Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Living Library of Alexandria

 

Image courtesy of Raphaelle Deslandes
Egyptian Alexandria became renown as the preeminent centre of learning in the Hellenic world. This was principally owing to the establishment of the Musaeum, the Institution of the Muses for the study of music, poetry, philosophy and other arts. The crown jewel of this complex was the Library of Alexandria that housed tens of thousands of scrolls, the greatest written collection of the Western world. As such, the Library of Alexandria remains at once a potent symbol of Classical knowledge and human achievement, as does its eventual destruction engulfed in flame serve as a portent for the decline of a decadent civilisation. The Library ceased to exist in the late Roman Imperial period and less than two centuries thereafter the Empire itself practically disintegrated.

Today we are the beneficiaries of the long recovery of the Classical by means of the universities initiated in the Late Medieval period in addition to the many libraries and museums established by governments for public benefit since the Renaissance as well as numerous private institutions that serve as centres for research and conservatories of typically more specialised areas of traditional knowledge. Nevertheless, there is a growing sentiment that at least in the area of traditional architecture and the allied arts this repository of knowledge is no longer secure in the aforementioned institutions. Certainly, in most university programmes Classical architecture and art, if considered at all, falls under the purview of history departments as something pertaining to a past that we've evolved beyond, of no practical benefit to the modern world. The few remaining programmes that promote Classical studies of architecture and art are coming under the critical scrutiny of equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives that reject the ethical values and formal aesthetic of the Classical, characterising it as either openly perpetuating privilege and entitlement, or alternatively implicitly and inherently disparaging of minority groups through microagression.

My own specialised interest lies in the conservation of traditional architectural knowledge, the allied arts & crafts, as well as any related disciplines that may be found among philosophy and the sciences. As such, I'm proposing a new mechanism for the conservation of traditional culture and transmission of Classical knowledge which is principally embodied in individuals: The Living Library of Alexandria. 

A Platform for Association

The concept of an society, a social club, a voluntary association of like-minded individuals is nothing new. In the past these tended to be more local in character; however, advances in transportation and notably technological communication has opened up the potential for such associations to include interested individuals from anywhere on the globe. I've participated in some early attempts at using technologies such as university listservs and various social media platforms for the discussion of traditional architecture. Whether or not each example is successful I expect must be assessed in light of the purpose for which they were created. To date it would appear their goals have been modest or nebulous. Notwithstanding, at least two things immediately become clear: there are technical limitations with those platforms and too frequently censorship has arisen as an issue. If the movement for conservation of the knowledge of traditional architecture and the allied arts & crafts is to be a coherent one then I believe it time to establish a network with a robust technical platform and a clearly structured purpose. In that spirit I would suggest a provisional purpose for such a platform: To serve as an global portal, institutionally and academically independent, for the sharing and promotion of the knowledge of traditional architecture, arts & crafts. 

The aforementioned I hope is a sufficiently broad description to facilitate a variety of common interests. What I would further propose is that built into the very structure of such a portal would be the goal of members physically or virtually meeting together on a regular basis. A version of this has already had several iterations. We'll stick with that name for the purposes of this essay: The Traditional Architecture Gathering or TAG. At this point I'll take a few moments to flesh out some preliminary ideas that I and other contributors have come up with regarding how each of these, the platform and the gathering, might be structured as well as relate to each other.

First, the online platform. One thing that has been readily agreed upon is that it ought to be truly independent. That rules out social media platforms that essentially own and sell your data. However, it also needs to be independent of academic institutions where the platform is the legitimate property of the institution that can (and do) censor at their pleasure. Furthermore, inevitable change within the administration could mean the unceremonious elimination of the platform altogether. 

Another consideration is the technical apparatus of the platform. Should it be a listserv, newsgroup, or some other perhaps more advanced programme? There seems to be broad consensus that whatever is decided upon should be able to facilitate the upload of high resolution images and large files more generally. 

The platform would serve a global community. Yet that probably would occur at different scales. Some conversations may pertain to architecture or craft generally and be of common, global interest. Other discussions may be better conducted to address regional concerns or for those who are fluent in a particular language. A structure tree would need to be considerately developed in a manner that can adequately address the diverse needs of the community.

Additionally, ground rules of association must be established. These need to be carefully thought through so as to avoid pitfalls of ad hominen attacks, religious sectarianism, or political partisanship undermining the capacity for debate and discussion. How members are inducted and the governance of the platform are related considerations.

