Why Classical Architecture Better Serves The Public Good Than Modernist Atrocities | The Federalist

Why Classical Architecture Better Serves The Public Good Than Modernist Atrocities

Classical architecture offers the possibility of restoring beauty to gain respect for the work public buildings do in contributing to the common good.

Source: Why Classical Architecture Better Serves The Public Good Than Modernist Atrocities – The Federalist

Dr. Carroll William Westfall (PhD, Columbia University), Professor Emeritus at the Notre Dame School of Architecture, has penned (or perhaps, this being the 21st century, keyboarded) this excellent argument in favor of President Donald Trump’s recently leaked draft executive order – which may or may not actually be issued – which, as a surprisingly supportive article in The Atlantic points out, “strongly encouraged architects to adopt a classical style when they design federal courthouses and buildings in the nation’s capital.”

While there have been the usual bleated objections from the usual suspects, Dr. Westfall raises some excellent points, such as “the fact that a building is a public object that occupies a site that is necessarily part of the realm where people lead their lives. Things placed in the public realm are obliged to serve the public, common good even if privately owned, and it is the duty of government to ensure this is done.”

It is, in other words, not created merely or even primarily for the benefit of “those who seek to preserve the putative right of architects to express their interpretation of the modern era with the latest fashions on public land and at public expense.” He asserts, instead, what I would agree is the unassailable truth that “the primary purpose of a public building is to serve a public, common good,” and notes that

“Modernism gained ascendancy at the expense of classical architecture that uses valued traditions adapted with innovations, drawing on experience and new insights to fit current circumstances. This role of tradition and innovation in architecture has its counterpart in our form of government, which has its roots in ancient Greece and Rome and in the experience of governing British colonies.”

Let me reemphasize that: classical architecture… uses valued traditions adapted with innovations, drawing on experience and new insights to fit current circumstances.

This is also true of classicism and traditionalism, rightly understood, in general (as he alludes to, in referring our form of government). He further notes that “Classicism is not a style but an achievement of architectural art that renders a public service while honoring the canons of beauty as they pertain to that art.”

I have posted on “The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism” previously, so I will not rehash the point, here. But it is nothing but absurdity to claim that Classicism is simply a pro forma and unimaginative rehashing of “old stuff,” and “not who we are today.” And to the extent that there is any truth to the latter, it is an indictment of the present age, not a compliment to it!

Fortunately, a growing number of people are starting to realize that in architecture as in so many other areas of the res publica, the modernist / postmodernism “emperor” has no clothes. And more and more are beginning to develop an appreciation for classical things, classical ideas, classical values: in art and architecture no less than in other realms of public and private life.

With respect to public building and the architecture thereof, Dr. Westfall notes that “While modernist architects would fare poorly in satisfying the proposed guidelines” of President Trump’s leaked draft order,

“a growing number of architects is recovering the ability to produce classical architecture. They offer the possibility of restoring the beauty of public buildings to gain the people’s respect for the work those buildings do in contributing to the public, common good.”

He concluded that “We need these revisions to achieve this,” and I whole-heartedly concur.


The linked Federalist essay includes this bio of Dr. Westfall:

Carroll William Westfall (PhD, Columbia University) has been a professor of architecture since 1966. He began his career at Amherst College, then the University of Illinois in Chicago, the University of Virginia, and between 1998 and his retirement in 2015, at the University of Notre Dame, including four years as chairman of the School of Architecture. He has published three books and numerous articles on topics from antiquity onward, with a focus on the history of the city and particular attention to the reciprocity between the political life and the urban and architectural elements that serve the needs of citizens. He, his family, and pets now live in Richmond, Virginia.

None too shabby a resumé! His Notre Dame faculty directory bio adds,

A central theme of all of his studies has been the history of the city with particular attention to the reciprocity between the political life and the urban and architectural elements that serve the needs of citizens. His emphasis is on the usefulness of knowledge of history to practicing architects. This, rather than a stylistically based interpretation of the history of architecture, has informed all of his work. His current interests are concentrated on the architect’€™s capacity to nourish the Christian faith and on tradition and classicism in architecture and the American city with special attention to the role of Thomas Jefferson in founding a distinctive American architecture to serve a unique nation.

Why am I not surprised that he is approaching this issue from a Christian ethos? Truth, Beauty, and Goodness live! Thanks be to God!

The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism: Ugly Buildings, Ugly Paintings, Ugly Words, Ugly Life

Image result for modernist art and architecture

We who live in the Western world at the present time continue to suffer under the reign of a great tyranny — the tyranny of artistic modernism.

