Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is beauty in the environment, and in the textscape, "mine" or "ours"?

I don't really want to wade into the never-ending British battle of the architectural traditionalists vs. the modernists. British philosopher of aesthetics, Roger Scuton, published in The American this month his latest volley in defining architectural beauty / quality as a community endeavor (consciously and unconsciously): "When it comes to beauty, our view of its status is radically affected by whether we see it as a form of self-expression, or as a form of self-denial. If we see it in this second way, then the assumption that it is merely subjective begins to fall away. Instead beauty begins to take on another character, as one of the instruments in our consensus-building strategies, one of the values through which we construct and belong to a shared and mutually consoling world." While I'm a dedicated fan of the international starchitects, Scuton does have a point (in fact, I live in a Brooklyn, New York brownstone neighborhood that has a historic preservation district designed specifically to limit inidividual design choices and to create an aesthetic of the community, not of individual buildings in no relation to their neighbors). I was particularly struck with this, because of the feature in The New York Times today about The Municipal Arts Society struggling to assert a rewnewed relevance. It seems to me that one very important role for The Municipal Arts Society would be to manage the commuity dialogue designing a "shared and mutually consoling world." We all have our opinions about The Highline and Atlantic Yards (etc.), but each project and controversy has no city-wide context. Isn't that what The Municipal Arts Society in New York City should be for?