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"Make it simple, but significant." ~ Don Draper

As designers, our concepts are based on the relationship and shift of priorities between the natural and the imaginative approaches. We explore basics around realism and romanticism and examine how these theoretical positions are present in contemporary design. So, what is still present as an active component of design thinking? And why does it matter?

I identify as a pragmatist. I drive a specific route to work each day based on traffic. I have a haircut for the least amount of effort (thank God bed head is still quasi in style). I use a multitude of programs to make the drawings read right, instead of just a single program to ensure the drawings read right. That’s why the idea of a “pragmatist aesthetics” [1] is so appealing to me. A building for everyday use is what an architect’s first expectation is in the 21st century. But, I must also compare a pragmatists aesthetics with Corbusier’s “Plastic Emotions”; “…by the relationships which he [the architect] creates he wakes profound echoes in us, he gives us the measure of an order which we feel to be in accordance with that of our world, he determines the various movements of our heart and of our understanding; it is then that we experience the sense of beauty”. [2]

These two concepts are what we, as designers, strive for in modern architecture. A pragmatic sense of beauty. By combining these two modes of thought, we discover how to express a building’s connection to its inhabitants freely and sometimes discretely. In Andrew Ballantyne’s essay, "Architecture, Life and Habit”, he identifies the building as the place that inspires its inhabitants, “the stronger the rapport, the better the fit, the more aesthetically satisfying the achievement.”

This coincides with Immanuel Cant’s question of knowledge: “…some knowledge may be inborn to the human mind or whether all knowledge comes from experience”. [3] How will we know what our inhabitants will desire without knowledge of where and what our community stands for at that very moment? Furthermore, how can we predict what the future culture (5, 10, 50 years) would deem as relevant architecture? I had a first grade teacher, Mrs. Woodward, that would ask a question and if you responded with, “I feel like…” she’d interrupt you and tell you, “I don’t care what you feel like, I care what you think”. It seems like Cant applies this same idea to his definition of Posteriori knowledge, “We know their truth from experience and not by considering the concepts they include.” The yellow bridge does not have to be yellow to function as a bridge. The same goes for pertinent design. We know what needs to be built to function. We also know what drives a culture and how it leads us to a probable resolution. The Enlightened Thinker and/or the Romantic.

The architect utilizes a form of “Universal Rationality” to identify how the surrounding culture themselves and how they want to / should be perceived. Or, the designer recognizes the communities ethos and traditions and reflects it in the most complementary way possible. It can then be determined what is the correct, functional design for the community. It is the utilization of intuition, knowledge, pragmatism, and emotion to provide, as Corbusier would say, good art.

“A house is not a machine-à-habiter. It is man’s shell, his continuation, his spreading out, his spiritual emanation.” ~Eileen Gray


  1. Ballantyne, A. (2011) “Architecture, Life and Habit”. Wiley on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics

  2. Le Corbusier (1986) “Towards a New Architecture”. Dover Publications, New York

  3. Mitrovic, B. (2011) “Philosophy for Architects”. Princeton Architectural Press


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