pdf [Accessed 15/11/09] PARKER, DEWITT H. (2003) The Principles of Aesthetics, Chapter 13 - Beauty in the Industrial Arts: Architecture [WWW] Available from: http://www.authorama.com/ principles-of-aesthetics-14.html [Accessed 15/11/09] ROGERS, RICHARD (2001) The Fear of Beauty is Destroying Our Urban Environment [WWW] Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/ the-fear-of-beauty-is-destroying-our-urban-environment-680028.html [Accessed: 09/03/10] SCHA, REMKO (2001) Kant, Duchamp, Meta-art [WWW] Available from: http:// radicalart.info/meta.html [Accessed: 10/01/10] THINKEXIST.COM (n.d.) Pablo Picasso Quotes [WWW] Available from: thinkexist. com [Accessed: 10/01/10] THINKEXIST.COM (n.d.) Nature Quotes [WWW] Avilable from: http://thinkexist. com [Accessed: 10/01/10]

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TRACHT, PAUL (May 2003) James Turrell’s Light Fantastic [WWW] Available from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/light-fantastic.html [Accessed 10/01/10]

Media F For Fake (1974) Film. Directed by Orson Welles. USA: Speciality Films Why Beauty Matters (2009) TV. BBC TWO. 28th November 2009 21:00hrs

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