A Time to Gather

Obviously there are already many institutions inside and outside of academia that are either directly or tangentially involved in the teaching or promotion of traditional architecture and the allied arts & crafts. Many of them already put on events, tours, educational programmes, etc. It is not unreasonable to question if we need yet another one or if our efforts are not better put to use in supporting what already exists. Not that I would see support for this type of new endeavour as a zero sum game; neverthess, perhaps a description of how earlier Traditional Architecture Gatherings enjoyed some unexpected success can show how they address different needs and the potential further development might realise.

The basis for the three TAG gatherings previously held were ongoing discussions on an university listserv with about 250 members. The gathering was restricted to those members so that the discussion would emerge from content that we all knew that we were current in. Furthermore, the agenda was not pre-conceived. Everyone was asked to keep in mind the subject they wished to be considered and bring it up for discussion. The gathering quickly was organised the first morning in a democratic process where the members made decisions of which sessions to attend from among what they themselves had proposed. There are a few principles from these gatherings that I'd like to suggest be continued.

The first principle was that of collegial inclusion: that everyone on the platform (in our case the listserv) was welcome. However, it implied a principle of exclusion: If you weren't on the platform, then you weren't conversant on the same topics so no matter how famous or entitled you were, you were out.

It was organised on the assumption that in this context, as students and professionals, we were meeting as equals, as members of the same platform, participants in the same conversations. Inspiration may come from any of us. In fact, due to the format much of the content came from those that typically never were otherwise afforded an opportunity. It ended up being an hierarchy-torching event.

There was no charge for attending. The hosts initially covered the costs of venue, refreshments, and meals. Donations were welcome and were made sufficient to reimburse those upfront costs. This allowed those of limited financial means, particularly but not exclusively students to attend. Every effort was made to be frugal. No fancy frills, folks were there for content and the association.

TAG is unique. There is no other grass roots, member-generated type of gathering within the traditional architecture, arts & crafts community. With a more robust platform that is global in outreach, the potential as an unifying tool is immense as is the opportunity for it becoming a means of substantive connection for  members to share and receive knowledge according to their interests across continents, economic, and social strata based on ongoing conversations all member have access to: a network conceived for the transmission of traditional knowledge by affording opportunities for people to speak and gather.

Although I'm personally a late adopter of technology (let's be honest, a Luddite), even I can see the value in some of the virtual conferencing technology still in its infancy. Not only can global TAGs be conducted on an annual basis but regional as well as language-based groups would have the opportunity to arrange their own gatherings as and when they see fit, virtually or in person. Undoubtedly, there are many ways in which these briefly considered concepts could be refined and expanded upon. I look forward to receiving input from the traditional architecture, arts & crafts community as to what they believe serves their common interests. With the understanding that so much of the traditional knowledge base is embodied in individuals, a living library will not be just another institution or in truth an institution at all. Rather it shall serve as a supportive mechanism akin to a room or house of exchange where those associated with a variety of institutions can converse, gather and where invaluable knowledge can be effectively transmitted.

Although this type of platform and the gatherings it supports can be accomplished frugally there are practical considerations of running costs for anything this robust. To maintain independence I think it must be privately funded by patronage. There has been interest expressed in this regard already. This is a fine example of where a modest investment can be leveraged to accomplish an incredible amount in addressing a pressing need. It is hardly unrealistic to foresee such a platform up in running in a few months, rapidly uniting individuals with common interests in traditional architecture, art, and craft across the globe and generating purposeful, goal-oriented gatherings within a year: at once a secure repository as well as a fountain of traditional knowledge exchange. 

The ancient Library of Alexandria was far more than its vast inventory; it served as an intellectual forum for the enrichment and transmission of Classical knowledge to subsequent generations. In fine, that Library served as a grand mechanism for culture. There exists a similar opportunity today to coalesce the Classical and traditional architectural, artistic, and craft wisdom embodied in individuals into a far-reaching civic forum. Just as the investments in creating that ancient library did not just benefit the city of Alexandria but reverberated throughout the entire empire and then down through time, similarly the establishment of such a Living Library of Alexandria today will not only be a matter of safeguarding knowledge, but disperses it to confront difficulties facing our global contemporary society, and places it at the disposal of humanity for untold generations to come.


