SILENCE IS MY CHOICE: the new life of the "less is more" aphorism
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s maxim “less is more” has become the dictum of the new millennium. Borrowed from a poem by Robert Browing, and in the same spirit of by Marc-Antoine Laugier’s primitive hut, the omnipresent moral character of the “less is more” adage implied that beauty could only be achieved in the absence of the unnecessary – a metaphysical approach bordering on principles of Eastern religious belief. In the new millennium, however, the “less is more” cliché comes not from a position of asceticism but from the overbearing requirements of capitalist production; developers basically exercise their economic power over urban and architectural designers to achieve the best results with the fewer means. The developer’s highest goal is not to deliver objects of beauty with good judgments of taste but to provide objects of consumption containing strictly the necessary, even at the expense of moral values, ethics, beauty, and/or the advancement of society; this is what nowadays is called “less is more”; their sole objective is to increase their already substantial profits with complete disregard for the causality of negative socio-political externalities, and with an intrinsic interest in the advancement of the relentless ugliness that characterizes our contemporary cities and architecture.
In the new millennium, the “less is more” aphorism takes a twist which violates the most basic Kantian categorical imperative: for the sake of capitalist accumulation, developers obtain more with less while helpless urban and architectural designers so deliver for the sake of a few dollars and cents. The morality of this condition of economic dependence is rather questionable; and, as unfortunate as it may sound, it has become the status-quo of our profession.
In the icy waters of this egotistical calculations “Silence is my Choice”.
But, what does it mean to be silent? What are the consequences of being quiet in a world where turmoil is so very common? Do we really have any choice? At the foundational moment, answers to these questions may change our approach to a project, its deliverance, its content, its perceptual potentialities, and its final attainments. When I propose that “Silence is my Choice”, I am basically arguing in the most skeptic manner available in the field of aesthetics. Voluntary silence implies a certain attitude of mindfulness and, as a consequence, a moment of deep internal reflection. In silence, I cannot deny the existence of beauty; I can only question the nature of beauty. To paraphrase David Hume, beauty is not a quality that objects have in themselves but a sentiment of the person who is looking at the object of beauty. And, as architects and urban designers, we definitely need immense silence to be able to develop this kind of sentiment while attempting to create, with complete courage and intention, a particular object of beauty. We need to enter the right state of mind to determine, with an acceptable degree of certainty, the capacity of beauty to please universally. Beauty is, in fact, a matter of choice not a matter of fate.
This search for choice-based universal principles does not come without obstructions. In “Of the Standard of Taste”, published in 1757 by David Hume, he proposes five obstructions which, in my opinion, are among the most important philosophical observations of the last five hundred years: lack of delicacy (1), lack of practice (2), substandard comparative studies (3), prejudice (4), and lack of good sense to discern the parts of the work, to understand the function or lack thereof, and to free oneself from the world (5). Unfortunately, these five obstructions are ubiquitous in the professional practice of the development community of the new millennium. The “less is more” aphorism only adds prejudice to the developer’s audience for which it was never intended. A true silent architect, or urban designer, is one who does not have any of these five obstructions. In silence, one reflects upon sentiments and instead of surrendering to the professional status-quo one looks inside for guidance or outside for primary sources of information while continuing a long-standing search for that moment in which we all can be in perfect communion with the absolute.
Silence is my choice!