Thoughts On Beauty (3/3) | Anima Loci

In March 2017, The Egg Collective, a visiting design firm based in Brooklyn, NY spoke to students and faculty in Fayetteville as a part of the Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design Lecture Series. The lecturers posed a question to the audience

What is good and what is beautiful?

I believe this question was posed to challenge each individual to think critically about themselves and develop and sense of purpose.  To answer this question personally, I began to think about my priorities both in design and daily as a person; what do I consider to be good and, or beautiful in my life and in my work?  Now, over a year later, I am revisiting this question as I conclude my thoughts on beauty in design.

Good things are held in esteem as something valuable.  To create something good requires intelligence… the application of knowledge and skills in order to solve a problem.  Things that are good represent a solution that can stand the test of time and exist as an example of excellence.  Likewise, moments that are good in my life stand out as accomplishments that I have worked to achieve.  Nevertheless, as time passes, often, things that are good begin to fade… What once was celebrated as the pinnacle of an era, now slips from memory as new challenges arise.  Good things often turn out to just be trends.  This has led me to look deeper in introspection in search of what is beautiful.

I have previously suggested that beauty in design may be a type of value.  I have preceded to talk about value in terms of place, and nature (Genius Loci, Biophillia).  Now, it is time for me connect all the dots. 

**At this point, I am going to take a deep dive into the “that’s just your opinion”.  Up until this point, I have been writing about things that are intersubjective; that is, they may or may not be factual, but they are, at least ideas that are fundamentally agreed upon by groups of people.  For my concussion, I’ll be firmly planted in ideas that are just subjective.  But that is okay, in fact, I believe this is the only way it should be.  Ultimately, it is important for us to each decide for ourselves what is good and what is beautiful.  Beauty should always be subjective at its conclusion.

Animo Loci

We and our environment are constantly changing.  As people mature, their views change, and they may choose to act differently.  Likewise, our environment is living and maturing as well.  I am moved as an individual by realizing that everything and everyone in life has the capacity to change for the better.  I believe that this capacity to develop and grow represents utmost beauty.

Throughout history, people have invented archetypes to make concepts of one’s capacities more tangible.  Ideas like the Tripartite have existed since they were introduced as religious themes in the middle ages.  In Christian and Muslim theology, ideas of the Tripartite suggest that human kind is formed of three distinct parts: body, soul, and spirit.    I will be using the Tripartite as an analogy to explain my view of beauty.

Body: the place

Soul: The Life Source

Spirit: The Mind.

Body | The Place

The Body of the place is the physical.  The body is the literal location.  It has boundaries, quantities, and physical capacities.  Peoples bodies have evolved alongside the body of places for all of time.  We have physical characteristics that have evolved in response to the earths body and we understand its laws. 

Why is it beautiful?  We find beauty in the body because it is how we have evolved.  We understand that the earth is our home.

Soul | The Lifesource | Genis Loci

In ancient Greece, the soul of something represents the part of the whole that leaves when it dies.  The soul represents the life source.  For example, plants have souls, but rocks do not.  The soul represents change; it is ephemeral, and it is unique. I believe when Pope first wrote about Genius Loci in terms of place, we was thinking about the Soul.   Genius Loci refers to the character of a place.  How does the wind blow through this place?   Which direction does the sun cast shadows and where do plants grow?

Why is it beautiful?  The soul is what makes each place different.  The soul inspires us and satisfies us by giving us emotions like “I’m home” or “I’m in awe of this beautiful mountain range”.

Spirit | The Mind | Anima Loci

This is the new one that I made up… Animo is Latin for spirit or mind.  Historically, the spirit is talking about something’s conscience.  The spirit is the part of the whole that wants things.  For example, people have spirits but plants do not.  In short, the spirit is the capacity to think.  Anima Loci goes beyond the character of a place and how it may change over time.  Anima Loci is concerned with what the place wants, what has it felt in the past, what is its capacity for change in the future?  

This idea of capacity goes beyond forecasting natural or cultural trends to understand how a place could change over time.  This idea incorporates potential.  When we see the potential in anything, it gives us hope.  Someone reading this may think that the act of hopefulness is not a quality of place but simply an emotion from ones self.  I would agree.  Understanding The spirit or the mind of a place, requires one to have a mind of their own.  This mind-to-mind contentedness is both mutually vulnerable and powerful.  Beauty is constituted by the physical, the ephemeral, and in this case, the emotional.  Anima Loci is the hopefulness of place.  From this quality, we are given the ability to animate a place and chose how we steward or inhabite a place correctly. 

Why is it beautiful?  capacity = potential = hope = beauty 

I chose daily, to see potential.  Every individual is valuable, and their stories deserve to be understood.  Likewise, I chose to see the potential in places and to see potential in our environment.  Every place, big or small, has the potential to reveal a narrative.  As I write this, the narrative that humans are revealing (imposing) on our environment is not a positive one, yet there is still capacity to change.  I have learned that as a designer, I have the great opportunity to become involved in a much larger story about people and place I see this transformative process as beautiful