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Is Architecture Art?

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Why did Ayn Rand include architecture as art, despite the fact that it does not fit her definition of art?

In the Romantic Manifesto, in her chapter “Art and Cognition,” Ayn Rand defines art as, “a selective recreation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” Yet, architecture, she says, “is in a class by itself, because it combines art with a utilitarian purpose and does not re-create reality, but creates a structure for man's habitation or use, expressing man's values.” (RM 46)

When she discusses utilitarian objects, when done in an artistic form, she says that “the same artistic element (purposeful selectivity) is present in many utilitarian products: in the better kinds of furniture, dress design, automobiles, packaging, etc. The commercial art work in ads (or posters or postage stamps) is frequently done by real artists and has greater esthetic value than many paintings, but utilitarian objects cannot be classified as works of art.” (RM74)

Architecture combines art with a utilitarian purpose in the same sense that so many other objects of daily use do; they combine function with beauty. The difference between architecture and automobile design (and other utilitarian objects) then seems to just be a matter of size. Ayn Rand writes, “Architecture, qua art, is close to sculpture: its field is three-dimensional, i.e., sight and touch, but transposed to a grand spatial scale.” If it is only the grand scale that allows architecture to be included as art, then I am confused. What about yachts, jets, or bridges? These are all capable of being designed in an artistic way, are on a grand scale, and yet these are not works of art. If architecture is art because it is where man lives, then I don’t see this reflected in the definition.

I am a huge architecture enthusiast, and I have visited many different Frank Lloyd Wright structures in various different states. Visiting Fallingwater was one of the greatest aesthetic experiences I’ve had. Indeed, my emotional responses to great architecture are the same as my emotional responses to art (like sculpture, painting, or literature) - even though architecture is not representational.

So, if architecture is more similar to other utilitarian objects that are not to be considered art, why does it nonetheless fit under the definition of art?

Does anyone have further thoughts on this issue?

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Sarah, I share your passion for architecture. In fact, as much as I love many paintings and scultpures, none have touched me quite the same as some of the great works of architecture that I have experienced. I can understand what you may have experienced at Fallingwater, and I envy your first experience when you get to see one of John Lautner's great works.

Regarding architecture as art, I think that the key lies in the fact that architecture can explicitly express a view of man and how he should live, something that other utilitarian objects can only hint at. This expression of metaphysical value judgments is part of the nature of architecture -- built into every choice that the architect makes with the space and the forms he creates -- whereas the same is only, at most, an aspect in the creation of other utilitarian objects. When we refer to the scale of what architecture deals with, the reference is not to size, but rather to its scope of dealing with and expressing metaphysical values.

Anyway, I cannot speak for Miss Rand, but that is my own personal view.

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Sarah,

Referring to your list of "yachts, planes, and bridges" - well the latter is architecture itself! And why yachts or planes, or cars, cannot be classified as art, here's my take:

Take something like a beautiful sleek car, or an awesome sleek profile of an airplane - beauty in these entities is a function of their intended use. The airplane is beautiful only insofar as it is sleek and projects awesome capacity to perform its function. If the airplane's shape is angular and has many lines and corners (as opposed to soft curves), you would think it was ugly. The only exception to that is if the airplane was a jet fighter, in which case the strict lines and corners would be beautiful because the airplane would project power and assertiveness against bad guys - which again shows that its beauty is merely a function of its intented use.

For something like a bridge, or a house, you can beautify without affecting its intended use at all. The beauty and the use of the house are much more independent and almost irrelevant to each other. Just by looking at Fallingwater you don't know immediately if it's an awesomely comfortable house to live in.

That's my take - architecuture has an independent side of beauty, whereas beauty in vehicles is necessarily a function of their use, and is therefore kind of 'automatic'. An angular airplane will necessarily look ugly, unless it's a jet fighter in which case it will look good. Etc.

