Beauty makes a comeback

Is beauty making a comeback in architecture? With arguments grounded in the natural sciences, the controversial subject may be about to return to debates on architecture. Yael Reisner, an architect from Israel, based in London, and with the whole world in her scope, has a clear and determined point of view: “beauty matters”.

Yael Reisner, who in her profession combines architectural practice, research, teaching and curator assignments, will speak in Architecture Track 1, “The Power of Beauty”, during this year’s Nordic Architecture Fair. She grew up in Tel Aviv in the days of the Cold War. Her dad was, like so many other young Israelis, an intellectual European who fully embraced the ideas of the time about Israel being a socialist experiment. Yael Reisner explains:

– Early modernism was not hostile to the concept of beauty. But after World War II, function and objectivity became the architects’ watchwords. They would all serve the community as good, objective engineers. Subjective concepts such as beauty would be purged in the new, socialist-inspired drive to modernise.

However, Yael Reisner was attracted to the visual at a young age and eventually, after studying in London, among other places, she came to devote her own research to the very concept of beauty. In 2010, together with Fleur Watson, she wrote the acclaimed book Architecture and Beauty: Conversations with Architects about a Troubled Relationship. This autumn she will also be the curator of Tallinn Architecture Biennale, which will focus on the boost that beauty has been given in debates on architecture in recent years. And simultaneously the September issue of Architectural Design magazine, that she guest edit, share the same topic: Beauty Matters.

“In other words, we need beauty to survive as human beings and there is a strong link between our health and how often we experience beauty.”

Yael Reisner has also since summer 2014 moved closer to the natural sciences in her research: neurobiology, neuro-aesthetics and mathematics:

– Quarter of our brain is the visual brain. And the region of the brain that we experience beauty is part of our emotional brain, where we also experience romantic love. So it is about strong emotions, crucial to our lives. In other words, we need to experience the pleasure of beauty, daily, to survive as human beings and there is a strong link between our health and how often we experience the pleasure of beauty, daily. Neuroscientists claim that civilization couldn’t exist without the experience of beauty.

However, she is aware that the concept of beauty is still controversial within the architectural community:

– Architecture is a complex artform, with its connection to the functional and the tactile, as well as its permanence. Moreover, architecture affects more people than, for example, a poetry collection or a piece of classical music. Many architects are still afraid of the subjective, but the fact is that most people actually agree on what is beautiful. The heart also resides in the brain, so to speak.

During this year’s Nordic Architecture Fair, Yael Reisner is mainly interested in starting a constructive dialogue on the concept of beauty and our need for beautiful architecture.  And when asked how architecture can be both good and beautiful, she gives a very clear answer:

  Beauty without practicality won’t be good architecture. Good architecture is beautiful architecture. New beautiful architecture is original, profound, surprising and often ambiguous. Sustainability fails without beauty. And architecture fails without beauty. One must remember that beauty is not a singular idea, but its plurality prevail.