in the academy of design and architecture
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The moment when a student presents his final graduate project is the moment where his design and planning aptitudes are given final expression. This work integrates a critique of several projects by a large number professionals and academics in the field . Because architecture and interior design are fields that incorporate both functional and aesthetic components, which are interwoven, one would have expected to find a critique on both components, but this is not to be found.
In all the academic institutions that I have visited, I have found that almost all of the academic critique focuses on planning, rationality and functionality – all measurable themes, related to planning procedures and implementable elements. Critique dealing with aesthetic themes, values, experiences and emotion are rarely seen.
This paper attempts to understand the lack of the aesthetic dialogue in the academic world of design and architecture in general, and specifically in academic thesis papers.
The central question of this paper is “Where has the aesthetic discourse in the Academy of Design and Architecture disappeared”?
The first chapter presents the changes in the term “aesthetic” in the last century, from philosophical and artistic points of view. The changes were extreme in their status and content.
Such far-reaching changes have resulted in the absolute and necessary dismissal of the term “aesthetic” for reasons of irrelevance, uselessness and relativism.
The aesthetic was banished despite its centrality in our everyday lives. It became rejected and despised – a term bordering, in some ways, on ignorance, brutality, racism, and categorizing; a term that incorporates more attachment to a specific ideology than a true statement demonstrating an understanding of the given object. Later philosophical streams found the term confusing, misleading and meaningless. It became simplistic and totally useless. It is difficult to point out the exact moment when the aesthetic dialogue became meaningless. There were those who claimed that this process began 100 years ago. Others claim that it was 3 decades ago – in a period where society and industry underwent significant changes. In a period where human consumption increased along with the capitalist needs to produce more and more, there was also an oppression of cultural activity and art, which had detached itself from the aesthetic realm. Culture and art were also oppressed by industry and began to duplicate themselves continuously – innovation and creativity were recruited for the benefit of industry, the whirlwind of production became an economic engine. There were many protestors to the stark change in the form of the object, which changed from a handmade creation to the produce of a machine. The first among these were the romantics who described the world as being controlled by machines. And the first to organize themselves as an ideological group of protestors were the founders of the “Arts and Crafts” movement. They described modern activity as soul-less. They saw a world without joy, without love, a world of production, serving only one purpose: duplication of reality, as the purpose of the moneyed man .
In the following chapter I have presented the birth of a new modern architectural aestheticism; changes which did not amount to a shift in the proportions of the structure or a new form of an arch, such as a transition from the classic arch to the Goethian arch as in previous periods. Modern aestheticism rejected every possible convention in the field: the use of materials, values, proportions, priorities. Modern
architects completely annulled historical architectural insights. They redefined what was required of the architect, present and future, out of a sense of mission and liberation. They proclaimed sweepingly that historical architecture is contemptible and improper.
New values were prioritized: universality, functionality, asymmetry, and invalidation of decorativeness. The architect became a specialist of social, economic technical and even spiritual order. In its utopian state the house became a residential machine, and in this machine, masses of people were accommodated, happy and free .
The modern vision lasted a long time; the change was slow and enduring. The higher ideas that pushed towards revolution were the first to be forgotten; mechanical merchandise, so convenient for mass production, lacking in frivolous unnecessary decoration, became the favored choice of the capitalist entrepreneur, who made use of this merchandise in a massive, and cynical way. Needless to say that modern architecture, or more precisely, its aestheticism, enabled the construction of a large number of extremely “ugly” structures .
In the third chapter of this paper, I have presented the approaches of Horkheimer, Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt school. They referred to the phenomenon of the opposite ratio between the widening of technological knowledge and the freedom of the individual. They discussed the growth of the capitalist industry and the way in which it has expanded, abused, trampled upon and ignored any human need which is not economically based – a situation that threatens the concept of the free man. They described the absurdity of the life of modern man – a man having more opportunities than at any other time in human history, and despite this, limited to a small number of choices, out of blindness and lack of awareness of his real state, he is guided to a choice that preserves the strength of the market as it is, while it duplicates and becomes more and more established, without taking man’s health and wellbeing into account.
Horkheimer, Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School further claimed that modern human society is purposeful and depressive in its nature. Some of the points made by the Frankfurt School include: the strong connection between the intellectual and the practical; pragmatism and experimental physicality used in modern industry; the choice of the client in favor of the relevant, true, and determining criterion; the connection between market price and the value of the product; the results of the process of human domination over nature, which leads ultimately to the alienation of the individual from himself; the exceptional status of art in this complex human situation, as liberating, as subversive, as something that is not subject to the rules of instrumental logic; the great potential of art, which is autonomic and loyal to its inner logic, as opposed to art that is geared to mass production; and the consumerist culture and the cultural industry.
