Lovability, a concept deeply distrusted by architects of most stripes, is actually the gateway to sustainable architecture because if a building can't be loved, it will not last. And lovability is a better standard than beauty, as we shall see.
Why should love be the first threshold on the path to sustainable buildings? And why is lovability so important that it's also a major component of sustainable places? Many of my colleagues who are classicists have long insisted on beauty as the highest standard, whereas many of my colleagues who are Modernists have long disputed that stand, preferring grittier or more industrial aesthetics while claiming that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We'll never get agreement between these two groups on beauty. Both of these groups recoil, however, at a term so unprofessional as "lovable." "That's barely a step above 'cute,' or even worse, 'precious,'" they might say. But ask any non-architect, and they have no problem at all talking about lovable buildings and places, and they'd really like it if we were to design more of them.
But the fact that architects can't agree on beauty isn't the most important reason why love is a higher standard. Let's think about beauty for a minute. Like this nameless stranger on a balcony in Cuba, beauty can be warm and engaging. (She smiled, I snapped the picture, and she gave me a thumbs-up, so I'm assuming it's OK to use the image, although I have no idea who she was.) But that's only one side of beauty.
As countless melancholy works of song, pen, and brush have attested for centuries, from tragic ballads of centuries past to today's sad country songs, beauty can also at times be hard, or maybe cold, and can definitely move us to unhappy states of mind. At times, beauty and our inability to attain it or to hold onto it, has moved people to all sorts of unfortunate and regrettable choices. So beauty, while powerful, can also be fickle, and often fades with time.
But at its best, beauty moves us to admiration, and admiration can be a good thing. Love, on the other hand, moves us to action. This is my dog Sally, and because I love her, she gets to do all sorts of things that I wouldn't tolerate of an unloved creature.
One more illustration: Look at Wanda's picture at the top of this post, then scroll down and look at my picture in the sidebar. What's not obvious just by appearances is that we've been together for nearly 33 years and have shared love about as equally as any two people ever do. What's exceptionally obvious from looking at the pictures, however, is that we do not share beauty equally. As a matter of fact, had physical attractiveness been a factor, I'd have never had a chance with her, as you can clearly see! But because love did for me what beauty could not do, we're still together after nearly a third of a century.
That's why love is so important to sustainable places and buildings. It motivates people to do things and to make choices they would not otherwise make. If people are to think different and to choose different, then what they need is love.
Steve, you won't be surprised that I love this post. Great images to illustrate the point!
As a friend says frequently, a place should make you want to share a kiss...
I would disagree with the modernists that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." What I think is more accurate is to say we each have our own particular taste in aesthetic matters. However I know that to some there is an objective standard of beauty based on ancient classical principles, and I can see where they are coming from. I do believe we have an innate sense of what is pleasing, what is lovable, and that is certainly related to the idea of beauty in the classical sense, not the modern sense that you mention here.
Steve, completely agree: architects are afraid to talk of love, but without it, buildings and neighborhoods deteriorate and die. Thanks for a timely post!
Steve I have been talking about lovability of places and buildings for years. It is the key. Right on, bro.
I think Kaid, you and I should tape a google hangout conversation. Would be fun.
Great post, Steve. We care for the things we love, and that care sustains. Sometimes we're afraid to talk about the concepts that are the most simple. But the simplest solutions are the most powerful.
Is anyone else talking love and architecture? Creative and timely. We can always count on the LOVELY Steve to make a great point! Wanda may be prettier, but together you make a beautiful couple : ).