17: Do Not Seek Beauty, Let it just Become

How do structural engineers design beautiful works of "structural art"?  Nervi and Salvadori give us some clues.  In the forward to Nervi's inspiring and wonderful book Structures, Mario Salvadori reminds the readers:

Nervi's results are not achieved by consciously trying to meet aesthetic demands, but by tackling the fundamental structural problems from the outset, and giving them an obvious and clearly articulated solution.  Beauty, says Nervi, is an unavoidable by-product of this search for satisfactory structural solutions.  [Salvadori 1956:  vi]

Nervi states the importance of structural honesty or correctness:

Every improvement in the functionality and the technical efficiency of a product brings out an improvement in its aesthetic quality...there is no doubt that any product of high efficiency is always aesthetically satisfying.   In the field of architecture, in which functional, statical, and economic needs are intimately mixed, truthfulness is an indispensable condition of good aesthetic results... architecture that satisfies these conditions - that is, a correct work - may be aesthetically insignificant or expressively beautiful, depending on the actual and unconscious capacity of its designer, but will never be aggressively annoying.  [Nervi 1956:  26-27]

If you have been reading this blog, one recurring theme is that idea that engineering is more of an art than a science.   Not art as beauty or aesthetic vision, not at all.   We should not consciously drive toward beauty, since beauty is a by-product of working well.  Instead of trying to create structural art, work honestly in the present ...similar to my idea of living a goalless life.  About 4 years ago prior to reading Nervi's Structures, I was so inspired by Nervi that I wrote this poem with the following last line:

Truth in form as the means, and beauty as the end.

It is not the unattainable "truth" that is useful here, it is simply avoiding that which is not structural correct or appropriate.  and living in it and with it, beauty just becomes.  There is something called “design science” (bio-mimicry, form finding, geodesic geometry, etc) which has mathematical, scientific, and objective procedures to create form.  So “truth in form” is okay in the poem -  but again, it rare that good design is driven by scientific methods.   It can be, but often not.   So, if I could re-write this, I would replace “truth in form as a means”, with “quality as the means”.   Quality, is by definition, process.   As Pirsig (the father of the metaphysics of Quality) would say, quality is “the knife edge of experience”, and living in it and with it, beauty just becomes.

I also tried to write an article about the importance of using Plato's trinity (truth, beauty, and goodness) to drive better design, not sure I succeeded but if interested, see Architects are from Plato.

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