Architecture, the sin of aesthetics.

Yoseph
4 min readJul 21, 2022

This is a simple premise. You have a modern problem: we build as a form of consumption. From strip malls to new houses, everything is built under the pretext of commoditized sales, which, when distilled, manifest much of Modern Architecture (Architecture of the 21st Century) as a tool for consumption. Homes are built to be sold, and strip malls are built to house businesses to turn a profit. Nowhere in the mandate of Architecture is the concept of space considered any more.

That might seem contradictory. You think, “but space is all Architecture is, anyway. How can Modern Architecture be about anything but the construction of space?” Because to Modern Architecture, Space is a tool, as much as the screwdriver or the jackhammer or the financial mechanisms used to build the strip malls or the townhomes or the fancy skyscrapers. Ultimately, Space is not a conceptual center of Architecture any more. Aesthetics have won. Why? Why are they at odds, even?

It is true that in the race for efficiency and construction of consumable spaces, Architecture has become a game of aesthetic consumption more that the creation of space for existence. The Strip Mall is built to collapse in on itself after a few decades, rotted to the core and direlect, old, used up, past it’s purpose of financing it’s initial construction plus profit. The Home is also built to collapse. It rises out of the land to exist as a tool for capital, and to finance profitable enterprises that control space now as a proxy. Look at the Housing Crash of 2007. Derivative financial models bundled mortgages into packages sold to banks and financial institutions on the basis of risk, reward, and ultimately, profitability.

And that is the truth of the modern era: Aesthetics = Profit.

TikTok is about the aesthetic consumption of small form videos. Instagram, now copying TikTok, functions in a similar way, with the addition of snackable photographic content that is viewed in scrollable fashion. Art, music, dance, learning, everything in the world has been reduced to Aesthetic value, and in the process funneled into a singular form of Aesthetic whims in the interest of profitability. That is the mandate of Modern Capital. To produce, consume, and produce systems that lock individuals into systems where their consumption is high, and their profitability is high.

So what is modern architecture then? It’s just a tool of profitability. And therefore also has been funneled into a similarly reductive lens of aesthetics. The form follows aesthetics. The modernity of designs either follow a level of opulent excess, an exertion of power through excess consumption, or a barebones acceptance that Capital is King, and the efficient reduction of architecture into cheap, consumable, profitable forms is valued above all else.

Do you disagree? Look at BIG. Bjarke Ingles Group. They are behemoths in the world of Modern Architecture now, not just from a efficient, barebones, corporate construction of housing complexes and office parks. No, yet they follow the same rules as developers of these vapid, dull, and underwhelming consumable spaces. BIG exists because they make cheap buildings that are interesting. They are cheap, and aesthetic, and functional. That is all architecture is in modernity.

And without the motivation of Space as a physical goal, a physical end result… without space defining the existence of architecture, but instead being almost a burden of architecture, something that many wish they could do without while retaining architecture, we now have Architecture as a field motivated, like many other fields, by the efficient expression and control of Capital.

Such is the sin of aesthetics. Such is the sin of modernity. That we should build, plan, value, design — all around the motivation of Capital. Not Space. Not physical people, or the spaces they occupy. Not the simple concept of a house being a form that is occupied, again and again, and existing as a tool in service of the people occupying it and surrounding it. No longer do our streets function for the people around the streets, as a tool for their benefit. No, everything serves Capital. The streets have become death traps in the service of cars, and space has been destroyed, extended, stretched out over vast swaths of land in the interest of dependence on the Car, dependence on increased consumption, and the trap of Capital.

Modern Architecture serves the devil. It serves Aesthetics. It serves Capital. It does not serve people, except as a tool of, again, the exertion of wealth and control. And you can look at luxury architecture, modern forms of excess, and still find in them the vestiges of the sins that allowed their existence. Modern buildings of luxury still reject the concept of people and communities and spaces in the service of people. They still exist for aesthetics, and consumption, with big driveways, large parking garages, in isolated and Capital itensive environments. They perform their duty as the Aesthetic vehicle of Capital. They create want, and envy, and desire for wealth in order to obtain their form. You cannot have a space in it’s ideal form without millions of dollars. Otherwise, you get a cheap, cardboard apartment shunted within a building that decays disgracefully, pitifully, in a way that mandates it’s destruction in 50 years. Because the process of reconstruction is also profitable.

Architecture, the sin of aesthetics. This is why people fetishize antiquity: because even someone who celebrates the Brutalists and the Humanists and innovators like Lacaton and Vassal must acknowledge that modern architecture is now fully controled by a beast with a savage appetite. That modern architecture functions woefully. That it is brief, fleeting, and more akin to meth than any real medicine. And so modern Capital, the new dictator, controls every aspect of life, and leaves carcasses in it’s wake.

--

--

Yoseph

Software Engineer passionate about the future of cities. Currently building libraries for Azure IoT.