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That's my take - architecuture has an independent side of beauty, whereas beauty in vehicles is necessarily a function of their use, and is therefore kind of 'automatic'. An angular airplane will necessarily look ugly, unless it's a jet fighter in which case it will look good. Etc.

But I think one of Sarah's points was that beauty is independent of function for many other utilitarian objects, too. A lamp can be quite beautiful; it can be sleek, handsome, etc., but light up the room just as well as an unattractive lamp. The same goes for sleek-looking computers, toaster ovens, toothbrush holders, trash cans, etc. etc.

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But I think one of Sarah's points was that beauty is independent of function for many other utilitarian objects, too. A lamp can be quite beautiful; it can be sleek, handsome, etc., but light up the room just as well as an unattractive lamp. The same goes for sleek-looking computers, toaster ovens, toothbrush holders, trash cans, etc. etc.

The difference is that architecture isn't just something to use. It's something you live in.

Architecture is a man-made WORLD and, in that sense, it is like the fictional world that a novelist creates or the scene created by a painter.

The response to a work of art is: Yes, this is what man and his world are. Great architecture creates a man's world as it can and ought to be.

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As usual, Stephen and Betsy have provided some wonderfully persuasive explanations. Before Sarah responds, I wanted to say where I'm still stuck.

The difference is that architecture isn't just something to use.  It's something you live in. 

Architecture is a man-made WORLD and, in that sense, it is like the fictional world that a novelist creates or the scene created by a painter.

The response to a work of art is: Yes, this is what man and his world are.  Great architecture creates a man's world as it can and ought to be.

While I find this argument tantalizing, I suspect that the reason why I find it so tantalizing is because I'm reading it as implying that architecture is a recreation of reality, whereas the premise of the original question was that architecture was not such. Assuming this is a premise that you share, would you be able to provide some insight into why your above account of architecture does not render it a recreation of reality?

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While I find this argument tantalizing, I suspect that the reason why I find it so tantalizing is because I'm reading it as implying that architecture is a recreation of reality, whereas the premise of the original question was that architecture was not such.  Assuming this is a premise that you share, would you be able to provide some insight into why your above account of architecture does not render it a recreation of reality?

It's not a re-creation of reality because it's a creation of a reality.

Galt's Gulch is a nice place, but you can't live there because it's fictional. A Frank Lloyd Wright house, on the other hand, is a real, physical man-made entity you can live in.

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The difference is that architecture isn't just something to use.  It's something you live in. 

Architecture is a man-made WORLD and, in that sense, it is like the fictional world that a novelist creates or the scene created by a painter.

The response to a work of art is: Yes, this is what man and his world are.  Great architecture creates a man's world as it can and ought to be.

Betsy, I think this is an excellent answer, and explains my reaction to great architecture exactly.

I agree that architecture creates "a man's world as it can and ought to be," but doesn't interior design as well?

This is all I will post for now, but I will have to think about your answer more and post again later. Thanks! :angry:

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Betsy, I think this is an excellent answer, and explains my reaction to great architecture exactly.

I agree that architecture creates "a man's world as it can and ought to be," but doesn't interior design as well?

Not to answer for Betsy, but interior design functions within the already existing context of the architectural creation. The architect literally creates the space and form for which anything else that follows, is adornment.

This is not meant to demean the role and value of interior design -- God knows I enjoy the design of some furniture and its integration more than a lot of art that I see! -- but by nature its role is subservient to the building which literally makes the interior design possible. I think, again, this point goes to underscore the capacity of architecture to directly express metaphysical values, that which can only be hinted at by lesser level design.

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Not to answer for Betsy, but interior design functions within the already existing context of the architectural creation. The architect literally creates the space and form for which  anything else that follows, is adornment.

I agree.

Before we lived in our current home (click here), a Mid-Century Modern "Eichler" that's a daily joy, we lived in houses and apartments that were just OK. We painted and carpeted and furnished them as best we could, but there's only so much you can do with interior design.

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It's not a re-creation of reality because it's a creation of a reality.

