Department or Program
Additional Department or Program (if any)
Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor
Erich Hatala Matthes
Why does architecture matter? Since the Western art tradition classifies architecture as a fine art alongside painting, sculpture, music, and literature, questions about architectural value are typically subsumed under more general questions about artistic value. Architecture, however, is fundamentally unlike the other fine arts. It is public, site-specific, functional, and immersed in everyday life, characteristics that challenge the applicability of a unified framework of art to architecture. My thesis examines the philosophical implications that arise when architecture is considered in isolation from the broader arts. I advance a theory of architectural value distinct from artistic value, which—with its emphasis on disinterestedness and contemplative attention—cannot account for all value-making features of architecture. I proceed to investigate two specific features of architecture that distinguish it from the other fine arts. First, I address architecture’s functionality, and explain how knowing a building’s function can alter the aesthetic qualities we perceive it to have. Second, I evaluate the moral questions that arise from architecture’s status as a public art, addressing the obligations that publicness creates for architects and for members of architecture’s audience. Ultimately, my thesis aims to bring architecture to the foreground of aesthetics—a field within which it has largely neglected—and introduce new perspectives on what architecture is and what makes it valuable.