Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Environment

Castles to Cages

Prague is a beautiful city in which I spend a bit of time. Particularly since the 14th century reign of Charles IV, Prague claims inclusion among the most beautiful cities in the world. However, the distorted communist regime which seized control in the 20th century polluted the city with "communist architecture." Czechs refer to the identical rows of square, multi-story communist-era apartment buildings as "rabbit cages."

Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros take up the theme of architectural design in their Guernica / On the Commons article, "The Architect Has No Clothes." The authors explain "architectural myopia" as the condition which produces "contemporary eyesores."

Laboratory results show conclusively that architects literally see the world differently from non-architects. Not only do architects notice and look for different aspects of the environment than other people; their brains seem to synthesize an understanding of the world that has notable differences from natural reality. Instead of a contextual world of harmonious geometric relationships and connectedness, architects tend to see a world of objects set apart from their contexts, with distinctive, attention-getting qualities.

There are many such confirming studies. For example, Gifford et al. (2002) surveyed other research and noted that "architects did not merely disagree with laypersons about the aesthetic qualities of buildings, they were unable to predict how laypersons would assess buildings, even when they were explicitly asked to do so."

Unsurprisingly, the authors heavily blame this myopia on the lengthy education of architects.

Up to about 1900, architects were understood to be practicing an adaptive craft, in which a building was an inseparable part of a dynamic streetscape and a neighborhood.

With the coming of the industrial revolution, and its emphasis on interchangeable parts, the traditional conception of architecture that was adaptive to context began to change. A building became an interchangeable industrial design product, conveying an image, and it mattered a great deal how attention-getting that image was.

It is telling that "the early modernists saw their work as a revolution." A "Novelty Spectacle" approach is now the "dominant model for architecture." And as with all crafts founded upon a skewered, modernist view of human nature, modern architecture fails to satisfy human needs on mental, emotional, spiritual and biological levels.

I previously noted, in an article titled "Beauty and the Bibles of Stone," an address by Pope Benedict XVI on the purpose and effect of beauty in religious architecture - specifically, the medieval cathedrals. Comparing these architectural masterpieces and they effect they have on the human soul, one cannot but grieve for the impoverishment of the modern craft.

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