A Worthy Goal For Humanity? Beauty
There has to be more to the human story than just perpetual population growth and incremental technological progress. It’s been my experience that we as a people never ask ourselves what the goal for humanity is. Certainly we have personal goals, or even national goals, but our entire species? I've met very few people who even consider such a concept, but I think it’s critical if we’re to avoid future hardship, to avoid simply drifting from birth to death. Our focus needs to go beyond self-preservation like the environmental movement. This merely prevents a future catastrophe, but doesn't answer any questions about the path of humanity. It’s not enough to focus on single issues. If we did consider our path and goals, how would we grade our progress? Especially in recent years, politics seems to be more concerned with partisanship, pseudo-issues, and preventing collapse than with making any “progress”, so we won’t find these answers in DC, Brussels, or the UN. Would most of us agree that the goal is for everyone to be happy and fulfilled, and if so, would we agree that on average we’re more happy and fulfilled now than ever? All these advances in technology and economic globalism, do we consider how they’re relevant in achieving this, if they've made us more or less happy? Is it all to eliminate global poverty and disease? Some probably think so, though that certainly isn't the goal of those in power and those with money, otherwise that would have ceased being an issue decades ago. And even still, those aren't really end points, because even if we did eliminate poverty and disease, what then? There has to be a penultimate end goal far more encompassing. A goal that transcends all others and shines a clear path for thousands of years.
A focus on beauty in all aspects of society would see large industrial farms disappear, to be replaced by far more beautiful small farms, thus guaranteeing local employment, fresh local produce, and a connection with the land and an understanding of where our food comes from. This in turn would stop land erosion and reduce or eliminate pesticide use. Global health would increase dramatically. Highways and other large scale infrastructure projects would go the way of dinosaurs, because they too are not beautiful. This in turn would encourage far more space-efficient public transport, and quite honestly I think trains have a charm and romance which cars have never been able to match. Suburban sprawl would disappear, because the relentless engulfing of nature would no longer be tolerated. Likewise we wouldn't tolerate wars or hunting. Ultimate beauty is the unrestrained balance of nature, so we would encourage the recovery of species such as wolves and bears which control the deer population. This in turn would dictate compact, walkable towns and cities, and a more socially connected society because we wouldn't feel as comfortable out in the boonies. But that is as it should be, because it is not beautiful to believe that humans have the right to dominate nature as they see fit. Beauty is not uncaring, selfish, or greedy. Our streets and sidewalks would once again be a joy to walk along, safe and unhindered from the roar and speed of automobiles, and paved in bricks or cobbles, not asphalt. Even mundane things like ugly clothes would not exist, further enhancing the experience of being outdoors among fellow walkers. Seeking beauty has a knock-on effect which filters through and has a profound influence on all aspects of humanity.
If we could focus our efforts on achieving beauty, we could stop the constant race for technological and economic gains because they would be meaningless. They're completely independent from and irrelevant to the goal of beauty and happiness and likely actually hinder them. As gatekeepers to our built environment, architects play a crucial role in this, a group whose goal should always have been beauty. That for many architects it isn't is lamentable and for me a point of great sorrow. Many modernist architects frown upon traditionalists and New Urbanists, and while I sometimes agree their work can for various reasons be disappointing, on the whole they should be commended for upholding beauty as one of their core tenets and aims. How many modernist architects can honestly say they strive for beauty? The word beauty is all but taboo in modernist circles. It’s crazy. Visit a traditional architect’s website, and you’ll often see the word beauty, or descriptions of designing from the soul or seeking a sense of spirituality. Which modernist architect can make such a claim? You cannot achieve beauty by suppressing your human nature to seek it out.
If we want a better world, we as architects, urbanists, planners, and citizens must start with ourselves. We have to be bold and confident, and trust our inner nature. If we don’t aim for beauty, we betray the public which has placed its trust in us as professionals, and worst of all we betray our humanity and continue to desecrate this planet we call our home. We have chosen a noble profession with great responsibilities. Let’s live up to it and build a world so beautiful that we cannot possibly feel any shame or guilt. As a species we've seen many millennia, so we should always live as if we were just a blip in the long reign of humanity, and construct beautiful buildings and cities which we would be proud to still serve our ancestors many hundreds of years hence.
Sustainable Cities Collective