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AESTHETICS AND MATERIALS

Theory of Architecture
Sheifali Aggarwal
Roll Number: 07616901611
Sushant School of Art and Architecture

“ARCHITECTURE STARTS WHEN YOU CAREFULLY PUT
TWO BRICKS TOGETHER. THERE IT BEGINS”
- LUDWIG MIES VAN DER ROHE


Aesthetics was notioned by Alexander Baumgarten from the Greek aisthanomai which means perception
by means of the senses. There are two parts to aesthetics primarily: the first being the philosophy of art
and the other philosophy of the aesthetic experience of objects or phenomena that is non art.
The first represents the aesthetic appreciation of nature. The natural objects, to be aesthetic or for us to
cherish the beauty of a flower, it is not important to think of these natural objects as works of art. In fact,
our appreciation is determined by the lack of the features they possess as works of art and their
possession of features available only to aspects of nature as their own.
Artists create works of art which reflects upon their skills, knowledge and personalities and these art works
can be interpreted in different plausible ways, understood or misunderstood, critiqued upon or praised
depending on the user or viewer.
To go back in the history and study the evolution of “Aesthetics” and its popularity is quite interesting. The
collaboration between the philosophers, architects, urban planners and designers of the late twentieth
century gave plausible notions and defined many aspects and principles on which the discipline of building
is based. Vladimir Mako in his article Aesthetics in Architecture (2012) coins that architecture was no more
conceived as only building spaces but also understanding the relation between space and form, space and
human body, new structuralism and disappearance of form. Aesthetic ideas which are primarily related to
the cultural existence of men, opens the possibility of revalorization of theories on issues regarding
essential processes of architectural creativity, perception of our contemporary built environment and their
future.
Lisbeth Soderqvist (2011) in her article talks about structuralism in architecture could be understood as
permanent and invariant aspects of patterns and definitely non changeable. Structuralism allowed
architects to use materials which would normally be used only on the exteriors in interiors like ‘raw’
concrete i.e. concrete without any plaster over it giving a totally new dimension to aesthetics in
architecture. For example, the main entrance of the Stockholm University, the wall added to the building is
of glass and the floor inside is paved in stone of varying sizes. Hence, the material he has used in the
interiors is such that we would normally associate with the exteriors.
However, in today’s world structuralism has changed its meaning to a greater extent and is no more
permanent and invariant but flexible and ever changing. Also, Francis Strauven, professor of history of
architecture at the University of Ghent thinks of structuralism as a more fashionable concept of designing.
Since the beginning of human evolution, construction material and construction technologies have played a
major role in the development of human dwellings. Each material’s unfolding has defined a new age of
architectural history. The materials used in construction industry educate our experience of buildings and
spaces through the interplay of aesthetic, social and historic considerations. Both structural and decorative
elements have a role to play whether immediately visceral or only on a subliminal level. Human beings
have a relation to materials, steel, concrete; glass, brick, stone and wood all compete for our attention -
their best characteristics presented by the brilliant architects.
Brick, timber, granite and limestone – are the first few materials to have come about and been used in the
construction industry with their own meaning and reflection of aesthetics. Further it was the ancient Greeks
that founded marble as a building material, for them it was the locally available choice. However it has
gained an aura of majesty after the Romans and later renaissance builders went to great lengths to
acquire marble to emulate the beauty of Greek architecture. Moving to concrete and glass, they were
another roman inventions. Further, iron, engineered timber, asbestos, and steel, PVC and reinforced
concrete came about and revolutionised this industry of building spaces. Reinforced concrete became a
material of choice for many modern architects from the 1950 onwards, like Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn,
Kenzo Tange, etc. Float glass has contributed significantly to modern architecture with its extensive use.
Mies Van Der Rohe is one modern architect who uses steel and glass profoundly. Plastic tensile structure,
ETFE and various other materials are being discovered everyday by man, allowing architects greater
freedom to make designs of their imagining reality.
Le Corbusier, a modern architect has over 70 building in his name all over the world. He used lyrical form
and materials like reinforced concrete, millstone walls, and glass pavements conveying a rough, worn,
unpolished ruggedness and serene contextualisation in his building namely, ‘Ronchamp Chapel’ (1955) and
‘Weekend House’ (1935). Talking about Villa Savoye, the form is smooth, white and severely geometrical
built in concrete a box like structure with strip windows.
Unite D’Habitation is an apartment block built in Marseilles in 1945-1952 is a large rectangular structure
of reinforced concrete. Dr. John W Nixon (2007) in his article about Le Corbusier states that decoratively
the board-faced concrete finish is relieved by little else than a system of red, blue, yellow and green
coloured squares.
Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe was among the most influential modern architect of his times, primarily
renowned for his ‘minimalist’ aesthetic of the kind most commonly associated with skyscrapers. An
American architect, Peter Blake writes on him and says” Mies is an architectural sculptor – admittedly a
master at the manipulation of spaces and forms, materials and finishes. “
In the German Pavilion, Barcelona by Mies, the materials are of the highest order – walls of tinted glass
and polished marble, with an overhanging flat roof supported by eight slender chromed – steel columns.
Mies used steel and glass extensively and many buildings in his name are in these materials. Like the
Farnsworth House by Mies is a long rectilinear, single story of glass and white painted steel. Eight steel
uprights hold it off the ground, serving not just an aesthetic but also functional. On all the four sides, the
house is glazed from floor to roof.
Moving on, the Lake Shore Drive Apartment Blocks, Chicago, comprise two 26 storey steel and glass
blocks. The Illinois Building in Chicago is also constructed in steel with an infilling of glass and brick – the
structure was made visible.
Nixon says that Mies created architecture of rational communicable order: undramatic, unspectacular,
reticent and concise. The simple steel framed structures acclaimed a worldwide praise and reputation.
According to Lara Lemley, a creative professional from Colorado, elegance and simplicity of form were
combined, featuring structures with stylish yet neat front walls, limited structural walls allowing for
reorganisation, single corridors to minimize building design and massive windows to maximise the inlet of
natural light and scenery in the modern period.
The aesthetics is not only driven with decoration and fancy forms, it also lies in its simplicity. Buildings are
defined by their materials and the functions they behold. Corbusier and Mies are both modern architects
and believed in simple yet not primitive but noble design ideas, but both differed and had similarities in
their architectural style because of the different and similar use of materials. In their smallness, they are
great pieces of work.
Aesthetics was driven by materials and will continue to do so. Aesthetics is not definable. But the materials
do give it a parameter of definition. Aesthetic experiences emphasizes on doing things for the pure joy of
it being the true goal of self-actualisation.


Bibliography
Budd, M., 1998. Aesthetics. In E.Craig(Ed). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge, pp. 1 -
3.
Lemley, L., n.d. Writings fo the Inarbitary Fashion.
Mako, V., 2012. Aesthetics in Architecture: Contemporary Research Issues. pp. 134 - 141.
Nixon, D. J. W., 2007. Le Corbusier: Architect, Town planner, Painter, Sculptor, Writer. Volume 2, pp. 1-5.
Nixon, D. J. W., 2007. Lugwig Mies Van Der Rohe:. Volume 1, pp. 1-3.
Quirk, V., 2014. INFOGRAPHIC - Materials in Architecture (A History). [Online]
Available at: <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=476252>
[Accessed 27 april 2014].
Soderqvist, L., 2011. Structuralism in Architecture: a Definition. Journal of AESTHETICS AND CULTURE, Vol
3.