Thomism and Architecture

bessIn Philip Bess’ work Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred, he uses a Thomistic-Aristotelian framework (including but not limited to what he calls “my happy participation in and defense of the religious and metaphysical realism of Western culture”) for analyzing architectural trends.

Chapter 2, titled ‘Democracy’s Private Places’, has some interesting observations about city architecture in the post-war era (an era that continues right up to the present day with its architectural folly). One of the hallmarks of this time has been the decline of public buildings and the rise of luxury town homes – specifically, suburban homes intentionally separated from the public life of the city, thus fortifying the notion that the Good Life, whatever else it may be, is essentially a private affair. This deviates from Aristotle’s understanding that a happy society is one in which the members are part of a Common Good that, whatever else it may involve, is essentially civic. Zoning laws that officially separate public from private life (and in the process make the automobile practically indispensable) now force this heretical worldview to be incarnated in the landscape of our cities. Continue reading

Suburban Pretensions

From James Kunstler’s Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century:

51KSTqjpDiL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_“The suburban housing subdivision is not what it pretends to be. It is emphatically not a community, certainly not a village or a town. What you feel most strikingly is the perverse absence of those qualities. The subdivision is an abstraction: a metaphor. It is an essemlage of little cabins in the woods or little manors in a park or some hybrid of the two. It is essential to this metaphor that each of these houses be understood as existing in isolation. The fact that there are, say, 350 of them distributed around a tract of 175 acres only elevates the unreality of the metaphor. We want them to behave as an ensemble, as a living pattern, but the houses refuse. To do so would contradict their splendid isolation.”