Sunday, 9 December 2007

Church Architecture

Hi, I just got to you through vaux, through haunted geographies. I've spent a happy little while browsing your blog, some really brilliant thoughts. And Ruskin always gets me going, last year I wrote a piece on Ruskin, atheism and architecture.

My next essays are on the role of design in effecting an 'essence' of sustainable housing and then a critical piece on something since 1985.. I hope a church building, I haven't really started. I want to write on new church architecture, even emergent/ing church architecture. I can't really find a lot written on it. Have you come across anything worthwhile on that?
"Have we lost something here? Are the warehouse churches that we throw up or rent just bland, interchangeable shells for an equally bland and interchangeable God?" I have thought this, currently at a warehouse church, and saddened by the missed opportunity that their new building project represents both environmentally and artistically. I'm torn also by their explicit arguments made for church as a shoe box as primary metaphor. Also on my blog are these questions, I've been going back and forth with some friends with:

Is the church building a shoe box, is it a sheepfold, is it only shelter, is there something gnostic at the end of this train of thought? Do we owe the rich architectural heritage of cathedrals from a former christendom to idolatry alone?

How deep rooted is our damaging abandonment of the arts and disregard of place, and how far reaching are the implications?

What is community? How much slower should we be moving geographically inorder to form better community, what is the role of craft in community, and what would its contemporary expression be?

If God is Green, is this a call to asceticism and does it have implications for christian expression in architecture?

So this conversation finished about a year ago, I'm just browsing, and thought I'd post a few questions that have been on my mind regarding church architecture, I'm writing from the uk, I'm not sure how different the situation is over there, certainly the rich heritage of european ecclesiastic architecture, is on our doorstep and so even more immediately begs such questions regarding the role and nature of contemporary architecture in the framing and communicating of christianity in a post-modern secular etc culture.

Centrally I ache to know why church architecture today is so lacking in substance? I would argue that it is not for lack of means, nor lack of technology, we have never before had such available resource for building to the glory of God. I would currently argue that the source of this change has been theological and sociological. We have changed in our understanding of place, our understanding of congregation and community, in a change derived from our view of work and family, we have become estranged from the divine good in locality, in physical work and craft and we no longer live in any one place long enough to consider a project beyond a generation. Our assimilation to cultural values, the veneration of youth, mobility, speed etc has lead to a transient placeless church for whom primary metaphors chosen for church buildings are a shoe box, a sheepfold, a shelter.. is there something gnostic at the end of this train of thought? Do we owe the rich architectural heritage of cathedrals from a former christendom to idolatry alone? I would say know. How to we put in place an understanding of our incarnation that engages architecture pragmatically, narratively, communally, sacrificially evangelistically.. bleh. I'm at a Vineyard church, whose regard for musical worship lends itself to an, i think, fascinating comparison with the value it places its warehouse and the message the juxtaposition conveys, at least the the architecturally sensitive.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

stats and speculation

A selection of those stats beloved of politicians, preachers and general pessimists.

- 4.6million people die from air pollution per year
- 50,000 species lost per year
- 1.5 acres of rainforest lost per second
- 70% of Chinese rivers are polluted – unfit for human contact
- US dumps 63,000 trucks of rubbish per day
- 2005 – hottest year on record, the decade preceding 2005 had 9 of the 10 hottest years on record

- Climate change is projected to kill 184 million people in Africa alone – Climate Change a More Deadly Threat – BBC, May 15 2006

Since UN report Our Common Future 1987:
- Proportion of collapsed fish stocks has doubled from 15 per cent to 30 per cent and the proportion of fish stocks deemed overexploited risen from 20% to 40%
- A hectare of cropland yielded 1.8 tons of produce, but due to intensification now risen to 2.5 tons with it the burden of soil erosion, water scarcity, nutrient depletion and pollution.
- In Canada and the US, demand for energy up by 19%. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, are about a third higher.
- Species of animals and plants are estimated to be going extinct at a rate that is about 100 times faster than the historical record
- Biologists have now classified 30 per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds as threatened
- In west Asia, available fresh water has fallen from 1,700 cubic metres per person per year to 907 cubic metres, due to pollution and demand

If China becomes us, per year:
- 1352 million tons of grain – 2/3 of the 2004 global harvest
- 99 million barrels of oil – 20 million more than the global today
- 2.8 billion tons of coal
- 11 billion cars – more than currently on the road

- 1951–1991 – American Family has x2 as many cars, drives x2.5 as far, uses x21 as much plastic, and flies x25 as far
- GDP x3 since 1950, House size x2 since 1970, Av number of people decreased per house

