The function of aesthetics in architecture education: TU/e in the 1970s

Onderzoeksoutput: Bijdrage aan congresPaperAcademic


While the discipline of architecture has always valued aesthetics, the same has not always been the case for the profession of architecture. This split has often been presented as two opposing perceptions of architecture, that is, the understanding of architecture as an artistic expression or as the science of building. While both dimensions are important for a full understanding (and appreciation) of architecture, even if inadvertently, academic programs tend to favor one dimension one over the other in their teaching of architecture.
This was, rather consciously, the case at TU Eindhoven (TU/e). When its architecture department was first established in 1966 (then still the Eindhoven Polytechnic), it was specifically intended to place an emphasis on the technical aspects of architecture. Such forceful promotion of architecture as a profession concerned primarily with the science of building was perhaps best expressed by the curriculum devised by the department’s first dean (1967-75), John Habraken, which greatly focused on architecture’s supports and infills. Although Habraken’s distinction between infrastructure and inhabited space was in itself a radical concept, its teaching was not only rigid but also greatly limited the scope of architecture to, mostly, the problems of technique.
The dissatisfaction with Habraken’s curriculum became a flashpoint for the Eindhoven student revolts in the early 1970s and allowed for the introduction of free project work to the new foundation course. This provided the space for aesthetic considerations to be introduced to the curriculum in a structural manner. Effectively, supported by reflections on history, theory and criticism, in Eindhoven the appreciation of architecture expanded beyond functionalism to also include aesthetic appreciation. Beyond technique, architecture was also emotion.
The establishment of the chair of Architecture History and Theory (commonly known as AGT) in 1973 with Geert Bekaert’s appointment, provided an exceptional impetus for a greater appreciation of architecture as a discipline in Eindhoven. Its influence in shaping the architectural production of TU/e students was almost immediate, with its presence fostering a greater appreciation for architecture’s intellectual and aesthetic dimensions. Eventually, AGT fostered the emergence of a unique postmodern—and even autonomous—architectural expression in the Netherlands. An architecture freed from tectonic constrains or functional requirements that explored the full range of aesthetic sensations and experiences, in which the function of aesthetics displaced the aesthetics of function.
This paper will discuss how aesthetics in general, but the appreciation of art, beauty, and the development of taste, as well as the ambition to create aesthetic experiences, became the most important instrument in broadening the understanding of architecture at TU Eindhoven. Through aesthetic appreciation, TU/e was no longer educating engineers with some basic understanding of architectural design, but rather humanist architects equipped with a critical stance and an appreciation of beauty and art. Ultimately, the function of aesthetics at TU/e was to free architecture from its original limited task and allow it to probe the depths of the human condition.
Originele taal-2Engels
StatusGepubliceerd - okt 2019
EvenementThe problem of the Building: symposium of the Nederlands Genootschap voor Esthetica - Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Nederland
Duur: 25 okt 201926 okt 2019


CongresThe problem of the Building


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