Galt's Gulch is a nice place, but you can't live there because it's fictional.  A Frank Lloyd Wright house, on the other hand, is a real, physical man-made entity you can live in.

That's an interesting perspective. Many years before I heard of Ayn Rand, one thing that got me interested in architecture was a desire to "step inside a painting" -- not literally, but those were the words I used to express the sense of stepping into a world designed to be what the world could be and ought to be.

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Hi everyone! I want to thank Betsy and Stephen for creating such a great web site.

I also want to make a few comments on this thread.

First of all, I don't speak for Ayn Rand, but I don't see the two sentences in The Romantic Manifesto that refer to architecture (p. 46) as indicating that AR classifies architecture as art.

This is especially true in the wider context of AR's extensive writing on the two subjects: TRM, the definitive book on esthetics, and The Fountainhead, which I would argue is one of the best presentations of the philosophy of architecture (and of design in general).

Again, I don't want to speak for AR, but to me its clear that architecture is a type of design, and does not qualify as art. Its true that while there are many commonalities between art and design (e.g. both use and exploit esthetic science, including beauty), design fails to meet the most basic requirements for art, most notably those of representationalism and non-utilitarianism.

Art functions as an abstraction -- Dr. Piekoff points out it helps meet man's need for philosophy (OPAR).

But Design is a concrete and only a concrete; its purpose is to meet specific, daily, existential needs.

StephenSpeicher wrote:

Regarding architecture as art, I think that the key lies in the fact that architecture can explicitly express a view of man and how he should live, something that other utilitarian objects can only hint at. This expression of metaphysical value judgments is part of the nature of architecture -- built into every choice that the architect makes with the space and the forms he creates -- whereas the same is only, at most, an aspect in the creation of other utilitarian objects. When we refer to the scale of what architecture deals with, the reference is not to size, but rather to its scope of dealing with and expressing metaphysical values.

All human actions and products express their creator's MVJ's. The unique attribute of art is that it concretizes them for the sole purpose of contemplation.

Also, I don't see your distinction between arch. and other forms of design. Arch. supports those aspects of living having to do with residing or inhabiting. But other forms of design support man's other living needs: vehicle design (cars, aircraft, boats, etc.) supports man's need for travelling; product design supports yet other needs; graphic design yet others. Yet all of these implicitly express philosophical viewpoints. For example a car designed by the principles of aerodynamics expresses a different viewpoint than a car with a big radiator grille imitating the facade of a Greek temple.

Free capitalist wrote:

For something like a bridge, or a house, you can beautify without affecting its intended use at all. The beauty and the use of the house are much more independent and almost irrelevant to each other. Just by looking at Fallingwater you don't know immediately if it's an awesomely comfortable house to live in.

I can't disagree more. The greatness -- and beauty -- of Fallingwater is a consequence of the fact that there is NO attempt in the design to beautify the structure apart from what is done to ensure a proper function. The same goes for aircraft and the better cars and consumer products. There are a lot of beautiful structures and products (I'm thinking of overly-styled buildings and furniture) that are visually beautiful, but that you immediately know will be uncomfortable (making them lousy design)

Beauty is (in general) a product and outgrowth of -- and not distinct from -- fitness to function; its not something you smear onto a building like icing on a cake. This is what Roark was arguing for in The Fountainhead.

BetsySpeicher wrote:

The difference is that architecture isn't just something to use. It's something you live in.

Architecture is a man-made WORLD and, in that sense, it is like the fictional world that a novelist creates or the scene created by a painter.

The response to a work of art is: Yes, this is what man and his world are. Great architecture creates a man's world as it can and ought to be.

AR's point about art creating a world or universe does not refer to creating an inhabitable space. Even a picture of a bowl of fruit creates a universe. The fact that arch. creates a space does not make it more any more art than other designed products. Furthermore, many vehicles create spaces, some of them inhabitable. That doesn't qualify them as art.

It's not a re-creation of reality because it's a creation of a reality.

