L'Arca International N° 123

March / April 2015

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In De re aedificatoria Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) defines beauty in architecture as “a factor of the utmost importance”, a claim which would be seen as almost blasphemous by certain modern-day critics.


Anybody making such a claim would first have to explain what they mean by “beauty” and the “beautiful” and then, at a time when most people involved in architecture are busy trying to create increasingly stunning, technological, energy-sustainable forms constantly defying the laws of gravity, be accused of being oldfashioned and not very up-to-date.


At the present moment we are witnessing a barrage of incredible and highly complex demonstrations of stylistic creativity and uniqueness coming from all over the world, but which often forget to include harmony in their creative process as the irreplaceable foundation of aesthetics, which, as Alberti stated, “is the most noble thing of all, as well as being indispensable” because its presence enhances both utility and stability.


A critical stance currently very much in vogue refuses to pass judgement based on the aesthetic canons of beauty, claiming that architecture should not belong to the modern-day culture of “branding”, so as not to jeopardise its stylistic values in the name of the market and marketing to the detriment of conceptual clarity.


When we look at and study an architectural monument from centuries gone by it is easy for us all to be amazed and astonished, happily using expressions referring to beauty because we are familiar with the cultural canons underscoring architectural design. Canons like: symmetry, proportions and harmony; all values only reluctantly drawn upon when studying the modern-day world.


Gio Ponti claimed that “everything in our culture is simultaneous, so there cannot be any historical, technical or linguistic fractures when considering both ancient and modern architecture, since the yardsticks used for judging architecture go beyond the age in question and its distinctive materials, making exclusively spiritual recourse to timeless and unchanging terms of thinking”. This view is so true that we should, perhaps, start reconsidering and reappraising the architectural thought of certain masters from our age that the media inappropriately refer to as “archistars”, due to the fact that some of their works feature such extraordinary, highly unusual forms, and re-evaluate the intrinsic poetic harmony mainly embodied in construction-distributional details, which together truly and brilliantly define the works in question.


We would once again rediscover the “wonder” of the poetics genuinely informing any architectural project worthy of that name, turning it into a genuine monument of our civilisation to be studied, protected and preserved.


Cesare Maria Casati