Architecturally obsolete absolute
As we rapidly progress towards the promised bright future our justly balanced society of people has somehow lost some of the basic human values. This is not a shallow statement to start the article but my logical observation I will try to prove.
All existing things, be that physical objects or some elusive values are defined by words. You can’t trick or manipulate the language. It’s not TV news. Thus verbal development is a pretty true reflection of the public mental state; it is an excellent indicator of what is really going on with our hearts and minds as we defiantly march forward.
Language is a live organism. It grows, changes, adjusts itself to the reality. Some words are getting old and go out of our everyday vocabulary; it’s fine – these days we don’t use equipages, rapiers or justicoats very actively. Life goes on and fresh verbal expressions come to life. Nonetheless as new jargons emerge some definitions are destined to stay with us forever, as they construe the very core of our existence, the very essence of human nature. You can’t replace “love” with “sex” or “theater” with the “show”… Even if in real life it has happened long time ago.
Despite of this apparent notion some key words got obsolete even though they articulate the fundamental principles of our existence and “are destined to stay with us forever”. (So much for my theory.) Word “harmony” opens the list. I’d like to add two more: “fairness” and “nationality”. This verbal triad for a long time has described 3 pillars on which leans every civilization:
- spiritual (harmony),
- moral (fairness)
- social (nationality).
“Obsolete” doesn’t mean that the pillars have gone; after all we are still civilized. However the pillars definitions were slightly modified so nowadays “balance” is much more popular than “harmony“, while “fairness” and “nationality” were respectively substituted by “justice” and “people”…
“Harmony” hasn’t vanished completely; it’s just “naturally” got obsolete, as the “nature” of our society changed…
So I am asking why “harmony”? What are the reasons behind such linguistic adjustment? If it’s value is so universal why this graceful word is out of favor? Why critics, journalists would state how “well-balanced the solution is” rather than praising the harmony it projects? Why it sounds so naive and infantile? In order to figure it out I need more samples, I need to find what’s in common between the “old-fashioned” words defining imperishable matters.
“Harmony”, “fairness”, “nationality”. My rationalization might be a bit tricky, even irrational. But bear with me please. All these words are not firm definitions at all. There is a strange duality in their nature: while they outline some elusive intangible order their ultimate meaning is very absolute. You don’t have any ambiguousness regarding the state defined as a “harmony”, but you can’t explain where such clear understanding is coming from. It is almost a religious sentiment. Let’s be more specific: if the one suggests that a building creates sense of harmony – it means absolutely positive spiritual emotions, yet it doesn’t depict particular details responsible for causing such a wonderful effect. The same thing for “fairness” or “nationality” – we know exactly what does it mean, but to describe it distinctively might be not an easy task.
The current substitutes of these exquisite words strangely work in a completely opposite direction. Instead of the intangible absolute we get a very diplomatic certain relativity.
- “Balance” is not intangible it is quite a certain item (ask accountants!) yet it is so relative (ask Wall Street traders!)
- “Justice” is a term unambiguously defined by thousands of perfectly-formulated laws, yet as we all know it is dependable on many factors including the amount of funds the one can dedicate for hiring the best lawyer in town…
I can continue but I think you’ve got the idea. Thus paradoxically the replacements we use for our “archaic” words are not slightly off but are absolutely missing the point. “Well balanced” doesn’t necessary means “harmony”; just as “just” is very often not so “fair”
The roots for such conflicting transformation in linguistics are social. As I said, society changes. For some reason modern society is based on the absurd taboo called political correctness. We are afraid of facing painful problems, we don’t call terrible creatures by their real names, and eventually we refuse to recognize that absolute true and absolute evil exist and there are things (plenty of them) that are NOT fucking relative!
Things, buildings, people, ideas, rules and objects that have no harmony in them whatsoever. Regardless of how we name them.
Since I am an architecturally oriented clown it would be odd if I don’t mention architecture in my unreasonably sophisticated harmony analysis. Interestingly but out of all artistic disciplines architecture is the only one which is ultimately associated with the harmony. (Music might be another example, but since “harmony” is used by the professional musicians as a technical term we’ll put it aside).
Why architecture then? See, architecture is an act of art which is unavoidable. Human beings can physically exist without reading a single book in their pathetic lives, without ever being to a museum or a theatre, without listening to the music… And many people happily live this way, they never interact with any real art-event. (They’d be utterly surprised if they could hear me calling their lives pathetic, but hey – no worries, they don’t read blogs.)
With all due respect architecture is not exactly a painting exhibited in the museum or a symphony played in the music hall. Architecture is an integral part of the physical existence. It is relevant and objective for every living person. It’s inescapable, even omnipotent in some sense… And as such it must provide a serene spiritual impact on our lives; it must serve us as an ultimate source of peace of mind; it must be a perfect retreat from the outer world storms. So talking of our homes, offices, schools, hospitals – “balanced” might be not enough! It can work somehow for trendy shopping malls or hockey arenas but that’s not exactly where we spend our lives and raise our children.
“Balanced” is not enough. It’s too relative, too unstable. We can lie to the world replacing “fraud” with an “enterprise”, “war” with the “conflict” or “crap” – with the “distinctiveness” but for ourselves, for our homes, shelters and shrines we request an absolute tranquility and perfect aesthetics… We dream of a Harmony regardless of how obsolete and politically correct the place is…
I would like to thank Ana Manzo, my internet-friend, for publishing it on her great blog.