Aesthetics, Well-Being and Health: Essays within Architecture and Environmental Aesthetics

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Aesthetics, Well-being and Health: Essays within Architecture and Environmental Aesthetics, Birgit Cold (ed.), Aldershot, Ashgate, 2001, 322 pp., £45.00 (h/b)

What are the merits of living in areas with perceived architectural and environmental beauty? Do, for example, residents living in such areas enjoy happier and healthier lives than those living in places with no perceived beauty? Herb Gans's (1968) critique of what he referred to as the 'fallacy of physical determinism' suggested that planners and architects have typically paid too much attention to physical upgrading as a way of shaping human behaviour and too little attention to the social and cultural aspects of planning and design. In hindsight, equating beautification of 'slums' with the increased well-being of their inhabitants, that is, the urban renewal policies of the 1950s and 1960s, did more harm than good to the physical, social and cultural fabrics of urban environments in the USA and many other countries. Gans's policy concerns still have merit 30 years after they were posed. At the core of such criticism lies the relationship between environmental or architectural aesthetics, well-being and happiness.

A group of architects, psychologists and sociologists were invited to explore these relationships in an edited volume for the Norwegian Research Council. This anthology consists of essays by 17 social scientists and architects from Europe, Australia and the USA. The contributors have scrutinised the relationships between beauty and wellbeing as intractable and highly subjective concepts, which have preoccupied many disciplines including architecture, art, environmental psychology, philosophy, anthropology, history and medicine. Nevertheless, while both aesthetics and well-being mean di erent things to di erent people, the authors have, when considered as a group, summed them up as unifying concepts, which cover other subcategories.

Essays addressing aesthetics cover its biological aspects (as a by-product of human evolution), cultural aspects (dominant values and preferences in a society), and individual aspects (that is, categorisation, cognition, memory and symbolisation), while those that focus on well-being explore the importance of healthy environments within the context of people}place relationships. From these vantage points, beauty becomes more than just architectural charm, and well-being transcends 'the actual health of occupants' to suggest a number of environmental stimuli, namely, comfort, security, meaning and identity, that nurture the experiential quality of place. This compilation provides the reader with di erent arguments surrounding the linkage between aesthetics and well-being. The authors examine this linkage in multiple scales ranging from architectural to urban. …