On Guyer’s Vitruvian Normativity

Estetika: The European Journal of Aesthetics 61 (1):81-89 (2024)
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Abstract

A critical note on Paul Guyer’s A Philosopher Looks at Architecture (2021). In his book, Paul Guyer proposes that the Vitruvian triad of venustas, utilitas, and firmitas represents central goals and normative values of architecture – ideals that architects should realize and success criteria regarding their realization – that persist through time, place, cultural settings, and other contextual parameters. Indeed, the triad presents sufficiently abstract goals that many disparate views in architectural theory may be subsumed under the triad as distinctive ways of explaining how architecture may be beautiful, functional, or structurally sound. These are significant thematic values by which we experience and judge architecture (as are also useful in gauging other human pursuits), and which architects draw on in their creative acts. There is much to recommend this broad picture of the triad as architectural ideals. That said, I suggest two difficulties for Guyer’s claim as to the centrality of these values, relative to architectural success regardless of Vitruvian goal-satisfaction; and to non-persistence across architectural cultures.

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Saul Fisher
Mercy University

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