Which is why its disqualified from being art. A picture of a building is art. An actual building is not.

StephenSpeicher wrote:

Not to answer for Betsy, but interior design functions within the already existing context of the architectural creation. The architect literally creates the space and form for which anything else that follows, is adornment.

This is not meant to demean the role and value of interior design -- God knows I enjoy the design of some furniture and its integration more than a lot of art that I see! -- but by nature its role is subservient to the building which literally makes the interior design possible.

Both interior and building design should serve the user (inhabitant). They have different functions. The building meets certain user needs, and the interior furnishings/fittings/finishes meet certain others (they are not adornment or decoration, despite the name "interior decoration"). The two should be integrated, but because the building is usually more expensive and less flexible, the building design proceeds slightly ahead of the interior design. (Keeping in mind however, that for resale purposes, one may want to allow for an interior that admits a lot of flexibility in suh things as furniture arragement, since the new owners may intend different uses)

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Hi everyone! I want to thank Betsy and Stephen for creating such a great web site.

You're welcome.

First of all, I  don't speak for Ayn Rand, but I don't see the two sentences in The Romantic Manifesto that refer to architecture (p. 46) as indicating that AR classifies architecture as art.

I do not understand why you say this. On page 46, is this not a clear statement of architecture as art?

"Architecture, qua art, is close to sculpture: its field is three-dimensional, i.e., sight and touch, but transposed to a grand spatial scale."

And, from the appendix of the same book:

"Architecture: special attributes of as art; 46"

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I do not understand why you say this. On page 46, is this not a clear statement of architecture as art?

"Architecture, qua art, is close to sculpture: its field is three-dimensional, i.e., sight and touch, but transposed to a grand spatial scale."

And, from the appendix of the same book:

"Architecture: special attributes of as art; 46"

To me this means architecture is primarily something else, but can be considered as art or similar to art in certain contexts. I also see that sentence as not precluding the same for other forms of design.

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I do not understand why you say this. On page 46, is this not a clear statement of architecture as art?

"Architecture, qua art, is close to sculpture: its field is three-dimensional, i.e., sight and touch, but transposed to a grand spatial scale."

And, from the appendix of the same book:

"Architecture: special attributes of as art; 46"

To me this means architecture is primarily something else, but can be considered as art or similar to art in certain contexts.

But what is it in Miss Rand's words that you are interpreting to mean "primarily something else?" I see nothing there to justify that.

I also see that sentence as not precluding the same for other forms of design.

Well, yes, but that sentence does not preclude many things. Precluding other things was not the purpose of that sentence. Miss Rand clearly precludes other forms of design, quite explictly, elsewhere. For instance, on page 74,

"There is an artistic element in some photographs, which is the result of such selectivity as the photographer can exercise, and some of them can be very beautiful—but the same artistic element (purposeful selectivity) is present in many utilitarian products: in the better kinds of furniture, dress design, automobiles, packaging, etc. The commercial art work in ads (or posters or postage stamps) is frequently done by real artists and has greater esthetic value than many paintings, but utilitarian objects cannot be classified as works of art."

So, bringing these several quotes together, and taking cognizance of Miss Rand's other comment on page 46 ("Architecture is in a class by itself, because it combines art with a utilitarian purpose ...") Miss Rand identifies architecture as an art and differentiates it from all other utlilitarian objects, which cannot be classified as art.

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It's really not a disputable point that Miss Rand regarded architecture as art. On page 46 of The Romantic Manifesto, she wrote, at the end of a paragraph, "...consider the nature of the major branches of art, and of the specific media they employ." In the next paragraph, she lists these major branches, which include: Literature, Painting, Sculpture, Music, and Architecture (and, in parenthesis, the performing arts). Then at the start of the very next paragraph, she says, "Now observe the relation of these arts to man's cognitive faculty..." (p. 47). She is clearly regarding architecture as art on a par with painting, and on a different par from other utilitarian creations.

