Architecture, Sustainability, Time

the beauty of time: a brief remark

Joseph Brodsky, in his book ‘Watermark’, states the following: ‘It is as though space, cognizant..of its inferiority to time, answers it with the only property time doesn’t possess: with beauty.’

 (quoted in Juhani Pallasmaa ’07). Without a doubt, sustainable architecture does exactly the opposite. That is; inherent to its design is its concentration on the passing of time. It explicates the implicit presence of light, of warmth, of seasons, of wind. This means that time is no longer inferior to space when it comes down to its meaning for architecture. Or, differently stated, both time and space do not possess beauty, but they bring it about, they engender it. Beauty is not a potency or something one can possess. A building does not make manifest a beauty already present, but adds beauty. When changing the definition of beauty from ‘to be’ into ‘to have’, it is no longer possible to demarcate the beauty of space from the beauty of time. As Juhani Pallasmaa remarks: ‘I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me. The external space and my internal space, the world and my selfhood are an uninterrupted continuum.‘   

Something similar can thus be said of time: I dwell in time and time dwells in me. What is more, consider a remark quoted, again in Pallasmaa, by the philosopher Karsten Harries: ‘It is also a deep defence against the terror of time. The language of beauty is essentially the language of timeless reality.‘ This seems to me as a somewhat odd remark, in a way similar to Wittgenstein’s ethical principle of seeing the world sub specie aeternitatis. In the light of eternity important is the fact that the world exists, not how it exists. The meaning of beauty, then, in the light of eternity (‘timeless reality’) would mean an amazement, an excitement over the fact that there exists something one calls beauty. It ‘is’ (to be), it exists in the same fashion as geometry exists for Wittgenstein, namely as a (logical) necessity. For Wittgenstein, there exists only one grammar of space, that is: geometry. Alternative geometries are, therefore, not alternative theories of space, but ‘only’ different conceptions of it. One just have to think of the following: if we imagine a second-world, next to ours, which is totally different in all its aspects, characteristics, natural laws (gravity, evolution or whatsoever) the one thing we cannot think beyond or without is geometry. That is: we are not able to imagine a world without geometry.

When we think back of beauty as referring to ‘timeless reality’, what does this mean? Is beauty a potency, something that has to be made manifest, possessed, incorporated? No. Time possesses beauty: no. Time does bring beauty about: yes. If there is one thing that distinguishes ‘common’ architecture from sustainable architecture it is the parameter ‘time’. Time, then, is something which has to be made explicit, something to which a building should relate itself, on which it is dependent. Given this crucial importance of time for architecture, it is, indeed, time to change the definition of beauty from ‘to be’ into ‘to have’. 



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