TB: Beauty as a social good

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The New York Yacht Club’s nautical fenestration. (The Reformed Broker)

Here is my Traditional Building blog post from last month, which ran with the following headline: “Beautiful Architecture is a Social Good. Why not bottle it?” It makes much of the fact that in Manhattan residents and visitors can stroll along many streets and find museum-worthy architecture, statuary and other building embellishments free for the looking at. Not all great architecture has been demolished and replaced by something worse on the island. The post reports on a study published in Atlantic magazine which found that living in a beautiful place ranks above many other factors in producing human happiness. Since happiness is a goal for the poor as well as the rich, who can buy it, the question is why traditional architecture should not be part of a government-funded social program to mitigate the ills of poverty. Here is the first paragraph:

Taxpayers foot an endless bill for costly social programs intended to improve the lives of the underprivileged. One source of free improvement – a good that is not just free but joyful – is widely ignored by the helping professions. They probably do not even know it exists. It is called beautiful architecture, and, to speak only of where my head is at this morning, it is all over New York City.

Enjoy the rest!

By the way, we will be visiting Lake Placid starting tomorrow and I am not sure I will be able to post until we return on August 18. I have bought an iPod, have just got onto the iCloud, and the resort where we will disport has a business office with computers for guests. But that may not be enough. We’ll see. If not, please memorize the following list of venues where I’ll be speaking after my book Lost Providence is published on August 28.

  • Aug. 28, Symposium Books, 240 Westminster St., Providence: book launch, Monday, 6 p.m.; free
  • Aug. 31, Barrington Books at Garden City, Cranston, book reading, Q&A, and signing. Thursday at 6:30 p.m.; free
  • Sept. 7, Books on the Square, 471 Angell St., Providence, book reading, Q&A, and signing; Thursday, 7 p.m.; free
  • Sept. 20, jointly sponsored by the Providence Preservation Society and the Providence Public Library, 150 Empire St., Providence, slide lecture, Q&A, book signing, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.; free
  • Sept. 23, WaterFire Arts Center, 475 Valley St., Providence, joint talk with Gene Bunnell, author of Transforming Providence, time TBA, free
  • Sept. 25, Rochambeau Community Library, 708 Hope St., Providence, slide lecture, Q&A, signing, Monday, 7 p.m.; free
  • Sept. 28, Preservation Society of Newport County, Rosecliff, 548 Bellevue Ave., Newport, slide lecture, Q&A, Thursday, 6 p.m.; $10 members, $15 nonmembers
  • Sept. 30, WaterFire, Q&A and book signing during the event (sponsored by the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Research Foundation), time TBA, free
  • Oct. 5, Rhode Island Historical Society, Netop Nights at John Brown House, 52 Power St., Providence, lecture, Q&A, book signing, Thursday, 6 p.m.; free
  • Oct. 12, Preserve Rhode Island, Lippitt House Museum, 199 Hope St., Providence, reading/lecture, Q&A, book signing, Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

More is available on the blog’s new “Lost Providence: the book!” page.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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6 Responses to TB: Beauty as a social good

  1. Pingback: Beauty as a social good – SEO

  2. John Cooper says:

    The argument assumes that people would actually find the architecture joyful—and, even if they did, they would then prefer nautical fenestration to being able to pay their bills—and, even if they would, that Government would fund such a scheme—and, even if it would, that money can buy happiness, as you suggest. Don’t get me wrong, I like your idea, it just seems problematic..

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    • All good points, John, but the current scheme to line the streets with ugly buildings sounds even worse. We have the choice. The choice is easy. It will not solve every problem or make everybody happy, but what’s the alternative?

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      • John Cooper says:

        I think people, particularly politicians and planners, need to appreciate how the built environment can affect mood. Perhaps it’s too subtle for people who walk down a windy industrialized street lined with bleak windowless concrete and without realizing why they feel oppressed at the end of it. Whereas give them some new urbanism, some green space, some open space, and some style and see what happens.

        However, I would just caution against classicism being a panacea, never mind the cost of stone and marble. There can be beauty in new design and modern materials—but I’m new around here, and haven’t read this blog enough (yet) to know whether this aspect been discussed.

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        • Very interesting comment, John. If you do stick around to read more here, you will learn why the possibilities of a classical revival (with other traditional styles) are of a higher order than those of continuing on the road we travel, mostly, today.

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