“In Bruges” in Bruges

From Web Exclusives

Rome is the foundation of the University of Notre Dame architecture and urban design curriculum, and properly so. Nevertheless, every year for the past ten years I have traveled from Notre Dame to meet a new class of graduate urban design students (themselves up from Rome on spring break) for a week in the small historic city of Bruges. Where is Bruges? It’s in Belgium. Continue Reading »

“Even Mother Nature Has An Agent”

From Web Exclusives

Over the last fifteen years or so I have seen (and been moved by) many of the aspirational/inspirational billboards sponsored by The Foundation for a Better Life, an organization that promotes common-ground character virtues while trying at the same time to avoid being a partisan in our contemporary . . . . Continue Reading »

Building on Truth

From the January 2015 Print Edition

Building is a willful act of symbolic import, sometimes intended and sometimes not, and all architecture expresses the power of its makers and their aspiration to legitimate authority. This is true of individual buildings, public spaces, and all human settlements. Temple, forum, cathedral, city hall, town square, primitive hut, urban townhouse, suburban ranch burger, LEED-platinum office building, interstate highway interchange, urban landscape installation, medieval town, hypermodern metropolis—all require and represent the ability to bring them into being and sustain them over time. Their very existence requires power in the most elemental sense of the word. More than this, we attach moral significance to buildings and landscapes. Legitimate authority is that moral “more than” mere power, more than the human capacity to will something and make it so. Legitimate authority is power wed to moral virtue in service to a shared ideal. In the realms of architecture and urbanism, aspiration to legitimate authority entails an ambition to unite beauty with goodness and truth. The act of building has metaphysical ­implications.This aspiration is clear in the case of premodern architecture and urbanism. It is evident in modernist architecture and urbanism as well, though in accord with a very different aesthetic and moral vision. And it is even present in what can be called hypermodernist architecture and urbanism, though hypermodernism’s moral content more often than not goes unstated. The aesthetics and ideals of each bespeak different understandings of both nature and human nature. Continue Reading »

The Rich You Will Always Have With You

From Web Exclusives

Most cities built before 1945 were founded at the scale of what today we might call a town or even a village. Some rose around some sacred site or along some pre-existing sacred path; some for purposes of protection or territorial conquest; others primarily to facilitate the production, distribution, and exchange of material goods; and others simply for human pleasure in extraordinary natural conditions… . Continue Reading »

A Dutch Master and the Good Life

From the March 1995 Print Edition

What follows is prompted not by a cigar, but rather a painting by the Dutch (strictly speaking, Flemish) master Jan Van Eyck. “The Mystic Adoration of the Lamb” is the central painting of twenty panels of various sizes completed in 1432 that together constitute the Ghent Altarpiece. Since the time of its completion Van Eyck’s painting has been regarded as a major masterpiece of the northern European renaissance, noteworthy for its advancements in the use of oils, for the quality of its color, and for the realism of its portrayal of the natural world. These are but some of the reasons for its continuing importance, however, and here I propose to consider another: Van Eyck’s portrayal of the relationship of architecture and of cities to the good life for human beings. Continue Reading »