Total US advertising spending is expected to increase 1.7% in 2007 to $152.3billion
Worldwide ad spending will maintain a 6% growth rate for the next 2 years, climbing to $427 bln in 2006 and to $451 bln in 2007

- 5% drop in self-reported happiness between 1970-1994 annual study - 'very happy'/'pretty happy'/'not too happy'
- 66% rise in UK GDP 1973-2001 - no increase in 'satisfaction'
- 500% rise in per capita income in Japan 1958-1986 – no increase in satisfaction
- UK national income doubled – coincide with rise in crime and divorce - Richard Douthwaite – 1955-1988
- x3 rise in depression in people born since 1955 over the grandparents generation - Daniel Goleman
- 1985 study – 1.3% born in 1910, 5.3% in 1960 chance of having had a major depressive episode inc tenfold across a generation - not an artefact of increased knowledge about depression – questions on non-medical terms – eg ‘was there a time when you tried to kill yourself?’

- Money consistently buys happiness right up to about $10,000 per capita income and after that the correlation disappears Diener and Seligman – Beyond Money fig 2 p5
- World Values Survey, an assessment of life satisfaction in more than 65 countries conducted between 1990-2000, indicate that income and happiness tend to track well until about $13,000 of annual income per person (in 1995 purchasing power parity) After that, additional income appears to yield only modest additions in self-reported happiness.

- 90% of Americans believe they are kinder than average
- 84% of Americans wanted to be in the top 20% of income distribution
- ¾ of Americans don’t know their neighbours

- The present footprint is equivalent to 22 hectares per person, whereas the natural carrying capacity of the Earth is less than 16 hectares per person

- UK dumps 6.7 million tonnes of food per year, meaning each household jettisons between £250 and £400 worth of food each year. Most of the waste – which nationally costs £8bn – is sent to landfill where it rots, emitting the potent climate- change gas methane.

- 1500miles: the average bite an American eats has travelled

- US cities – 10 persons per acre 1920 – 4 persons per acre 1990 to present developments building 2 persons per acre
- 25% energy used is phantom power
- 95% less energy is used to recycle aluminium than to make new
- 1 ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 3 cubic yards of land fill, 7000 gallons water, 4200 kwh of energy, 390 gallons of oil, 60lbs of air pollution
- 1 acre of land can produce 50,000lbs of tomoatoes, 40,000lbs of potatoes, 30,000lbs of carrots, or 250 lbs of beef.
- 2500gallons of water = 1lb of beef
- 25gallons of water = 1lb of wheat

- 5 million tons of rubbish in the holiday season, 4m of that bags and wrapping paper
- 14m lbs of rubbish into the oceans last year
- 80% more trash than 15years ago, we have 80% less landfills
- If every family in America ate one locally grown meal a week we would save 800 million barrels of oil

- The cost to countries beyond its borders of the environmental damage and exported effluent from the US has been estimated at $73 billion annually
- Americans use energy – x6 mexican, x38 indian, x531 ethiopian per person
- 2004 – World Health Organisation – study of the rates of emotional distress – correlated inequal income distribution and higher levels of emotional distress
- Gini coefficient – inequality – American – 0.4, china .45, japan .25
- Gini Coefficient - 2001 – northwestern University – the top 1 percent of wage earners captured far more of the real national gain than the bottom 80 percent

What Americans and Europeans Spend on Ice Cream: $31 Billion Global
Cost of Creating Marine Parks to Protect the Oceans: $12-14 Billion

Last year
- the rich world spent three times more on bottled water ($58bn) than it did on aid to Africa ($18bn)
- 10 times more on military expenditure ($1trillion) than we did on aid globally ($104bn).
- Britons spent almost twice as much on champagne and other wine
last year as we did on aid
- The French spent more on perfume, German women more on shoes, Italians more on ice cream and the Japanese spent more on luxury goods than their governments did on the world's poor

- Pet food in Europe and United States $17 billion
- Elimination of hunger and malnutrition $19 billion
- Perfumes $15 billion
- Universal literacy $5 billion
- Ocean cruises $14 billion
- Clean drinking water for all $10 billion
- Ice cream in Europe $11 billion
- Immunizing every child $1.3 billion
- Makeup $18 billion
- Reproductive health care for all women $12 billion


We hear much of designing from the 'inside out' among those who consitute what remains of the architectural profession - that sometimes jolly, sometimes sanctimonious, occasionally chi-chi and often pathetic organisation of shelter tailors' Buckminster Fuller, Nne Chains to the Moon.

