Landscape and the aesthetic justice of low carbon technologies, by Saskia Vermeylen & Dan van der Horst

Some low carbon technologies cannot be easily hidden from view. This visual footprint is assessed in reference to its surroundings, the landscape, in a discussion that often engages with both aesthetics and ethics. Whether it is solar panels on old buildings, or wind turbines in rural landscapes, the debate on ‘acceptance’ is centred on questions such as is it ‘spoiling’ the view? And is it ‘fair’ to put it there? Local groups, national NGOs and planning officials have raised their voice many times in recent years, especially with regards to wind farms – the most visually prominent (in numbers, size and location) of the low carbon technologies that are currently being rolled out. The rejection of wind farms on the basis of aesthetics, has clear parallels with the debate about art and the power art has to upset and disturb our assumptions about beauty. The power of art to shock has raised concerns about the relationship between morality and art, or ethics and aesthetics. This relationship is not just about the effect of art on its audience (is it good or bad art) or whether moral virtues possess beauty but also whether the moral value of works of art conditions their aesthetic value (Gaut 2007). We argue in this paper that similar questions can be asked about the relationship between wind farms and aesthetics. The polemics around aesthetics and wind farms are often framed in an art-centred discourse of aesthetics (notably with reference to art-landscape associations). The challenge that we set ourselves in this paper is to examine the aesthetic value of wind turbines from different theoretical angles. More specifically, we are focusing on the role technology plays in the conceptualisation of environmental aesthetics, everyday aesthetics and functional beauty in order to propose an aesthetic justice that defines aesthetic value as the capacity of the object – i.e. windfarms – to produce an aesthetic experience. In order to define this aesthetic experience we differentiate between aesthetic wealth and aesthetic welfare. We conclude by arguing that windfarms can only become aesthetically acceptable when technology produces a social good that can produce a landscape that encompasses the heterogeneity of the public. One way of achieving this is through exploring the role of communicative action in a theory of aesthetic justice.

Saskia Vermeylen and Dan van der Horst, Lancaster University and Birmingham University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Vermeylen, S. and van der Horst, D. (2012) Landscape and the aesthetic justice of low carbon technologies, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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