Source: The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism | New English Review

The four “uglies” in the title above are the assessment – all too accurate – of William Briggs, in his post on the subject. I cannot disagree! Here, at any rate, are some quotes from Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros’s piece at New English Review, linked above, with my reflections thereon:

“We who live in the Western world at the present time continue to suffer under the reign of a great tyranny — the tyranny of artistic modernism. The modernist aesthetic, which dominates our age, takes a variety of forms in the respective arts — in architecture, a lack of scale and ornamentation combined with the overwhelming deployment of materials like glass, steel, and brutalist concrete; in the plastic arts, a rejection of natural forms mixed with an unmistakable tendency towards the repulsive or meretricious; in literature, non-linear narrative, esoteric [*] imagery, and an almost perfect lack of poetic form and diction.”
Continue reading “The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism: Ugly Buildings, Ugly Paintings, Ugly Words, Ugly Life”

The Catholic Lady: Desiring Beauty

Source: The Catholic Lady: Desiring Beauty

https://anglophilicanglican.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/8eade-frankwestonbenson.jpg
 Beautiful clothing encourages us to contemplate God in the beauty and order of the universe.
Painting by Frank Weston Benson.

Wow! Sometimes I run across something that is, if not exactly and completely new to me, at least allows me to look at things in a new and exciting way. This is such a post! The Catholic Lady writes,

“Beauty, as St. Thomas says, is objective and has four attributes: truth, goodness, oneness and symmetry.  Beauty, when comprised of these qualities, directs us to God.”

This I had missed – I am not a Thomistic scholar, though, so there’s probably a lot in The Angelic Doctor’s writings that I’ve missed. It makes perfect sense, though, as St. Thomas Aquinas’s thought tends to. Reminds me of the Three Transcendentals – Goodness, Truth, and Beauty – which are all attributes of the “Ultimate Transcendental,” namely, God! At any rate, she goes on to ask,

“But what is the style of Christian civilization?

And answers:

“The style at the heights of Christian civilization is undeniably beautiful and uplifting to the spirit. It directs the soul to God rather then confining it to superficial worldly indulgence.”

Yes – that is one of the chief virtues of the great cathedrals, Gregorian chant, and other exemplars of classical Christian art: they lift the thoughts, the attention, the heart, and through them, the spirit, to the contemplation of heavenly things. But I hadn’t thought of applying the same reasoning to clothing styles – yet it makes so much sense:

“Beautiful clothing encourages us to contemplate God in the beauty and order of the universe. It represent the supernatural virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. These virtues combined with the desire in our souls to do good and avoid evil, govern Christian society and also form the basis of beautiful design. Beauty is literally graceful because it comes into our lives through the infusion of Supernatural virtue.”

“Beauty is literally grace-full” (emphasis added) – again, wow! True beauty is graceful, because it is full of God’s grace. And then she goes on to apply those Thomistic qualities to it – again, taking it to a level I had not contemplated, previously:

Truth can be seen in clothing that identifies the wearer as a man or woman, his status and occupation, even his character and family. Goodness is in the quality materials and fine workmanship, and in the modesty that respects the natural virtues. Oneness is in the completeness of the ensemble and the way it matches in an ordered way. Symmetry is the proportion, consistency and uniformity that comprise it.

“This can be applied to everything: music and architecture, furnishings in the home, work and crafts, words and manners, meals and dinner tables, beautiful prayers and good reading. Local traditions sustain cultural beauty in holidays, ceremonies and ways of being that began long ago when people turned to God and received a flow of grace to generations. This realization makes us love and keep alive tradition. Beauty is expressed in many cultures and is diverse since God’s creation is immense. However, beauty cannot go against the natural order.”

Indeed. Something which does, may (perhaps) be clever, or interesting, or thought-provoking, or challenging (or disturbing!), or something along those lines. But not beautiful.

“Beauty lifts the spirit above what is purely functional to the realm of spiritual satisfaction in our quest for the Supernatural.  How can we not constantly marvel at and reach for the heights of beauty to fill up our minds and souls with the contemplation of God?”

How can we not, indeed? Yet, like the modern taste-buds, that are so used to “hyper-palatable” foods laden with salt, sugar, MSG, etc., that they have to be re-trained to appreciate healthful foods and natural flavors, so our aesthetic sensibilities are often numbed almost to the point of becoming insensate by the images of modern media, both entertainment and advertising, with which they are constantly bombarded.

But this is encouraging. It’s worth being reminded that beauty is not, necessarily or entirely, “in the eye of the beholder”; that just as there are objective standards of truth and morality, there are also objective standards of beauty.

And once again, we see the Three Transcendentals – Truth, Goodness, and Beauty – inserting themselves into the conversation! That connection was not planned, not by me. But very apt, nonetheless! A moment of synchronicity… or, perhaps, of Divine Providence.

And with that, I shall close these musings, for the night!