As members of a profession currently without an ethic, they have not been driving the discussion. Commissioned by clients to install barrier walls and private pathways that can keep out or discourage those who are unwanted or hired to create private commercial experiences out of what may have been public spave, many become complicit in structuring the urban language of separation. Ellen Posner, on Architects.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

facebook rhyming society

i rhyme and i will slight
facebook its not quite
what it used to be
now with this new type
newsfeeds me with all such
rubbish i don't like
knowledge i dont' need
time that i could spend
setting the world free
touching a new sea
i'm itching to both be
here and remain there
you virtually don't care
there is a truth out there
blink and you'll miss it
think that i'll skip it
christ knows i've been it
here's a forum to spit it
rhyme back to me if you
found something that is true
a fight big enough to
carry the day through

Luke 12 v 13-21 – The Rich Fool

Open House Talk - Luke 12 v 13-21 – The Rich Fool

This evening we’re looking at Jesus and the rich fool which is great because I love talking about Jesus and also I find myself being rich and foolish so I hope God can speak to us all through this passage this evening. What are you here studying for, when you get a job, what are you driving at? What do you really hope for in life?

I think a lot of us will say, a comfortable life, a happy family, and the more honest of us will say, I’d like a really nice house, a really good job and a fast car. And while these are legitimate aims and hopes, but we’ve all seen the Alpha adverts ask, is there more to life than this? And this is the challenge Jesus puts to the man in this passage, the challenge to look at what we put first in our life.

Passage – Luke 12:13-21

Now this is all a bit heavy, I’m sorry, we don’t like to talk about death. I think this passage comes a bit close to the bone for many of us. We love to hear about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, bringing life and freedom, this demands that we look at our values everyday. But we’re not going to apologise for it, it’s in the Bible which we believe and I think there are some really important things we can draw out of this.

If you’re here this evening and you’re not a Christian or perhaps you’re not sure, allow yourself to be challenged by the question, was Jesus the Son of God, as he claimed to be, and if not, should we care about what he says about money and material stuff.

If you’re here tonight and you are a Christian I’d love us to look at what we do between being saved as it were and the end of our life here. What does a ‘Christian’ life consist in?

So if we look to the passage now, we start with this guy that comes to Jesus and clearly he’s not looking for a judge or an arbitrator, he’s looking for Jesus to rubber stamp his claim on some financial dispute. Jesus sees this and warns him, as he would warn us, to beware of covetousness.

Life does not consist in the abundance of things.
Most philosophies will tell you that pursuing material things out of greed is a distortion. Jack Higgins is forever quoted is Christian talks as having said in an newspaper interview, the thing he wishes he’d known when he was younger is that when you get to the top, there’s nothing there. I found this in my gap year, in a way that perhaps its hard to see from the closed system of school, the people around me were climbing ladder of success only to find it was leaning on the wrong wall, or running the rat race only to find that they’d become a rat. There is no rest in materialism, there is no finish line, there is no ultimate apartment, ultimate car to buy. So in this way, pursuing the abundance of things seems exhausting and unsatisfying.

Our greed, our wanting the latest gadget and the newest fashion is not without victims. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor. He commanded us to clothe the poor, but it seems today the poor are clothing us. Sweatshops are well documented, I’d encourage you all to check out Stop the Traffik, which campaigns against the slave trade where today 600,000 people are traded across international borders every year, there are just so many human tragedies happening. Add to this the impact we are having on the natural world by our insatiable desire for fast food, fast products and all that. Materialism contains within itself no limiting factor, where as the environment we live in is strictly limited. Materialism contains within itself no limiting factor, where as the environment we live in is strictly limited.

So pursuing happiness through the abundance of things, finding our identity in material things seems flawed and damaging.

Rich towards God - Living in his Kingdom.
Here it would be easy to say giving your money is being rich towards God, yes and no. God really doesn’t need your money; he can create something out of nothing. What he is interested in is restored relationship with you, and every other man woman and child who’s walking around Oundle today. This is why Jesus came, to show us God, this is why Jesus died to bring us to God and that is what life consists in and it is in giving our selves to God that we are rich towards him.

So where did this farmer go wrong? We must be good stewards of all that God has given us but it not in the building of the barns so much as his attitude of my crops… my barns… my grain... This approach is not making a statement of faith in God, it’s a statement of faith in ourselves. Jesus spoke of the sparrows fed, and the lilies clothed to illustrate that God knows what we need and that he will provide.

So our attitude of faith with regard to money issues is a passive witness, key to my discovering Jesus in the way I now him now was seeing the generosity of Christians I’ve know. But we are also rich to God in the more obvious and active way, when we give our money and our time to the work of his gospel. This is an eternal investment, we don’t know much about heaven but we do know that there will be people there. They then are the something you can take with you when you die which makes them a fairly good investment.

When I was here, I don’t think I really grasped this, the whole kingdom thing seemed a little ephemeral, academic, and teaching like this, made me feel assaulted as if by like those charity people in the street

Be disciplined, Know what comes in and goes out, Avoid the culture of credit, Stop grazing, Be open handed, but responsible – not about rules for giving, but about a freedom to give. This is how we shine in the darkness, this is how we are salt in the world. When we live the sort of radically Christ-dependent lives that Pete Grieg describes in his poem, the Vision, where he paints a picture of a generation, and advertising cannot mould them, and Hollywood cannot hold them.
Break the power of money – give it away

All of this advice is nice but what does it all really mean, we all know that money has power over people, that we should give to charity and that being greedy is bad. But the problem is that however good we are at giving to charity there are still two human longings, to find a security in our identity and to find a guarantee of our future, money tries so hard to give us these things but it is my belief that these can only be found in Jesus that that this is what life consists in.

How has Jesus made this possible?
The Bible says we were created to be in relationship with God, and through sin we have fallen from that. I’ve heard this message so many times, as you have I’m that it has lost some of its meaning. Sin is our selfishness, sin is this building barns and trying to make it all on own without God, our self-reliance, our rejection of God, our choosing to find pleasure elsewhere, it is our greed, it is the vicious cycle of hurt, insecurity, hurt that keeps us hiding behind our masks of the material things we own. This hurt digs away at us and we try to fill the hole with all the escapist pleasures of the world. The Christian contention is that the love of Jesus is the only thing that can fill that hole, and that by his death on the cross he broke into this cycle of greed and hurt and needing to make our selves, and wiped the slate clean.

Jesus offers us an alternative to happiness in the abundance of things, he offers us real joy. He offers us two things that we are looking for, secure identity and a guaranteed future.
We can be secure in our identity, because we know that we are completely loved, he loves us because of what we are, he sees through the mask of barns and possessions. We know this because of his life and because of his death for us.

We can be sure of our guaranteed future because he rose again, proving that he was the son of god and making himself uniquely qualified to make that claim "I have come that you might have life and have it to the full"

I want to live in a way that when people pull back the covers on my life, when they ask the most personal questions, when they look down my bank statement, that they would find someone sold out for Jesus. Do ask yourselves this question, was Jesus the Son of God, I think it is the most important question you will ever ask.

That’s it really, I’ll just close us in prayer, I’m here to chat about anything, if you want to ask about Nottingham, Jesus or anything. I’ve also got this booklet from Tearfund I looked at while writing this talk, I’ve only got one copy but they’re free so I’m sure you can get a copy from their website.

Practical and Conclusion
John Wesley. Founder of the Methodist church.
£30 per month, found that he could live on £28, so gave £2 away
The following year, he saw his income double, but kept his expenses the same so gave away £32, in the third year, his income rose to £90 and so he gave away £62. He rarely let his expenses rise above £30, when he died in 1791, aged 87, all he left were the coins in his pockets and drawers. Most of the £30,000 he had earnt in his life had been given away - £19,800,000 in today’s money.

Again, if you’re here tonight and you’re not sure what to think about Jesus, I would say look, as I did, at the state of the world. Right now we’re filling a spiritual gap in our lives with an abundance of things, and there are victims to this materialism, a child dies every three seconds from extreme poverty – as the t-shirt my sister gave me says - and they just don’t have to. In Jesus I have found the saviour to this very real problem, the more I know Jesus, the less I rely on my money, my fashion, the clubs I go to, the music I listen to, to tell me who I am and to give me value and this frees me, I’d love you to come and meet Jesus, and to ask the question earnestly, was he the Son of God?

ruskin and architectural criticism

Spring 2007

Discuss the aims of John Ruskin in his architectural criticism. To what extent were his proposals realised in the architecture of the 19th Century and early 20th Century?

Ill. 1 - John Ruskin, portrait by George Richmond c.1843 (National Portrait Gallery)

This essay will address the nature of John Ruskin’s aims in his architectural writing and consider the extent to which accepted ‘Ruskinian’ themes in built works and later theory derived from his writing manage to fulfil his social and architectural vision and the reasons for their falling short of this.

