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8 November 2023 - 8 November 2023

12:00PM - 1:00PM

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Buildings shelter from rain, wind, heat and cold, provide sufficient space, and meet other requirements to serve their purpose. Whether a building achieves this can often be quantified and measured, and thus determined objectively.

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Calman Building

But what about its beauty and charm? Firstly, it is commonly argued that beauty, like other aesthetic characteristics, is simply a matter of subjective preference. Accordingly, a demand for architectural ‘beauty’ is to be avoided because it eludes objective comprehension. Secondly, aesthetic qualities are often dismissed as non-functional and viewed as a costly indulgence. (Possibly shopping malls, restaurants, hotels or amusement parks are exceptions for which creating a specific aesthetic ambiance appears functional in attracting customers.)

This paper challenges these notions: Firstly, architectural beauty and charm do not merely lie in the eyes of the beholder. While they do exhibit cultural and individual variations, there is substantial empirical evidence of a shared convergence in responses to specific aesthetic stimuli (see Heinrich 2019). This entails a comprehensive evaluation and tangible reactions to these qualities: Certain architectural forms or qualities are beneficial to people, they are willingly sought after. Conversely, other forms might irritate and tend to be avoided. The stress level can serve as indicators of this influence. Thus there are indeed intersubjective standards of aesthetic qualities, and positive qualities cultivate inner stress resistance and stability (as Plato already observed). Therefore, secondly, positive aesthetic experiences are a fundamental component of long-term health and not an indulgence. When architecture is supposed to serve humans and their intricate needs, then its aesthetic qualities become profoundly functional.

An architecture dedicated to the well-being and resilience of people must free itself from the notion that it is solely a subjective matter. On the contrary, architectural beauty can act as an inner balm, nurturing the soul.

Part of the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing Guest Lecture Series 2023/24. An Abstract Booklet featuring all events in this series is available here. 



Heinrich, Michael (2019): Metadisziplinäre Ästhetik. Eine Designtheorie visueller Deutung und Zeitwahr­nehmung, Bielefeld.