Architectural aesthetics and human well-being : discursive frames, meta-logics and realms of consciousness

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2005-05-21

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The environment in which we live has a profound effect on our health and well-being. This paper examines the role of the aesthetic experience, and in particular beauty, in this relationship. Aesthetics impacts human well-being in a rather complex manner; but primarily at a ‘higher’ level; consistent with Maslow’s levels of esteem and self-actualization. The aesthetic experience occurs simultaneously at both the highest cognitive, and the most primitive emotional, levels. It takes place largely through consciousness; a complex manifestation of the physical brain. The brain, comprised of both structural and cognitive layers, has evolved in the environment known as nature. This evolution has developed deep structures coherent with universal themes or tendencies. Recognition of these themes, often in the forms of symbols or archetypes, is partly the perception of beauty. Other contributing factors are social constructs of culture and knowledge. Culture and genes have co-evolved in an interactive, iterative feedback loop. The cultural adaptation and transformation of environments impacts genetic evolution; while genetic predispositions (to beauty) impacts the cultural. The resulting transformed, or man-made, environment has become the de facto environment in which we now live. Theories and ideas of how we create environments are largely the purview of architecture. Over the millennia, there has been the development of consistent logics of architectural aesthetics. A discourse analysis of these logics offers insights into the bigger picture of paradigms of human consciousness and of our own ‘position’ in the spectrum. We seem to be approaching a period of cultural maturation; a time when paradigms shift. Major shifts in epistemology, and existential voids left by the shortcomings of technological determinism and industrial modernism, indicate a re-evaluation of values and knowledge. One approach, suggested by environmental pragmatism, based on trans-disciplinary citizen engagement, known as civic environmentalism offers an optimistic route to sustainable development. Architects can contribute to societal well-being, not merely as object makers, but as participants; experts in environmental transformation, who recognize and understand the cultural codes and deep structures of beauty. Participation in the production of beauty is one of life’s rewards

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