Scruton on Architecture

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Scruton.
My personal comments are in red.

Architecture is unique in that it imposes itself on other people. Therefore architectural taste has a social dimension and requires a public justification.

A great deal of modern architecture imposes its look and design upon us in ways that detract from our lives. With its emphasis on materials and function, most modern architecture lost sight of aesthetic value. Postmodern architecture is no better.

We should return to the values of nineteenth century architecture, when that art was at its best.

Scruton identifies 11 fundamental principles that were recognized in the nineteenth century.

  1. As a public gesture, meaning is important.

  2. Appearances reveal meanings. So appearances are what matter.

  3. (Against Graham) The use of a building is mutable. We can't tie meaning & value to limited function.

  4. Architecture is a dimension of public, shared life -- life with other people who are strangers. Interaction at the street level is central.

  5. Visual appearances matter the most. These must coordinate with our non-aesthetic interests and values.

  6. In the public realm, we should pursue common values.

  7. We are aware of visual meanings. They "saturate" visual experience.

  8. Therefore the visual design of buildings is part of public morality.

  9. Genuine beauty is grounded in a satisfaction of our shared human ends.

  10. Therefore aesthetic understanding is not a private understanding/response.

  11. Therefore the appearance of the public realm is a public language and it must reflect our shared agreement.

From which we can DERIVE some further principles:

Architecture is not a personal achievement of artistic genius.

Architecture should be constrained by the human scale.

A building needs a facade to face us & orient us.

Modernist buildings, which are not designed for the place & space & site they will occupy, violate the basic constraints.

The details of a building should articulate it to us.

Some patterns of details work. Some don't. Architects can codify and learn these patterns.

The invention of details is not important. Their harmonious integration is.

The vertical dimension of the facade is the real issue.

Moldings articulate the elements of the vertical facade.

Buildings should reveal their age as their materials age.

The individual building should not do violence to its neighbors.

In sum, good architecture takes both mental effort and personal humility.


                        Last updated April 25, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk