A provocative video featuring Swiss philosopher, author and founder of London’s The School of Life, Alain de Botton, challenges the notion that beauty is subjective and makes a case for attractive cities, believing that a city’s beauty is key to its success and citizens’ quality of life.
“We think beauty is subjective, and so no one should say anything about it,” says Botton. “It’s a very understandable qualm, but it’s also horribly useful to greedy property developers.”
He continues on stating, “Cities are a big deal,….We pretty much all have to live in them. We should try hard to get them right”—in part, by a more “scientific” approach to what makes cities pretty or ugly.
So, what makes a city attractive? Here are the Six Fundamental things Mr. Botton believes every city needs to get right:
“Order means balance, symmetry and repetition… Order is one of the reasons so many people love Paris… However, excessive order can be just as much a problem.”
To an extent, Buildings need to be uniform in appearance and layout.
“There are streets that are dead and streets that are alive. And in general, we crave the live ones.”
The more lively city streets are, the more attractive a city is.
“All the most beautiful compact cities have squares… The ideal square must offer a sense of containment not claustrophobia.”
Cities should not sprawl.
Orientation and mystery
“By definition, cities are HUGE. But the cities that a lot of people love also have lots of little backstreets and small lanes where you can feel cozy and get a bit lost.”
A balance of large and small streets should allow for efficient travel as well as some degree of ‘adventure’.
“Modern cities are all about BIG things. Joseph Campbell once wrote, ‘If you want to see what a society really believes in, look at what the biggest buildings on the horizon are dedicated too…’ The ideal height for any city block is 5 stories high – no more… Of course, occasionally there can be a huge building, but lets keep that for something really special – something all of humanity can love.”
Really tall buildings should be left for really important or special functions while the maximum height for most buildings in the city should be five storeys.
A sense of the local
“We don’t want building’s to look the same everywhere.”
Lagos should look different from Los Angeles, Melbourne should look different from Mumbai. Each city should have a peculiar aesthetic because of its cultural and geographical qualities.