Evaluating Architecture: Objective or Subjective

Roger Lewis in the Washington Post asks: “how can one reliably evaluate architecture to distinguish between excellent design and mediocre or poor design?”

Lewis laments that American officialdom tends to avoid this question.  “Consequently, design standards and evaluation criteria focus on building characteristics that can be assessed objectively: functional performance, structural stability and durability, public health and safety, energy conservation, environmental impact and financial feasibility. Zoning and building codes do not address architectural style, contextual fit, visual composition or aesthetic creativity. Laws and policies do not talk about building scale, shape and proportion, symmetry and asymmetry, texture and color, or details and ornamentation.  Yet these fundamentally determine the aesthetic quality of architecture, whether a house or a museum.”

“Not surprisingly, lack of public discourse about design quality has produced urban and suburban environments full of unattractive, unlovable architecture.  Our utilitarian culture has enabled government and the private sector to develop millions of utilitarian structures — houses, apartments, offices, shopping centers, schools, warehouses, hotels — that are architecturally banal and sometimes downright ugly.”

“[Good] design requires judgment calls that reflect personal tastes and shifting preferences. Indeed, a frequently heard maxim sums it up: ‘Put three architects in a room, and you’ll get five opinions’.”  That’s not a bad thing, I say.

Architects Argue Aesthetics

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