Through his writing, lectures and through relationships with the design professions Ruskin is credited with a central role in inspiring and popularising the nineteenth century Gothic movement and the Arts and Crafts, but further than that, the debt owed by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier as impassioned readers of Ruskin in their youth, is noted by Pevsner, and despite attempts to excise him from the development of modernism and later movements, many have looked to Ruskin in the later part of the twentieth century for aesthetic or moral framework, with post-modernist Ruskinism informing Venturi and Scott Brown writing in Learning from Las Vegas, ‘now is the time to re-evaluate the once horrifying statement of John Ruskin that architecture is the decoration of construction.’ Contemporary moves towards zoomorphic and polychromatic architecture also draw on notions attributed to Ruskin.

Ill. 2 - Zoomorphic Architecture, Frank Gehry, Fishdance Restaurant, Kobe, Japan 1987 (Zoomorphic: New Animal Architecture, Hugh Aldersey-Williams 2003, p47)
Ill. 3 - Zoomorphic Architecture, Imre Makovecz, Stephaneum, Piliscaba, Hungary, 1999 (Zoomorphic: New Animal Architecture, Hugh Aldersey-Williams 2003, p16)
Ill. 4 - Polychromatic Architecture, CDP Building, Montreal, Canada, Gauthier, Daoust Lestage Inc, (Architectural Review, October 2004, p47)

In the work of those he influenced one finds a broad plurality of ‘Ruskinisms’, him being credited where architects have gone to some lengths to realise his manifesto for the working man from The Nature of Gothic, but equally where they have simply mimicked details from his illustrations, Michael Brooks writes of these that, ‘even an architect who proclaim[ed] discipleship… was nevertheless likely to develop Ruskin’s ideas in ways that the master could not have anticipated and in directions towards which he was cool or even hostile.’
Given Ruskin’s emphasis on social issues throughout his career and that he was writing for a Victorian audience who would have read him ‘whole’ as a cultural critic, it would it would be simplistic to view his intentions and indeed his legacy in terms only of the aesthetic. His architectural theory was not, as some argue, a break from his art criticism, rather the social and spiritual values are more appropriately read as a logical progression towards a coherent whole. From his first architectural work he pursues this notion that "no man can be an architect who is not a metaphysician." and through his other works Ruskin develops this central spiritual and moral importance of architecture for society, where it acts as a reflection of society’s history (notably in The Lamp of Memory); a measure of a society’s morality (Lamps of Truth and Sacrifice); and a catalyst for change, progress and hope for those working in such a society (Lamp of Life and Nature of Gothic).

When Pevsner proposes in his Outline of European Architecture that ‘Ruskin kept his social activities apart from his aesthetic theory’ there is truth, in so far as one can make the generalisation that his later work was largely sociological with little regard for explicit architectural concerns, however, the idea that people should have better towns or indeed handsomer houses, are in themselves social concerns. His pursuit of Gothic, goes beyond his well documented childhood predisposition for the rustic or nostalgic, the pursuit was made for the social good he could see in it.

Ruskin ties this social and moral agenda to his love of Gothic and advocates it not so much as a style but as a way of life and as the inevitable product of a world conforming to his protestant values. In a way that Pevsner notes as differentiating him from Viollet-le-Duc whose approach is ‘rational’ where Ruskin’s is ‘emotional’, in the sense that Ruskin supplies not merely material provision for something, but ‘motivating power’ for something good. While Ruskin’s very public support for the Gothic is beyond doubt, to limit his architectural vision to a style of ‘Gothic’ as opposed to ‘Classic’ is not sufficient. Malcolm Hardman rather distils a Ruskinian view of architecture into two types, ‘secondary’ and ‘primary’ in his paper Intellectual Lens and Moral Retina: A Reappraisal of Ruskin’s Architectural Vision, where, "Secondary architecture … is imported and propagandistic … superimposed by imperial requirements … pseudo-transcendentalist … it is a merely imaginary aesthesis … that exists in vacuo … its hypothesised population, undifferentiated or stereotyped." and, "Primary architecture … is rooted in landscape and vernacular traditions. It exists in perpetuity … it is reconciled to the accidents of its own material, not offering to ‘defy’ the fallen nature of the world and its inhabitants."

Ill. 5 – Primary Architecture, St Barbara, Jan van Eyck, 1437 (Antwerp Royal Museum) (Malcolm Hardman, Intellectual lens and Moral retina: A reappraisal of Ruskin’s Architectural Vision, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p194)
Ill. 6 – Secondary Architecture, The Architect’s Dream, Thomas Cole, 1840 (Toledo Art Museum, Ohio) (Malcolm Hardman, Intellectual lens and Moral retina: A reappraisal of Ruskin’s Architectural Vision, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p192)

Ruskin addressed his writing to the new discerning consumers of architecture in an increasingly industrial age. In his Edinburgh lectures he proclaimed that "architecture is an art for all men to learn, because all are concerned with it." As such his practical and aesthetic descriptions and argument exist as a framework for their engagement. The public intellectual and practical participation is central to the vernacular hopes in his vision for a ‘primary’ architecture. This architecture is a moral cause and any measure of his influence should draw out from the work of his proclaimed disciples the extent to which an aesthetic adherence reflects the breadth of Ruskin’s social agenda as well as the more apparent visual derivation.

