Tallinn Architecture Biennale (TAB) is the regions biggest architecture and urban planning festival engaging the public and the profession in the conversation around architecture and our city. The 5th installment of TAB is titled “Beauty Matters: The Resurgence of Beauty” and is curated by Dr. Yael Reisner. TAB 2019 Opening Week takes place in 11.–15.09.2019.
An introduction to TAB 2019, on why beauty matters again.
By Head Curator, Architect Dr. Yael Reisner
The word Beauty was culturally avoided for nearly eighty years (1), in the visual arts, in architecture, in politics, (environmental issues), psychology, poetry, and music, though people keep using the attribute ‘beautiful’ quite often in their daily language. The pursuit of beauty ceased to exist as a leading generator in architectural design, as a result of an ongoing denigration and aggressive suppression. Objective considerations took over form generating process, augmented by a long-term intellectualization (2), and endorsed by what was understood as rational and objective, along the critique on the ‘hegemony of the eye’ (3), and any subjective decision-making. The word beauty still associates by many with shallowness, old world, or non-progressiveness, holding into cultural bias. Not mentioning the tabooed word is still often accompanying architects’ aesthetic consideration and active visual thinking. Yet, the paradox is that the first measure to judge architecture is still its capacity to create a great aesthetic experience.
We cannot define beauty in simple terms (4), nevertheless, we know its experience has a surprising quality (5), freshness, significance, clarity, profundity, often ambiguity, and while designing, any architect knows that when all fall into place, it is a pleasing, beautiful experience.
In our augmented age and post-digital architecture, beauty matters again.
The very use of that term ‘post digital architecture’ was a remarkable shift into admitting and recognizing the human role in digital design, and the significant rapid change of its relationships with digital technologies and art forms. A fresh interest in new architectural range of beauties, stems from the growing acknowledgment in human’s judgment, and cognitive intuition, and in its significance for a creative output, but also for arriving at what people like. Artificial Intelligence researchers, opting lately to press on the exploration of Intuitive Artificial Intelligence, as it expands beyond human’s perception, awareness, and decision-making, and augments digital gains. (6)
Moreover, neurobiologists claim that there is objectivity in every subjective experience, as in the mechanism of seeing color (7) , or, as proved lately, in the judgment when experiencing beauty. It was revealed in 2011, that humans experience four types of beauty in their emotional brain - visual beauty, musical beauty, moral beauty and mathematical beauty, each can be recorded and even quantified (8). Our civilization couldn’t exist without the recurrence of pleasures, including experiencing beauty. It is a part of our neurobiological structure and it makes us not only happier but also healthier (9); beauty matters! And just like love, it’s real.
In parallel, mathematicians, whose fascination with beauty never stopped (10), as its discussion – unlike in the disciplines of the arts and humanities - claim that these days are the golden days of the relationship between Mathematics and Physics, as apparently mathematical beauty plays an important role in numerous theories that proved already true, especially those regarding the universe, a fact that enlarged their trust in beauty as a pointer towards truth (11), a claim that culturally should unleash loaded fascinating thoughts.
Digital intelligent design has its major influence on the architectural discourse, not only due to manufacturing but also through making meaning. It is fascinating that the digital realms, early on, were purely anti-subjectivists, while these days, they brought to the fore the roles of imagination, intuition, creativity, taste, and style; the realm of subjectivity gain forces again, after years of pursuing objectivity rulings the architectural discourse.
The return to the author became a reality in architectural design by 2010-11, with the CAD-CAM systems, as architects became the craftsmen, where the craft making is in their ability to, digitally, and skillfully, draw the drawings that turn directly to physical objects. Yet, since files could easily be shared and content added or deleted, authorship turned quickly to ownership. Open-source design or robots deployment as the manufacturers, made the situation more complicated. Nevertheless, even when a coded script is written and open for numerous new interpretations, there is a growing wish to recognize whose imagination is involved, and whose only technical skills were coming from.
It is the architects’ creative role to bring new beauties to cities, substituting alienation with widening the pallet of our emotional involvement, and introduce the contemporary, diverse, experiences of beauty into architecture, a concept for our age, a product of individuals for other individuals, celebrating pluralism authentically. In our time, beauty is not a singular idea; beauty is many, and we search for profound new beauties in architecture.
(1) There is more about it in my book: Yael Reisner with Fleur Watson, Architecture and Beauty, A Conversation about a Troubled Relationship, Wiley, 2010.
(2) Marvin Perry, An Intellectual History of Modern Europe,Houghton Miffin Company, 1992
(3) Martin Jay, The Denigration of Vision in 20th C. French Thought, University of California Press, 1994.
(4) Prof. Semir Zeki – TED Talk at UCL - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlzanAw0RP4 . Zeki is a British neurobiologist, a world expert of the visual brain and the neural correlates of affective states, such as the experience of love, desire and beauty that are generated by sensory inputs within the field of neuroesthetics. (Zeki coined the term neuroesthetics.)
(5) Ron Aharoni, Mathematics Poetry and Beauty, 2015.
(6) Maurice Conti, TED Talk, Portland, 2016, https://www.ted.com/talks/maurice_conti_the_incredible_inventions_of_intuitive_ai .Conti is currently Director of Applied Research & Innovation at Autodesk. He also leads Autodesk's Applied Research Lab, which he built from the ground up. Conti and his team are responsible for exploring the trends and technologies that will shape our future.
(7) Semir Zeki, A vision of the brain, Wiley, (1993), 2010.
(8) Toward A Brain-Based Theory of Beauty, Tomohiro Ishizu, Semir Zeki see http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0021852,
(9) Semir Zeki, Splendors and Miseries of The Brain: Love, Creativity and the quest for Human Happiness, Willey-Blackwell, 2008.
(10) Ron Aharoni, Mathematics, Poetry and Beauty, 2015.
(11) Prof. Robert Dijkgraaf, the mathematical physicist who has made significant contributions to string theory and the advancement of science education. The Director of the Institute for Advanced Study and Leon Levy Professor since July 2012. He claimed that in his augural lecture at MIT, when he became the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in 2012. (IAS)