Contributed by Patrick Webb

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Courting Vengeance

 

This brief post considers the statue Medusa With the Head of Perseus by Luciano Garbati. The statue inverts the death of the gorgon Medusa by the hands of Perseus. It is in fact not a new piece, an original having been made in 2008. Since its initial public release in 2018 there has been a great deal of criticism leveled against the artist that the statue is methodologically illiterate and logically challenged. And from feminist quarters the usual charges regarding any female nude statue as being an object of sexual exploitation, male aggression, etc. I find such criticisms not baseless per say but uninteresting. Whether or not an artist chooses to express his work under the constraints of tradition, clothed or nude is in my opinion his prerogative. As a private commission or on display in a show or gallery (as this statue has been in the past) I really would have nothing to say.  What is of interest here is the decision by NYC Art in the Parks to commission a bronze version to face the New York County Criminal Court thus making it a civic work of sculpture.

The statue was selected (though not originally designed and sculpted) for the express purpose of being a public symbol of the MeToo movement. Essentially, Medusa With the Head of Perseus so placed is not a symbol of justice rather one of judgement against the men who have been charged with rape and enter the courtroom doors to have their cases tried. This is a very different message than the traditional symbology of statues of Themis or Dike (Lady Justice). Yes, there may ultimately be an act of judgement as symbolised by the sword in Lady Justice's right hand; nevertheless, such a potential outcome is balanced against the assurance that the review of one's case will be impartial and there will be no prejudice as represented by the blindfold. The decision of the court is to be determined only by the careful weighing of the evidence as suggested by the scales of her left hand. Although many guilty men have walked, certainly so have at least a few men who had been falsely accused received exoneration. It is with this high ideal in mind that we have established in Western society courts that seek justice rather than ones that simply mete out judgement.*

This has been an interesting couple of years to witness statues and sculptures being torn down or threatened with removal. Public statues that are representative of widely shared virtues such as "liberty" or the aforementioned "justice" seem uncontroversial whereas others that place individuals on a pedestal or promote partisan ideologies seem divisive and problematic. With the current statues I've seen being offered as alternatives I wonder what exactly is the lesson being drawn from past mistakes aside from repeating them in our own vindictive way.

 *As an almost trivial note, I feel compelled to point out that those convicted of rape certainly do not receive the punishment of decapitation. That might be a mercy. Instead they are incarcerated in our industrial "correctional facilities" where often they continue to rape and/or become victims of rape themselves. 


Contributed by Patrick Webb

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Present Impotency of the Classical Architectural Movement


The Classical as criminal, taboo
By impotency, I mean quite literally a movement that lacks potency, exhibits no power, and even more troubling: evidences no potential. From this one can take the obvious sexual metaphors; first in the masculine case of a limp member. Admittedly, one can get around alright as a castrated eunuch; however, even with love and passion in the absence of virility there will be no offspring, no subsequent generation. Likewise as a feminine analogy we could say that irrespective of desire if a womb is barren and infertile, the conditions are simply not present for growth or flourishing. So perhaps "movement" is somewhat of a misnomer for what could better be described as stagnation. What follows is essentially an abstract, initial thoughts regarding how Classical Architecture finds itself in its present state as a precondition for assessing the possibility of a recovery of reproductive potential.

Place, Time, Culture

In its long development architecture was very much informed by the location in which it was undertaken. If we can agree that its primary purposes included shelter and storage, then environment (the effects of vermin, sun, wind, temperature, and precipitation) were determinative factors in its development. As communities were primarily local as well as partially or completely autonomous, folks had to make due with the resources of fuel and materials they had readily accessible. The Romans used the term genus loci, the "spirit of a place" to describe the connection of many things, including architecture to location. All Classical architectures as diverse as Greek, Roman, Gothic, Chinese, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Mayan, Indus Valley, etc. were informed by genus loci in their evolution.

Contemporary architecture, including those having a Classical formal aesthetic reject or simply abandon genus loci. With the development of mass industrialisation of raw material extraction, manufacture of standardised building components, and global transportation networks anything, or rather the same thing can be built anywhere. Advances in sophisticated HVAC systems and pre-engineered insulative wall assemblies tied directly to manufacturers through BIM software assure that structures can likewise be built in the same way. We've arrived at what the Classical Greeks might've called an architectural utopia...a "no place" in particular.

Closely related to the architecture of no place is the Modernist neurotic preoccupation of having an architecture "of its time". Of course this is a metaphor for something else. Unlike places which are quite different as you move about the globe, what's the perceptible temporal difference to us between now, a century in the future, or ten thousand years ago? By time what is really being referred to is processes of cultural change that mark one era as different from another from a specific historical point of view. The Modernist term coined for this narrative framing is zeitgeist, a rough translation being the "spirit of the times". Leading Modernist architects took Marx's slogan that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it" and applied it to themselves. They were to be the avant-garde, a step ahead of history in not only embracing the international globalisation of industry but pushing industry along even faster in the process.