G.F. Bodley, for some time a close disciple of Ruskin’s, self-consciously adopted the seven lamps in his 1862 design for All Saints Church, Selsey. Michael Hall explores Bodley’s response to all seven, noting correspondence with the patron, Mr Marling and his active interest and substantial financial contributions to the project, a notion expounded by Ruskin in the Lamp of Sacrifice. By this contribution Marlin made possible Truth, in the natural marble and granite, as well as Beauty and Life through the employment of local craftsman Joshua Wall in the ornamenting of the church.

Ill.7 – Capital carved by Joshua Well, All Saints Selsey, 1862 (Phil Jackson, 2007)
Ill. 8 – Leaf Diversities from Ruskin’s Edinburgh Lecture Plate,1853 (Phil Jackson, 2007)
Ill.9 – Church at Marling in the Tyrol, an inspiration for the form and position in the landscape used by Bodley in All Saints Selsey (Michael Hall, G.F. Bodley and the Response to Ruskin in Ecclesiastical Architecture, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p262)
Ill. 10 – All Saints Selsey (Eric Hardy)

Bodley conformed to Obedience in All Saints’ gothic style; Power, in the placing of the tower and relationship to the landscape; and Memory to a lesser extent, but Hall argues that Bodley embodies the time through constructional polychromy as representative of a contemporary views on creation and the development of the earth, a view that was not Ruskinian. Bodley used this polychromy again in St Michael’s Church, Brighton.

Ill. 11 – Polychromatic Banding, GF Bodley, St Michael’s Church, Brighton, 1862 (Phil Jackson 2007)
Ill. 12 – Diagram of Geological Strata, William Buckland, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, 1836 (Michael Hall, G.F. Bodley and the Response to Ruskin in Ecclesiastical Architecture, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p256)

Famously Ruskin was involved personally in applying his principles to the Oxford University Museum. He was never completely happy with the project, describing it as ‘a very shabby bit of work of mine’ and although the degree of his involvement is questioned, the building exhibits Ruskinism in its polychromy, decoration and involvement of the O’Shea brothers. Amongst the controversies that troubled the project was the use of iron in the roof and its subsequent collapse. Ruskin’s aspirations for a Primary architecture were realised to some extent in the Oxford Museum, it is obedient in a limited way to a national style and it does reflect the age in which is was built, through the use of iron.

Ill.13 – Design for a Spandrel in the Roof, John Ruskin, The Oxford Museum, 1893, p89 (Peter Howell, Ruskin and the Oxford University Museum, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p77)
Ill. 14 – Roof support as constructed, Pitt Rivers Images, Pikaluk,
Ill. 15 – Natural Carving – Ruskin Illustration (Ruskin Lectures on Architecture and Painting, George Allen, London January 1905, Fig.2)
Ill. 16 – Pointed Arches, Natural Carving, Leaf Variety, Employment of Craftsmen (Hills and Saunders, A Window of the Oxford Museum, The Sculptor O'Shea at Work, 1858)

‘Lamp of Life and Memory and The Nature of Gothic… produced the Ruskinian tradition that is more generally recognised – William Morris, Philip Webb and their Arts and Crafts progeny’ Philip Webb took much of what Ruskin said to heart, haunting workshops and masons yards and preferring the company of craftsmen to that of other architects. William Morris was heavily influenced by Ruskin in his study and later work; he successfully applied aesthetic and moral Ruskinism in the craftsmanship of Arts and Craft textiles, pottery and architecture, but also in the formation of the Craftsmen’s Guilds.

Ill. 17 - Arts and Crafts Guilds and Workshops, Haslemere Peasant Industries, 1898 (The Arts and Crafts Movement, Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, 1991, p75)
Ill 18- Arts and Crafts – Red House, Philip Webb, 1860 (The Arts and Crafts Movement, Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, 1991, p30)

To conclude, Ruskin was profoundly influential directly, as in those illustrated above, and indirectly to a generation of architects working in the 19th century. Many ideas developed or at least popularised by Ruskin including structural honesty, historical relevance and social concern continued to affect the Modernists and today he retains a following on the strength of his consistent and unique social and aesthetic vision for architecture. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the National Trust, and the work of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Guilds can all trace explicit Ruskinian thought in their practice.

