• 5 June 2019
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • 6.00-7.30 Paper and Q&A
    7.30-8.00 Drinks and Nibbles
  • Lecture Room , Paul Mellon Centre

From eighteenth-century ideas about Stonehenge to Prince Charles’s opinions about the National Gallery, arguments about architectural ugliness in Britain have not pertained solely to buildings or assessments of style, but have intruded into other spheres of civil society.Accidental and willful conditions of ugliness—including the gothic revival Houses of Parliament, the brutalist concrete of the South Bank, and the historicist novelty of Number One Poultry—have been debated in parliamentary committees, courtrooms, and public inquiries; architects such as Christopher Wren, John Soane, James Stirling, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe have been summoned by tribunals of aesthetic judgment. By examining such events and the architects and architecture that precipitated them, it is possible to discern a refracted instrumentality that lies not in buildings themselves, but in the social techniques and protocols that emerge from the processes of aesthetic judgment that encompass those buildings. In lawsuits for libel, in changing paradigms of nuisance law, and in conventions of monarchical privilege, aesthetic judgments have become entangled in wider assessments of art, science, religion, political economy, and the state.

This talk will examine episodes in which questions of architectural ugliness have been debated in legal venues, particularly in the now common planning inquiries instituted under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. These episodes and the aesthetic arguments they contain, far from being isolated events, are the manifestation of an unremarked instrumentality of aesthetic judgment in modern British society. The talk will describe the mechanisms by which aesthetic judgments are first brought into the space of law, then framed by legal procedure, and subsequently transformed into other modes of judgment that act in and upon society. By revealing how architectural improprieties have been addressed in law, it will propose a novel understanding of the social consequence of aesthetic judgments of ugliness.

Image details: Anonymous, Royal Courts of Justice: Exterior with heavy scaffolding, with Temple Bar in the background, wood engraving. Digital image courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives © City of London Corporation

About the speaker

  • Hyde_2017 photo

    Timothy Hyde is associate professor of architectural history and theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His research focuses on the political dimensions of architecture from the eighteenth century to the present, with a particular attention to relationships of architecture and law. His most recent book Ugliness and Judgment: On Architecture in the Public Eye (Princeton University Press, 2019) explores episodes in aesthetic debates on architecture and ugliness in Great Britain over the past three centuries and reveals the ways in which architectural discourse participated in the development of social technologies. He is also the author of Constitutional Modernism: Architecture and Civil Society in Cuba, 1933-1959(University of Minnesota Press, 2012) as well as articles published in The Journal of Architecture, the Journal of Architectural Education, arq: Architecture Research Quarterly, Perspecta, Log, El Croquis, and other journals.