Ethics and Aesthetics of Architecture and the Environment

2 0 1 2    I S P A    C o n f e r e n c e

Andrew Ballantyne • Emily BradyIan Buchanan • Ian GroundPaul Guyer Simon JamesDavid Leatherbarrow Tom Spector
The subject of aesthetics is often taken as dealing with questions of mere beauty, where the word ‘aesthetic’ is colloquially interchangeable with beauty and liking. Someone might, for instance, explain their liking the look of a particular object on the basis of its ‘aesthetics’. Interestingly, even within the specialised architecture discourse, the aesthetic is largely discussed on the basis of an object’s appearance. Yet, the aesthetic is not limited and should not be limited merely to the way things look. Any philosophically informed aesthetician will contest this limited view, saying something along the lines of ‘the aesthetic is everything’. The aim of this conference is therefore in part to address this discursive limitation in architecture and related subjects by broadening the aesthetic discourse beyond questions relating to purely visual phenomena in order to include those derived from all facets of human experience.

In taking on the aesthetic in a manner that pushes its considerations beyond the realm of mere beauty, questions of ethics often arise. Indeed Wittgenstein is quoted as saying, “ethics and aesthetics are one and the same” (1921: §6.421). Questions as to why, for instance a building’s form takes the shape it does raises not only conventional aesthetic questions but also questions about what purpose or meaning the building serves beyond purely visual stimulation. Does the form for instance relate somehow to a social ideal or economic ideal? And if so, is this ideal something that its inhabitants subscribe to or are even aware of? In an effort to draw thinkers’ attention to the ethical role architecture plays as well as the ethical function architects play, the second part of this conference call addresses this often overlooked dimension of architecture.

Calling both philosophers and architects to grapple with questions regarding the ethical and aesthetic qualities of architecture, the hope is to propel the discourse beyond the limitations of a purely visual understanding of the architectural experiences. Such questions might include:

  • what is/ought to be pleasurable architecture and environmental experience?
  • how do/ought our experiences impact the aesthetics of architecture and environment?
  • how do/ought we appreciate architecture and environment?
  • how does/ought the ethical and aesthetic inform the understanding of architecture and environment?
  • what is/ought to be a good architect?
  • what is/ought to be a good architecture?
  • how does/ought architecture embody societal and cultural ethical codes?

Paper Abstracts should clearly address one of the highlighted themes above and be no more than 500 words.

Additionally please see the conference’s strand pages for more information about the Ethics and Aesthetics of Landscape and the Ethics and Aesthetics of Professional Practice as well as the Posters page for more information regarding poster submissions. Please see each strand’s themes and submission guidelines (same deadlines apply throughout).

Submissions and any further enquiries should be sent to


Abstracts: 28 October 2011

Notification of Acceptance: 06 January 2012

Full Papers & Posters: 30 March 2012

Early Registration: 30 April 2012


Wittgenstein, L. (1921 ) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Abdingdon: Routledge.

Harvard Citation Guide: Fahey, C. (2011) Ethics and Aesthetics of Architecture and the Environment: a call for papers, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 31 Jan 2011, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

2 thoughts on “Ethics and Aesthetics of Architecture and the Environment

  1. What interests me at first glance is the stipulation of teleology, e.g. the instance of ‘ethic-aesthetic’ as a “material” cause or symbol within the object. Compare for example Material with Historical or Functional forms of formal definition.

    Secondly, I question the case of ‘ethic-aesthetic’ as an exclusive definition. Aesthetic ethics can be contrasted with Virtual ethics, in the interesting sense in which aesthetics seeks the meta-definition whereas virtuality seeks meta-contingency.

    Being more clear, the Material definition has a formal variation by contingency in the context of interface-think, whereas the same definition may have pragmatic variation in an artistic sense, by the definition of objects per se, or object-sense. I mean this in the context of all architectural concepts of interface, e.g. through industry, or editing tools, or ismic perspectivism.

    What is then reached is a dichotomy between contingent-sense and object-sense. This defines that objects are systems only by an amelioration or compromise of ethical, pragmatic, and aesthetic values. The contrary conclusion is that objects are in fact systems, idealistically, or that pragma is distinctly ethical or aesthetic, but not both.

    What this interestingly decides is that cheapness is a variable equivalent in scale and Materiality to the question of Object or System, but not Object-as-System.

    What may be concluded for one thing is that computers have a functional role in architecture that is currently understated in terms of its aesthetic or ethical authority.

    Are buildings only experiences? is on the extreme fringe of this developing belief system.

    The dialogue between mental enhancement and architecture is potentially extraordinary, but is likely to be approached in ways that are understated as opposed to functional extremes. In some ways, however, mental enhancement may play into the hand of empoverished budgets or minimalist systems, for example simple forms of visualization or visual altercation.

    I leave potential further developments of these thoughts to those who may find it useful.

    • Hi Nathan,

      Thanks for your comments. We welcome an abstract submission!!

      Just briefly though, I am not sure that a material definition of ethics, aesthetics or both is possible. … My interest in writing this CFP papers (beyond my interest in personally investigating the question of ethics and aesthetics in architecture (and related disciplines)) is the general overlooking of both ethics and aesthetics in architecture, but also (and much more importantly) the denial that ethics and aesthetics have anything to do with one another. (If you would like a great thinker who argues–often implicitly–in favour of this position, please read Wittgenstein’s writing.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s