While we’re on the subject of form, I recently stumbled upon University of Texas mathematics professor Nikos Salingaros’ phenomenal work Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction , a short excerpt of which is posted on his faculty page:
In wanting to explain a cultural mystery — why the world renounced emotionally-nourishing buildings, and instead embraced buildings that literally make us ill — one comes up against severe obstacles. It is not that methods for producing humane buildings are unknown, or that there is a lack of architects to build them; society has made a conscious decision to build what it does. Furthermore, enormous energy is spent in convincing people that our contemporary built surroundings are good, even though almost everyone feels otherwise. There is a basic disconnect between what we feel, and what we are told we ought to feel — or forced to accept. Answers to these questions lead us from architectural theory into social beliefs and systems.
. . .
Modernist architects broke up interior space into ill-defined volumes, using broken wall planes and extreme ceiling shapes and angles. A lack of closure (often aggravated by glass walls) destroyed the wholeness of individual rooms. Living spaces were either made cramped by lowering ceilings too far, or uncomfortable by raising the ceiling to two stories. To complement this assault on the user’s senses, hard materials, previously reserved for external surfaces, were introduced into internal walls. In a special irony, modernist architects were commissioned to build churches (some of which were deemed unusable by their intended occupants), and to disfigure older churches through so-called “renovation”.
Several people I know have expressed surprise that Salingaros, a mathematician by training, writes primarily about architecture. This doesn’t strike me as unusual at all — mathematics and architecture are two of the few remaining domains of intellectual inquiry in which art, practicality, and the sacred have refused to fracture and splinter in the face of modernity. Indeed, Salingaros’ mathematical background is key to two of the strongest portions of his book — that in which he takes down the scientific and mathematical pretensions of the deconstructivists and that in which he accuses modern church architects of forgetting the intimate connection between beauty and holiness.
John Schwenkler is fond of arguing that a return to real appreciation for the preparation and consumption of food will be a key part of the cultural regeneration we hope to effect. It seems clear to me that restoring sanity in architecture (which seems to me to be largely symbiotic with a rejeuvenation of math education ) is part of the same struggle.