However, despite the breadth of his influence, increasingly central ideas of his architectural vision were discarded, he later became academically marginalised, his architectural projects did not come to fruition, even the Oxford Museum was fraught with difficulties, and he was distressed by the unRuskinian work derived from his writing and illustrations, bemoaning the rash of "public house[s] [with] pseudo-Venetian capitals copied from the church of the Madonna of Health or of Miracles, …accursed Frankenstein monsters of indirectly my own making"

Ill. 19 - Ruskin’s Illustrations of Venetian Capitals, John Ruskin, Gothic Windows of the Fourth Order, Stones of Venice, 1853
Ill. 20 - Mock-Venetian Public House Decoration, (Gothic Revival Bar)

That his vision for an architecture derived from a society made up of happy craftsmen, architecturally concerned middle classes and sacrificially socially engaged employers did not become a reality may have been because it was unrealistically beyond the means of his readership to effect or because he did not provide sufficient incentive for the pursuit nor sufficient critique of the alternatives. He addressed the notion that his vision was utopian in his Edinburgh lecture, "Utopian [the plans] are not; for they are merely a proposal to do again what has been done for hundreds of years by people whose wealth and power were as nothing compared to ours; and romantic they are not, in the sense of self sacrificing are eminently virtuous, for they are merely the proposal to each of you that he should live in a handsomer house than he does at present"

Whilst his proposals were not impossible, there was, his critics argued a naivety in supposing so radical a change to attitudes could be brought to be in so simplistic a manner. This entailed a crucial underestimation of the upheaval in cultural assumptions that Victorian Society was undergoing. And whilst the notion that each should live in a house more handsome than he does is not of itself romantic, his vision contained a romantically attractive picture of life in medieval Europe. And it is this nostalgia that proved divisive years after his death, exacerbated by his lending divine approval to the gothic style as for the moral issues. Even his notion of objective beauty ordained by a deity relied on a Platonic epistemological basis and leant on a Protestant understanding of created order - ideas that had been falling out of favour through the 19th century, a period of ultimately subverting earlier theism and values of the Victorian era including Ruskin’s Protestantism. Nietzsche wrote most lucidly on the move away from the moral basis that Ruskin supposed in his writing "When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident … it has truth only if God is the truth – it stands and falls with faith in God." And George Meredith reflects the attitude taken by some in criticising Ruskin’s ‘monstrous assumption of wisdom’ and ‘preposterous priestly attitude’.

Along with the rejection of the basis of his moral and social framework for values in architecture came a reaction against a Ruskinism which had become hegemonic and in which Ruskin was transformed, ‘from a radical author into a public monument’. Ruskin was the established dogma whose ethical questions were ‘damagingly didactic and moralistic’. In the face of rising anti-historicism Ruskin was discarded by many as nostalgic. In the minds of an emerging generation of architects, the scope for radical new built form unfettered from traditions of style, and the possibility for faster, bigger buildings mass-produced to cater for an emerging individualist and consumerist society were to leave much of Ruskin’s moral vision behind and along with that, the scope for Primary architecture.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

what is beauty?

Questions to Joe on Beauty after Ely, Nov 29, 2006

What is beauty?
Presently I think it is that which points to something beyond ourselves, that stimulates some deep desire to transcend the absurd situation we find ourselves in as intelligent conscious beings, beauty makes us complete or in some way gives us hope that our insecurity in our identity is only temporary.
I have so many questions, on the bus back from Ely I wrote down as many as I could in the back of my notebook, don't feel obliged to read any of this rambling stream of thought, but I'd love to thrash out anyof them with someone. Like Bernard Tschumi's essay 'Questions' these are slightly leading questions and in my case they are based on many assumptions derived from a Christian world view.

Is beauty only a chemical reaction, like the redness of an apple provoking a desire to eat that apple to strengthen the body?

Is good art the same as beauty?

Will nature always be beautiful?

Is beauty that which strongly resonates with your human condition?
What is the human condition?

Does beauty have a beginning and an ending?

Is beauty life and ugliness death?

Is nature beautiful simply because it gives life?
Is nature beautiful because its irreducible complexity is so far beyond our comprehension?
Is nature beautiful because it cycles day night day, winter spring summer, and this points towards eternity, it hints at significance beyond itself, beyond the plainly natural?

Is discerning beauty simply wonderment at the complexity or is it an excitement at the reflection of ourselves that we see in nature, or is it because the order of nature suggests that life is not absurd, random and meaningless and is this hope beauty?