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It's not a re-creation of reality because it's a creation of a reality.

Galt's Gulch is a nice place, but you can't live there because it's fictional.  A Frank Lloyd Wright house, on the other hand, is a real, physical man-made entity you can live in.

But plenty of re-creations of reality are "real, physical man-made entit[ies]," such as sculptures, so I'm still having trouble differentiating a creation of reality from a re-creation of reality in this context. When I try to think of architecture as a creation of reality, I end up thinking of sculpture as a creation of reality; and when I think of sculpture as a re-creation of reality, I end up thinking of architecture as a re-creation of reality. How do I differentiate them?

If it will help, I thought I'd quote one of Miss Rand's descriptions from The Romantic Manifesto of what is involved in a (selective) re-creation:

By a selective re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which represent man's fundamental view of himself and of existence. Out of the countless number of concretes—of single, disorganized and (seemingly) contradictory attributes, actions and entities—an artist isolates the things which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction.

Does architecture, as Betsy explained it, do what Miss Rand is describing here? I'm having trouble answering "no" -- hence my confusion. :o

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But plenty of re-creations of reality are "real, physical man-made entit[ies]," such as sculptures, so I'm still having trouble differentiating a creation of reality from a re-creation of reality in this context.  When I try to think of architecture as a creation of reality, I end up thinking of sculpture as a creation of reality; and when I think of sculpture as a re-creation of reality, I end up thinking of architecture as a re-creation of reality.  How do I differentiate them?

Observe that sculpture is a man-made re-creation, a man-made representation, of something that is metaphysically given: usually the human body.

What is architecture a re-creation of? A cave?

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Observe that sculpture is a man-made re-creation, a man-made representation, of something that is metaphysically given: usually the human body. 

What is architecture a re-creation of?  A cave?

I have indeed been thinking about the fact that architecture doesn't seem representational. I think there are candidates for what architecture re-creates based on Betsy's explanation of architecture (e.g., man's habitat), but before I at all develop this, I wanted to ask something else:

What about music? Is it representational? Does it re-create reality? If not, that would help me integrate architecture with another form of art, and give me a better grasp on what it means to re-create reality or represent reality. But if music does re-create reality and/or is representational, then I will wonder why architecture couldn't be as well.

I'll leave it there for now.

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But plenty of re-creations of reality are "real, physical man-made entit[ies]," such as sculptures, so I'm still having trouble differentiating a creation of reality from a re-creation of reality in this context.  When I try to think of architecture as a creation of reality, I end up thinking of sculpture as a creation of reality; and when I think of sculpture as a re-creation of reality, I end up thinking of architecture as a re-creation of reality.  How do I differentiate them?

If it will help, I thought I'd quote one of Miss Rand's descriptions from The Romantic Manifesto of what is involved in a (selective) re-creation:

By a selective re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which represent man's fundamental view of himself and of existence. Out of the countless number of concretes—of single, disorganized and (seemingly) contradictory attributes, actions and entities—an artist isolates the things which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction.

Does architecture, as Betsy explained it, do what Miss Rand is describing here? I'm having trouble answering "no" -- hence my confusion. :o

I see your point, Alex. Perhaps it hinges on the literal meaning of "concretes" in the context of the quote you provide.

Regardless, I would argue that the process of creating sculpture starts with a material -- say, stone or clay -- and the sculptor literally re-creates reality by transforming the material into his artistic form. The material aspect of the sculpture no longer exists independent of the re-created shape and form. By contrast, architecture uses the material in its own essential form, but creates spaces by how the materials of the creation are joined. I think that that is the main difference between architecture and sculpture regarding creation/re-creation. The main similarity between the two, however, lies in how the resulting shapes and forms are capable of expressing metaphysical values.

(But, I will also note that this distinction between architecture and sculpture blurs slightly when it comes to using materials that are literally given shape, such as concrete shaped by curved forms, or precast.)

