Beauty matters; Human judgement and the pursuit of new beauties in post-digital architecture

AD magazine Sep.-Oct.2019; 05, Vol.89, Wiley

The AD magazine’s front cover

Beauty in architecture matters again. This issue of AD posits that after 80 years of aggressive suppression of engagement with aesthetics, the temporarily dormant preoccupation with beauty is back. This is evidenced by a current cultural shift from the supposedly objective to an emerging trust in the subjective – a renewed fascination for aesthetics supported by new knowledge emanating simultaneously from disparate disciplines. Digital design continues to influence architectural discourse, not only due to changes in manufacturing but also through establishing meaning. The very term ‘post-digital’ was introduced by computational designers and artists, who accept that digital gains in architectural design are augmented by human judgement and cognitive intuition. The issue takes an interdisciplinary approach to this re-emerging interest in beauty across neuroscience, neuroaesthetics, mathematics, philosophy and architecture, while discussing the work of the international architects, in both practice and academe, who are generating new aesthetics.

New York, 2019, 27x21cm, 144pp. illustrated, Paperback.


An introduction by Yael Reisner, the guest-editor

Architecture and beauty, a symbiotic relationship

3 essays by an interdisciplinary range of contributors

  • Beauty in Architecture: Not a Luxury ‐ Only a Necessity, by Semir Zeki – Neurobiologist, Prof. of Neuroaesthetics at UCL, London
  • Truth and Beauty: The Role of Aesthetics in Mathematics and Physics, by Robbert Dijkgraaf -Mathematical Physicist, The Leon Levy professor, and director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and a tenured professor at the University of Amsterdam
  • The Return of Beauty: Driving a Wedge Between Objects and Qualities. by Graham Harman – Philosopher, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, SCI-Arc, LA
Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA, Rolex Learning Centre, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2009. Interior space, where one can experience how the floor’s gradual change in height achieves the numerous views and a sense of openness and continuity, looking into other interior parts of the building as if through its exterior.
Gilles Retsin, Real Virtuality, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2019. ©NAARO. This installation explored a more spatial experience of Discrete architecture. Timber building elements form a volumetric and monolithic structure where the parts remain present and independent of the whole.
Studio Gang, Gilder Centre for Science, Education, and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, due to completion 2020. The design involves visual movement ‘to choreograph the path our eyes will follow’ and creates a sense of exploration and discovery that is similar to a scientific journey.
Archi -Tectonics, Single- family townhouse, Soho, New York, 2018. Made from a lightweight steel frame and folding panels clad with Trespa slats, the smart climate-control envelope serves as an adaptable perimeter of the building, proving shading and variable degrees of privacy, as well as spatial enclosure of the outdoor roof terrace and balconies.
John Wardle Architects, Captain Kelly’s Cottage, Bruny Island, Tasmania, 2016. Crafted from  Tasmanian Oak, the Cottage is remarkably detailed with the expression of the core material shifting subtly between structural use, to wall and ceiling lining to window joinery and fine cabinetry. Each treatment facilitates expression of the timber but also experiments in its making and form. Completed over a number of years the aspects of heritage construct a narrative that talks of the place but also the addition puts together a narrative of making in a contemporary global dialogue of material and objects.

3 interviews

  • Kazuyo Sejima by Yael Reisner – Abstraction and Informality Generate a New Aesthetic
  • Jeanne Gang by Peter Cook – The Primacy of Relationships and the Reclamation of Beauty
  • John Wardle by Fleur Watson & Martyn Hook – Beauty is in the Back Story: Diversity, Complexity and Collaborative Making in the Australian Condition
Izaskun Chinchilla Architects, Garcimuñozn Castle refurbishment, Cuenca, Spain, 2016. In warm climates outdoor life, particularly after dark when heat dissipates, is especially vital. The project tries to maintain and recover these traditions by designing multiple external exhibition areas, two outdoors cinemas and two panoramic terraces.