Any new architecture that continued to feature Classical forms or details was subsequently branded as retrogressive (moving backwards), an anachronism of history, literally existing "out of time" according to the Modernist narrative. Such contemporary attempts at Classical architecture could likewise be accused of being "out of place". By adopting the very same global, industrial infrastructure as their Modernist counterparts, Classically appointed buildings were labeled as inauthentic simulacrums for having abandoned the use of traditional means and methods, utilising local materials. In particular, Graeco-Roman Classical architecture had persisted long enough to be deemed anti-cultural.

Industrial Classicism - Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige, Jr., Federal Courthouse (2008)

New Urbanism, Classical Architecture, and Traditional Craft

The planning of cities and suburban development likewise was quickly subsumed under Modernist ideology. However, within a few decades it produced such disastrous results in city centres and suburbia that the public at large began to revolt. This opened up opportunity for reevaluation of previous methods of organising urban fabric to see if anything useful might be with great trepidation be selectively gleaned. Even this cautious approach has resulted in a deadlock between the still dominant Modernist and upstart New Urbanist camps. Nevertheless, the field of Urbanism and Planning in general sees itself as demarcated and hierarchically arranged above architecture and construction.

Although New Urbanists claim their planning is based on the principles of how cities and towns have been "built" for the last several centuries, apparently this is only a metaphor for functional concepts such as massing, traffic flow, placement of goods and services. The movement's attitude towards Classical architecture has ranged from ambivalent tolerance to open hostility. Mention by (necessarily) outsiders of traditional craft within New Urbanist circles tends to be received with awkward silences and curious stares. Former triumphs of Classic planning led by architects such as the McMillan plan of Washington D.C. and the Haussmann plan of Paris who had armies of highly skilled craftsmen at their disposal only serve to demonstrate how neutered and ineffective contemporary Classicist architects are in the civic realm whilst the residue of their once upon a time traditional craftsmen colleagues are fading into extinction.

The Academy

Does architecture inform culture or does culture inform architecture? I think most of us readily recognise that there must be a dialectical process going on between the two even if it is not an equitable relationship. After all, architecture is merely an aspect of the greater culture...or is it? Well, let's stop to consider that every culture around the world until quite recently had its own architectural tradition referencing their unique genus loci that we previously considered. Within a few decades all architectural traditions everywhere, hundreds of them have been wholly supplanted by Modernist standarisation as developed by architectural academia in partnership with industry. No culture on earth, no architectural tradition has been spared. Not one. Contemporary architecture sits completely outside of human cultures as a potent instrument of industry that reproduces like mad.

Downtown Lagos, Nigeria

Universities of higher learning were at one point in time not too long ago repositories of culture. To take the case of the US, UK, and Europe, universities were guardians and instructors of the collective wisdom of Western civilisation: the Classical. Until a century ago they saw it as their responsibility to add to this edifice of knowledge if they could and to pass the wisdom along to another generation. Study of the Classical was high culture and included philosophy, poetry, literature, music, art, history, religion, myth, and sometimes even Greek and Latin.

However, beginning early in the 20th century the former studies rapidly gave way to a severely critical presentation of the Classical. Instead of reading texts directly and drawing conclusions, the student was increasingly presented and taught critical texts that may only have included carefully curated excerpts of the original. Training in the Classical languages of Greek and Latin was largely abandoned so that students became more reliant on these academic interpretations of texts or translations without recourse to original sources. At this point in time the Classical is viewed as so irrelevant or potentially dangerous by academia that many universities are gutting their departments dropping any courses related to it. Even a critical exposure to the Classical could contaminate an impressionable mind; the Classical is strictly taboo!

What is Slipping Away

Cadmus sowing dragon's teeth
Classical architecture and architectural education cannot exist in a causal vacuum. Architecture's place is to serve as the external expression within which the narratives in history, myth, drama, poetry and prose can unfold to enrich our individual lives and bind us together collectively as they have for countless generations. The Classical also offers us a treasure trove of philosophical reflections that consider from diverse perspectives man's place in the world as well as his duties and responsibilities to his fellowman. Finally, the Classical seduces us into a world of art, sculpture, music and drama that celebrate and beautify, redeeming even the tragedies of life. There isn't a richer alternative in the world and its our inheritance. So why are we throwing it away with both hands? Did we sow the seeds of our dissolution along the way?

