Sharing Sense: or, how ethics can be the subject matter of architectural aesthetics, by David Leatherbarrow

Posing a productive question about ethics and aesthetics in architecture is no easy matter, for these subjects raise whole clusters of problems, not simple or single questions. These complexities were apparent two millennia ago when the terms were first introduced. As in most types of business, moral issues rarely obtrude themselves into the contemporary practice of architecture, for it has been absorbed into a broader framework of technological thought and production, a kind of thought that emancipates design from place and practical purpose. Despite these tendencies, one occasionally senses that there may still be some shared background for judgments about what makes a building good, even beautiful. This background is not so much what each of us might state as our values, but a historically constituted and forceful ethos that shows itself now and again in both the settings of everyday life and works of art. Shared sense is key for that is what distinguishes ethical understanding from the various kinds of technical knowledge possessed by individuals. Architects know how to design, carpenters to construct. A living ethos is something different, neither taught nor possessed individually, but inherited in a given culture, modified slowly, and often taken for granted. Thus, there is a tension between the comparatively stable and shared ground of ethical sense and productive and relatively autonomous character of technical production. Negotiating this tension is the real work of design.

David Leatherbarrow, University of Pennsylvania, USA

leatherb@design.upenn.edu

Harvard Citation Guide: Leatherbarrow, L. (2012) Sharing Sense: or, how ethics can be the subject matter of architectural aesthetics, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 18 Dec 2012, Available at: http://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 18 Dec 2012].

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