10 essays by the contributing architects

  • In Search of the Unseen: Towards Superhuman Intuition, by Alisa Andrasek, Melbourne
  • Which Beauty Will Guid Us? Seeking a Reflective, Sustainable, Socially Engaged Visual Culture, by Izskun Chinchilla and Emilio Luque, Madrid
  • New Solids and Massive Forms, by Winka Dubbeldam, NY
  • The Geometry of Seduction: Considerations of Beauty from Noun to Verb, by David Garcia, Copenhagen
  • Chromatic Compositions: Design Dissonance and the Aesthetic of Fusion, by Nannette Jakowski & Ricardo deOstos, NaJa-deOstos, London
  • Beauty as Ecological Intelligence: Bio‐digital Aesthetics as a Value System of Post‐Anthropocene Architecture, by Claudia Pasquero & Marco Poletti, EcoLogicStudio, London
  • Ambiguous, Bipolar Beauty: And Similarly Agile and Fragile Post‐Digital Practices, by Marjan Colletti, London / Innsbruck
  • Deep Immediacy: Programming Beauty, Stefan Rutzinger & Kristina Schinneger, soma architecture, Innsbruck
  • In Part Whole: The Aesthetics of the Discrete, by Gilles Retsin, London
  • A Specific Theory of Models: The Posthuman Beauty of Weird Scales, Snowglobes and Supercomponents, by Tom Wiscombe, LA
GOSSAMER SKINS 002. Building skins research, 2016. Wonderlab UCL Bartlett 2015-2016, Director: Alisa Andrasek. Tutors: Alisa Andrasek/Daghan Cam/Andy Lomas. Robotics: Feng Zhou. Project Students: Supanut Bunjaratravee/WeiWen Cui/Manrong Liang/Xiao Lu/Zefeng Shi. Resultant geometries seen in the façade are hybrid between underlying data generated by simulation of biological process of stigmergy, and scale and axial constraints of robotic 3D printing process. Depth of the skin varies, based on underlying light exposure data for specific locations, with deeper sequences started to form spatial chunks and exceed only the skin condition.
Image by David A. Garcia. Lise Guldager, Chromatic Street Lighting, Svalbard, 2014. KADK, course: Architecture and Extreme Environments, taught by D. A. Garcia. Svalbard has a colour palette for buildings but no strategy for street lighting, which is from the 1950’s. This proposal understands the need for quality public light during the four months of Arctic winter night using chromatic hues and varying intensities. 
ecoLogicStudio – Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto – H.O.R.T.U.S. XL Astaxanthin.g. Centre Pompidou 2019.  Interior view of installation.  The metabolisms hosted by the structure are powered by photosynthesis, converting radiation to oxygen and biomass. The density of bacteria on each bio-pixel has been digitally computed to ensure the organisms are positioned in areas of increasing incoming radiation. ©NAARO
marcosandmarjan (Marjan Colletti, Marcos Cruz) and Guan Lee, with Richard Beckett et al, Algae-Cellunoi, London/Orleans, installed at the 9th ARCHILAB at the FRAC Centre, Orleans France (now in its private collection). An approx. 4000/2000/165mm milled foam and soft 3D printed algae vessels wall installation. Each clean cellular component, similar in morphology to growth layouts in sea barnacles and shells, is seeded with terrestrial algae that will overgrow its every gap and crevice to create an artificial-hybrid ambiguous structure.
Tom Wiscombe Architecture, Sunset Spectacular, West Hollywood, California, 2016. Mini-models have a low-fidelity cuteness that becomes strange when scaled up. Maintaining its scale indeterminacy at full scale is one of the best and most difficult things architecture can do.
NaJa & deOstos, Pregnant Island, 2008. The drawing shows a Creature Building made of bamboo structure, rubber skin, painted with Amazonian red urucu seeds and black Jenipapo fruit. Its form is an adaptation of forest myth symbolism to the new artificial flooded environment. 
soma architecture, Operations of the Formless, 21er Haus, Museum Belverdere, Vienna, 2014. A collaboration between soma architecture, the Vienna University of Technology, and the 21er Haus. The system, which cannot be foreseen or abstracted with a consistent rule, opens up a research field for alternative modelling strategies and evaluation methods. Through the influence of external forces and deadweight, the positions of contact points are in flux.


Under construction.