Building on Truth by Philip Bess | Articles | First Things

Building is a willful act of symbolic import, sometimes intended and sometimes not, and all architecture expresses the power of its makers and their aspiration to legitimate authority. This is true of individual buildings, public spaces, and all human settlements. Temple, forum, cathedral, city hall, town square, primitive hut, urban townhouse, suburban ranch burger, LEED-platinum office building, interstate highway interchange, urban landscape installation, medieval town, hypermodern metropolis—all require and represent the ability to bring them into being and sustain them over time. Their very existence requires power in the most elemental sense of the word. More than this, we attach moral significance to buildings and landscapes. Legitimate authority is that moral “more than” mere power, more than the human capacity to will something and make it so. Legitimate authority is power wed to moral virtue in service to a shared ideal. In the realms of architecture and urbanism, aspiration to legitimate authority entails an ambition to unite beauty with goodness and truth. The act of building has metaphysical ­implications.

This aspiration is clear in the case of premodern architecture and urbanism. It is evident in modernist architecture and urbanism as well, though in accord with a very different aesthetic and moral vision. And it is even present in what can be called hypermodernist architecture and urbanism, though hypermodernism’s moral content more often than not goes unstated. The aesthetics and ideals of each bespeak different understandings of both nature and human nature.

via Building on Truth by Philip Bess | Articles | First Things.


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