Can Beauty Be Regulated?

Roger Scruton compares American and European ways of regulating aesthetics in buildings.

Scruton writes, "That question might prompt us to revise the assumption that beauty is subjective. Aesthetic judgements may look subjective when you are wandering in the aesthetic desert of Waco or Las Vegas. In the old cities of Europe, however, you discover what happens when people are guided by a shared tradition which not only makes aesthetic judgement central, but also lays down standards that govern what everybody does. And in Venice or Prague, in Bath, Oxford, or Lisbon, you come to see that there is all the difference in the world between aesthetic judgement treated as an expression of individual taste, and aesthetic judgement treated in the opposite way, as the expression of a community."

Full Story: The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty



Preserving Beauty Is Critical

Preserving beauty in our built and natural environments is critical. Beauty should be a fundamental consideration in policy making.

We need to regulate building design and materials, in residential, commercial and office construction etc. European policy makers have provided models for how to do that.

Hear hear!



While I agree with most of what the author is saying... Oxford? Apparently the author has never been to Oxford before. Certainly, Oxford can be a very beautiful city. The colleges themselves, many of the old churches, pubs and some other historic buildings are absolutely amazing, but Oxford has really messed things up in a big way too!

Walk down the main pedestrian street of Cornmarket, and almost all you see is new ugly retail from the 60s (I shudder to think of what was torn down to make way for it). Along the New Road, Queen Street, High Street, and many other streets in central Oxford, the ground floors of the historic buildings have been obliterated and replaced with huge plate glass windows for showcasing merchandise. Central Oxford is therefore one of the most beautiful cities in the world... from the 2nd floor up. At street level, it can be an absolute travesty. Most of the historic buildings that have been preserved are institutional buildings owned by the University.

And when you head out to the suburbs, Oxford suddenly looks like any other 1960s suburban fiasco in Britain. Historic Oxford still exists in spite of planning and design initiatives, not because of it.

Retail replacing historic architecture elements

Here on the East Coast/USA in a nearby historic town, it is also common to see older windows in the commercial zone replaced for new ones that showcase merchandise more clearly. Some people like this new look. Not everyone cares about historic windows and similar characteristics of older buildings, unfortunately.

More than windows and other "elements"

The issue of obliterating the ground floor of all of its historic elements isn't really about the windows and the elements in and of themselves. The problem is that when you take those unique characteristics away, you end up with a street frontage that looks the same as every every city, and the sense of place is gone.

Yes, I understand

I understand that the issue isn't about the windows themselves, but of retaining uniqueness and identity.

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