Why should I not commit suicide? (Camus)

Does the longing for infinity and transcendence explain why we have created a god or does it point towards one who created us?

Our thirst for water points to the existence of a liquid that can satisfy that desire. Does the desire to find transcendent identity point to something or someone who can tell us who we are?

Metaphorically or literally where does one end and another begin out of: beauty, truth, meaning, love, light, hope, god?

I think we long to escape our feeble bodies and to deny the absurd end that death puts on our short lives. This is the nature of fantasy, that painful longing for some non-existent nostalgic past or some wild utopian dream of the future.
Does this account for sexual and chemical escapism, for kitsch even?

Is beauty that which reaffirms our suspicion that all is not as it should be, and that these utopias are inadequate?

Is kitsch kitsch precisely because it cannot resonate with our being, our world view, our human nature because it is in denial that something is wrong with the world?

Is finding a woman beautiful a desire to own, a desire to procreate, a desire find identity and completeness through relationship or is it something other?

Do all things go out of fashion because they make promises they cannot keep, they promise to enable us to leave behind our meaningless lives, our lives without the fastest latest shiniest advertised product?

Are they all mere temporary, illusory distractions and in fact none of them allow us to transcend death and so become symbolic of the itemsfailure to fulfil the promise?

Your question – what about a notion beauty that grows?
That as you get to know a girl that you might otherwise have found little beauty in, what does it mean for our definition of beauty that after coming to a better and more intimate knowledge of this person, that you find them more beautiful?

Why do people have different opinions of what is beautiful?

Is their common desire for something which enables them simply to further propagate the species of mankind?

Presumably beauty is subjective, but can we argue that the motive for this search for beauty is universal, and that the existential gap it fills is universal?

Does a relationship reveal further facets of another's personality, making possible more levels at which to appreciate beauty?

Is beauty that which answers questions, do we find beauty in that which we hope will answer our questions about life?

Is beauty that in which we can identify ourselves?
Or at least see something of our projected self image?

Do we see god in that which we find beautiful, or is our own god complex such that beauty is a narcissistic gazing at ourselves, and in that way reaffirming our identity or even our very existence?

Is beauty that which gives us a richer experience of life?

A certain contemporary western view of 'beauty' is tanning-salon tanned skin, compared to south east asia where beauty is found inartificially whitened skin.
Why do we go to such lengths to deny ourselves?
Is this simply biological?
Is this fish complaining of the water for its wetness?
If we are spiritual beings what are the implications of a denial of the physical self?

If we are able to give thanks for beauty, to express our appreciationof beauty, does the object or our perception of it change in any way?
In the case of a meal, the food is beautiful but we do not thank the food, we thank the chef. Would a world view where nature is created rather than accident-ed into existence change the value of nature? Indeed would it be more beautiful?

Are we failing to look after nature because we do not believe it has intrinsic value, only the extrinsic value we give to it, such that we need only give it the respect that is necessary to prevent it impacting our wellbeing in a negative way.
Would a view of nature with intrinsic value have more beauty than nature with only extrinsic value?

If beauty points to something beyond ourselves does this explain the golden ration etc in terms of something a priori?

If we found a fully working watch in a field, or a perfect trianglecut into stones on the moon, if we assume it is the product of a random universe, does that lessen its beauty? Equally for nature?

Why can we find redundant things beautiful?
Why can we find ornament beautiful?
Why can we find beauty in machine?

Is beauty any of these: redundance, altruism, sacrifice, genuineness,absence of power motives?

Is beauty the expression of the now and the not yet?

Is beauty the tension between freedom and safety?

Radiohead express in songs like, Nothing Touches Me, How to DisappearCompletely, Fake Plastic Trees, Fitter Happier, something of the emptiness or even fallen-ness of man, particularly in his contemporary, postmodern state. Why is there beauty in the nihilistic and empty?

Can atheism give sufficient grounds for optimism in life?

Is calling something beautiful the same as calling it true?

Can the beauty in nature really be said to be only subjective, is there any way we could argue that it is objectively beautiful, by consensus, through philosophy or otherwise?

Nature a priori to us and so has defined us along with our notions of beauty, is that all beauty is?

Is asserting the truth of your opinion that something it beautiful aNietzschein power agenda?

Can a relativist call anything beautiful?

Is any theism sufficiently grounded, sufficiently tangible to give weight to its optimism in spiritual redemption?

What level of proof do I need to believe in a God?
Is revelation in nature sufficient?
Is beauty God?
Should we first ask if beauty is knowable?