My End is My Beginning: aesthetics within ethics of architectural design, by Vassilis Ganiatsas

Architectural design is not an open ended, aimless theoretical research and contemplation but instead a purposeful action. As such, it can be best described in terms of Aristotelian ethics more as praxis, i.e. as an activity of setting ends and devising proper means to accomplish that ends, rather than as poetics, i.e. skillful making of objects by following ends that are externally set. Architectural design as a design praxis, not only attempts to do good, i.e. good architecture, which is all that ethics and practical philosophy is about, but additionally it attempts that by making good into a thing, which subsequently becomes an exemplar of the intended good.

In the ethics of architectural design, considered in terms of a, par excellence, practical philosophy, the main problem is of how to decide proper ends. The emphasis is on the architect as the regulating agent of the design process; in being good enough in order to set good ends, i.e. good architecture, as his primary intention and practically wise enough, by employing phronesis, so that to follow the proper means in order to deliver the envisioned good. That intended architectural ‘end’ is of ontological significance for the work of architecture, as it justifies the reason for its coming into being. It has to be chosen and established at the beginning
of the design process so that to subsequently provide guidance to the process of architectural design towards employing proper means to that end.

In the aesthetics within architectural design, considered accordingly not as theoretical judgment of taste but practical aesthetics, close to what Baumgarten envisioned as Applied Aesthetics, the main problem is of how the desired end should be formed. It seems that in Aesthetics the emphasis shifts to the object under formation as a regulating agent of the design process; in being able to be formed. Aesthetics thus can be considered as constitutive of ethics and acquire a valuable,  qua constitutive and not instrumental, role as means towards good architecture.

This constitutive role of aesthetics is twofold; providing conclusive form to the originally intended end, or any other mean that could act as intermediate end during the design process, while being a continuous act of constituting wholes out of parts, fragments and traces in order to first establish and then interrelate architectural choices made throughout the design process.

This twofold ‘form giving’ role of aesthetics relates to the Kantian schema of two kinds of forms; forms of intuition, as forms creating the possibilities for conceptual forms, like transcendental Aesthetics and conceptual forms, like space and time.

In terms of the old scholastic dictum ‘forma dat esse rei, distingui et operati’, we can say, in following Kant, that ethics determines praxis as the creation of an architectural work, as a thing in an ontological sense, a res who has a reason to exist in distinction to other things (distingui) and active in itself (operati), while aesthetics gives form to that architectural work ‐ forma dat rei.

Vassilis Ganiatsas, National Technical University of Athens, GR

Harvard Citation Guide: Ganiatsas, V. (2012) My End is My Beginning: aesthetics within ethics of architectural design, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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