When I observe the state of the architectural aesthetic dialogue from the perspective of the Frankfurt school I understand the lack of motivation for such a dialogue. I see the capitalist economic dynamic, which aims to preserve the existing situation. I understand that a dialogue that steers the dynamic of the marketplace to another direction other than self-duplication is not possible .
I understand that purpose and instrumentalism are all that is, and that an aesthetic dialogue relating to emotional and experiential levels, is becoming a stranger to the current social dialogue. I see the place of the client or the “audience” as a kind of ultimate criterion, and this is one of the considerations in preservation and duplication of the existing situation. However, when I relate to art from this dynamic, to the potential of artistic activity as it is generally reflected in the outlook of the Frankfurt school, I think there is a possibility for a different kind of dialogue, and a different wayofdoing …
In the second part of the paper, the empirical section, I speak about these subjects with leading architects and professors and I asked for their opinions about the Aesthetic discourse in the academy of design and architecture. I asked whether in their opinion such a dialogue exists, and if not, why not?
From the group of architects and professors, there were those who claim that the artistic ingredient-that which gives personal expression by the artist does not exist in architecture.
Another group claims that it does exist in good architectural designs but is not common.
If indeed architecture does not allow for personal artistic expression then it is nothing more than organized data in space, as Professor Hillel Shoken says. The functional aspect is the most important aspect and is the only one that needs to be addressed- as occurs in most final projects in schools of architecture and design.
However, there is also the view of Professor Zvi Efrat. In my interview with him he described the aesthetic discourse as a complex one and multi-faceted. Discussion does exist but only in the subtext. The aesthetic that Professor Efrat talks about is not a fashionable one. It comes in many forms; it is rich, complex and multilayered. It is personal and impersonal. It is emotional and experiential. It can be symbolic, communicative, but also minimalistic, and neutral. It deals with proportions but is not confined to specific definition. It is dynamic, versatile, and can change its appearance. Also according to Professor Yael Moriah, and Professor Micha Levin who claim that they attempt to expand the aesthetic horizon of the students, and to deal with cultural aspect, even according to them aesthetics is not fashionable but multifaceted.
These professors are not prepared to talk about aesthetic in a straightforward manner, because of modesty, politeness, and lack of relevance.
Thus it appears that the answer to my question about the disappearance of aesthetics in architecture and design is that it has not disappeared but has shifted to the subtext. This is my first claim of three.
At this point I will present my next claim and in doing so will point to three ideas. 1-Wolterstroff claimed that the philosophy of art has difficulty in dealing with emotional issues of the human experience.
2-Zvi Efrat explained the disappearance of the discussion of aesthetics by our personal limitations.
3-Professor Gadi Elgazi stated in his article the concept of Erwin Panofsky, investigator and art historian. He pointed to an internal connection between scholastic thought and the architecture of the Gothic cathedral. He claimed that the connection was stronger than a mere circumstantial event. It was the outcome of the thought process from that period –from that school of academic thought which led to that
thought process. Panofsky showed that culture is not only a shared code, and is not only a repertoire of answers to shared problems, but is a system of deeper schemes that have been incorporated by us in our early years.
The claim is that the physical space which surrounds us is a space that is missing an essential element. It is a space that was designed by architects and designers that do want to , and are not able to express aesthetic emotions and experiences. This keeps the emotions and feelings out of their work and out of our space.
My third and final claim involves the viewpoint of the Frankfurt School, this time in relation to the school of architecture and design. These schools function in a reality of industry for knowledge – in competition for a limited number of students. They also act with the reality of students and ideas as a product. Not only is the architectural finished product a result of capitalistic industrial consumerism, but the entire learning process from the publishing of the syllabus to graduation of the student is dependent on this instrumental thought process.
In this work I don’t suggest any solution to the question of disappearing aesthetics. What I try to do is emphasize the need for discussions about the emotional issues. These are currently missing from the dialogue in our schools of architecture and design. If we are not afraid to face this type of dialogue we could develop a new aesthetic awareness that relates to emotions and experiences. This could result in a new type of space- one that could include emotions and beauty as well as function.
Thesis submitted for M.A. Degree By Asher Elbaz Under the supervision of Prof. Moshe Zuckermann
The Lester & Sally Entine Faculty of Humanities – Cohn Institute for History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas tel Aviv University