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What about music?  Is it representational?  Does it re-create reality? 

Only in the most abstract way. A drum can sound like thunder, a horn can sound like a car horn (think "Rhapsody in Blue"), and a violin can sound like the human voice. The resemblance of musical sounds to real sounds can be used for an esthetic effect in a musical composition, but it is not directly representational.

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What about music?  Is it representational?  Does it re-create reality?  If not, that would help me integrate architecture with another form of art, and give me a better grasp on what it means to re-create reality or represent reality.  But if music does re-create reality and/or is representational, then I will wonder why architecture couldn't be as well.

Music is a special case; it doesn't deal with entities (TRM, p.46)

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Regardless, I would argue that the process of creating sculpture starts with a material -- say, stone or clay -- and the sculptor literally re-creates reality by transforming the material into his artistic form. The material aspect of the sculpture no longer exists independent of the re-created shape and form. By contrast, architecture uses the material in its own essential form, but creates spaces by how the materials of the creation are joined. I think that that is the main difference between architecture and sculpture regarding creation/re-creation. The main similarity between the two, however, lies in how the resulting shapes and forms are capable of expressing metaphysical values.

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be saying that "re-creation" (as used in AR's definition of art) refers to the process of re-forming a material, and you distinguish architecture from sculpture by saying that architecture uses materials as is without reshaping them.

First of all, this latter is not correct; all building materials are reshaped from other forms (iron ore, trees, etc.).

But more importantly, I think your use of "re-creation" misses the point of the definition of art. What "re-creation" means is a depiction or representation of something else; i.e. a work of art depicts something else besides itself. This is the requirement of representationalism.

Overall, I still don't understand the argument being presented in this thread for why architecture is art. Could someone please clarify?

- Are you saying that architecture is sculpture?

- If not, are you saying it is a visual art?

- If so, do you agree that it, as a visual art, it must be representational?

- If so, what entities does architecture represent, or depict, and if not, why not?

- If architecture is art, why then aren't the other forms of design (cars, planes, etc.) art?

- Art is a concretized abstraction. This doesn't just mean its an embodiment of an idea or philosophy, it means its an embodiment of various elements of many other real world entities. How does architecture accomplish this?

I look forward to reading your comments.

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Joe, the distinction I highlighted in regard to sculpture and (an aspect of) architecture is similar to one in regard to photography, namely using an existing concrete rather than re-creating one.

As far as architecture-as-art is concerned, there is not much for me to say. You disagree with the fact that Ayn Rand classified architecture as art, but you offer nothing to counter the explict quotes you were given. You say you do not understand the arguments offered, but you do not directly address any of them. Unless you acknowledge the facts and the arguments, I do not see how we can advance the discussion.

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As far as architecture-as-art is concerned, there is not much for me to say. You disagree with the fact that Ayn Rand classified architecture as art, but you offer nothing to counter the explict quotes you were given.

The first reference to architecture, on page 46, doesn't say that architecture is art, it says that architecture "combines art with a utilitarian purpose"

This view of architecture as a esthetic-utilitarian hybrid is further expressed in the next reference to architecture on p.46: "Architecture, qua art ..."; the sentence is referring to that aspect of architecture that is art, implying that there are other aspects of architecture that are not art.

As far as how, and whether or not, the principles of esthetics apply to architecture: RM does not discuss this in detail; as opposed to the detailed discussions for painting, sculpture, music, performance arts, dance, drama movies, etc. (p.47 onward), the reader is referred to The Fountainhead.

(In fact, at least one of the principles of esthetics, the requirement for representationalism, does not apply to architecture: architecture "does not re-create reality, but creates a structure for man's habitation or use, expressing man's values." - p.46)

You say you do not understand the arguments offered, but you do not directly address any of them. Unless you acknowledge the facts and the arguments, I do not see how we can advance the discussion.

I addressed them (relatively) extensively in my posts #12 and #23 above, providing either attempted rebuttals or detailed request for clarification.

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