In Search of Beauty - Part One

The Eye of the Beholder I went to a Book Talk and Mini-Symposium at the Architectural Association School of Architecture’s Lecture Hall  organised by Yael Reisner with Semir Zeki, Hanif Kara & Tateo Nakajima on Friday 28 of February. The evenings’ discussion raised questions about the concept of Beauty, specifically why beauty matters. I was very pleased to listen to this talk as I feel the word beauty is not used enough, especially in an academic design context. In my academic and professional experience justifying a design decision with “because it’s beautiful” has always been a taboo response and as designers we are always expected to explain our solutions in a context of practicality, with beauty being a by-product of a successful design rather than its raison d’être. However, I feel my work is strictly correlated with the word beauty, and I have always talked about correct proportion, balance of shapes and colour harmony. In my opinion if all these three aspects combine successfully they can become “beauty” I have always struggled with how to speak about this side of my work as the using the forbidden word has felt like a superficial way of describing something that is far more profound. How can this powerful word seem so weak when used to justify design decisions? One of the obvious answers must be that, as we all know, beauty is subjective. However it is indisputable that there is an invisible and unspoken formula for beauty, a correctness of proportion which unites the majority. This was illustrated during the talk as the neurobiologist Semir Zeki showed slides of three people’s portraits. He asked whether anybody in the audience would suggest that one of the shown faces were not beautiful. Nobody rose their hand. This suggests that we have some defined common lines of how we define beauty.

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