I'll let you know if I find out...


Contributed by Patrick Webb


Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Healing Power of Beauty and Life After Covid


Part 5 in the series, Can Beauty Kill Germs? Trauma, Gratitude, and Memorialization; Attitude and Beauty in the Face of Extreme Odds. 

Anyone looking out from their shelter-in-place and seeing a wall will be touched by O. Henry’s heart-wringing story, The Last Leaf. Set in Greenwich Village during an early-twentieth-century epidemic, the story tells of Johnsy, an ill young woman who believes that, in the progressively barren winter, she will die when the ivy vine outside her window loses its last leaf. 

As the season grows colder the vine gradually sheds its leaves. But one last leaf hangs there long enough for Johnsy to recover her health. It turns out that it had been painted by Johnsy’s old neighbor, the artist Behrman, who longed to produce a masterpiece. Mustering all his artistry for the leaf, Behrman dies of exposure from painting the last leaf. 

Healing from the trauma of this pandemic may be somewhat analogous to healing from wars and dislocation. Despite the ubiquitous computer, and smartphone systems, the prolonged physical distancing may be comparable to isolation encountered in space flight, polar habitation, solo voyaging, and even solitary confinement. It could be that, despite the available technology and medicine, the traumas of solitude and the suspense of “not knowing” are no different from the historical mystery of pestilence and the enigmatic redemption from it known from the Renaissance and Baroque.

Jonathan Jones wrote in the Guardian in February 2012 that those times were “sealed in a kingdom of plague.” Old Masters like Tintoretto (1518–1594) fought the mortal contagion by painting his greatest works under its shadow at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco .in Venice. Hans Holbein (the Younger, 1497–1543) and Titian (1488/90–1576) died of it. Yet the quattro-, cinque-, sei-, and settecento Europeans asserted the glory of life through the treasures and beacons of their incredible civilization.
 
Life between plague and redemption. Entrance to the Grand Canal in Venice by Canaletto, c. 1730
On the left is the Santa Maria della Salute 
Black Death mass grave, Toulouse. ©Archeodunum SAS, Gourvennec

It is as if the outstandingly beautiful monuments to redemption, salvation, and gratitude erected at the dawn of the age of science reflect the idea of the unity of mind and body. They were built before technology and science emerged and the Romantic era separation of body and soul, sent the body to science and the soul back to religion. But that is our world today. We have a Large Hadron Collider—and ISIS.

We can ask tongue in cheek whether beauty can kill germs, but maybe there is some truth to that. Indeed, plague monuments and votive churches from the 1400s to the 1800s are among the most sophisticated and beautiful structures ever built by mankind. They remind us that our new scientific understanding of well-being and immunology indicates that much of the architecture and urban practices employed before 1920 also contributed to human wellbeing. And while we benefit greatly from the techno-medical-health advances, they remind us that, for environmental design, the classical method is still today an exceptionally effective tool. [1]

On the face of it, we are looking at plain superstition wrapped as religion. The architecture and iconography of the beautiful Cappella della Piazza on the Campo in Siena (plague of 1348, built 1352) progress from medieval gargoyles to mythological Renaissance gryphons, considered guardians of divine power. Nearby, the Fonta Gaia celebrates with Christian-themed carvings 1402-1419 the removal of a statue of Venus, which had graced the fountain since early times, because it was blamed for Siena’s recurring plague. The macabre skulls over the entrance to the churchyard of St Olave’s church in London (1658) literally commemorate trauma, and the alleged burial place of Mary Ramsay, believed to have brought the plague to London in 1665.

Plague memorials on the Campo in Siena and London     (left) Fonta de Gaia     (right) Cappella della Piazza  
St. Olave’s, London. Credit: David Ross and Britain

The Graben
Still steeped in medieval-style superstition, Vienna’s Plague Column in the central Graben square (1687) commemorates the end of the 1679 epidemic with extreme Baroque ornamentation and rich iconography of the Trinity, and of Faith overthrowing the Plague. Lieber Augustin, “Dear Augustin—a troubadour who became a symbol of hope after he survived a night in a plague pit after being tossed into it in a drunken stupor—commemorated that plague in a memorial that was removed by the Nazis for its bronze. 

The original
Lieber Augustin fountain 
Controlling the Levant trade, Venice, which together with its glorious merchandise also imported rats, fleas, and plague, witnessed seventy plague epidemics! Plague churches built there include the Scuola di S Rocco. Veronese lies buried in St Sebastian, which he decorated with plague iconography including the Pool of Bethesda. Palladio (1508–1580) built the great Il Redentore, “The Redeemer” (1577–1592), and Baldassare Longhena (1598–1682) built Santa Maria della Salute, “Saint Mary of Health, (1631–1681), after the plague killed nearly a third of the Venetians.

Karlskirche Interior  
If the deaths of our forebearers were not in vain, the beautiful Baroque work memorializing the horrors and losses they endured must inspire our survival and redemption today. The beauty of the votive churches must serve as a cultural wake up call to consider our cities and environments more aspirationally—and less as problems to solve. Covid reminds us that we need to relearn to seek balances of planning for town and country.
 
  • To make streets that inspire in people the thoughts and intuitions that help in their healing.
  • To build durably using the shapes and proportions that best suit human biometrics, perception, and comfort, thereby likely helping fortify immune response. 
  • That spirituality—embodied in beauty—is not attainable in the machine aesthetic or by means of machine virtuality. 
  • That beautiful buildings represent the political and cultural institutions of democracy.
  • That cloisters and pointed arches symbolize education and the parliamentary tradition.
  • That the pandemic creates an opportunity to triage our dependence on apps and automation in favor of people-centric community life. 
  • That we should move away from sealed buildings and towards better ventilation and openable windows. 
  • That without the knowledge of well-building, our predecessors would not have the cues for well-being and well-thinking that helped them drive the advances in society, science, and health that are getting us through Covid-19.
Karlskirche Facade
Modernity induces us to see these monuments to salvation and gratitude in a new light. In their construction, the Baroque monuments reeled in the survivors from their trauma to normalcy. These beautiful memorials to survival and redemption are breadcrumbs for us to follow, tips for how to experience what we are going through now, and ideas of what to think next. Looking at the plague monuments we claim them again today as cues to our own consciousness.

In the marvelously rich nexus of mind, body, perception, and place is the collective intelligence of how to build holistic and beautiful environments. Olmsted and Vaux expressed this understanding in their 1860s vision for Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, overlooking the lake and woodland Ramble in Central Park. The experiential apex of the park, Bethesda Fountain includes the only originally commissioned major sculpture for the park. It was designed by Emma Stebbins (1815–1882), the first woman to be publicly commissioned for a major work of art in New York City. 

A great artist, Stebbins’ sensibilities were informed by 500 years of art depicting deliverance from epidemics. Bethesda Fountain celebrates the Croton Aqueduct, which had saved New York City from a cholera epidemic. Linked to the passage in John 5:2–4 on Jesus’ healing at the Pool of Bethesda, the eight-foot bronze winged Angel of the Waters (1873) holds a lily in one hand for purity, while blessing the water below with the other. The putti supporting the top basin below her, represent Peace, Health, Purity, and Temperance.

Bethesda Fountain at Central Park. © Nir Buras
The humanistic attitude that such monuments express speaks to our ongoing cycle of trauma, salvation, gratitude, and memorialization. But the “meta-message” of such beautiful structures is different for every generation. In the harsh light of our sudden mortality, the “cool factor” of Modernism appears very thin. The upshot of Covid-19 should not be “contactless pathways,” “life lived by smartphone,” broad, uninhabited sidewalks, and streets with metal and plastic dividers, as charming as cattle corrals.  

Could it be that people are getting by at this time despite stress-inducing Modernist design and dysfunctional urban intervention? O. Henry may have taken this matter to the maximum, but we know now—and we didn’t know this twenty years ago—that the visual stimuli of traditional and classical architecture are de-facto cues to well-being

We now understand that Modernist designs cause the release of serotonin and that traditional designs that of dopamine. We know now that Post-Covid some dystopias projected by planners and media may be considered not progressive but part of what impeded survival and healing. 

Indeed, beauty may not kill germs like an antibiotic can, but knowing what we know today from biometrics and neuroscience about beauty, it may not be wrong to suggest that its presence may impact human immune systems. Is it also possible that the stress-reducing qualities of traditional design may actually contribute to the community resilience in healing from epidemiological trauma?

[1] The term “well-building” is a technical, Vitruvian classical design term that bears no relation to any for-profit or non-profit organizations, or certifications issued by them, that use that term or others similar to it.


Contributed by © Nir Buras, 200423 v.20