Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

An-Aesthetics and Architecture

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

An-Aesthetics and Architecture

Article excerpt

Labour produces works of wonder for the rich, but nakedness for the worker. It produces palaces, but only hovELs for the worker; it produces beauty, but cripples the worker; it replaces labour by machines but throws apart of the worker back to a barbaric labour and turns the other part into machines. It produces culture, but also imbecility and cretinism for the worker. (Marx, 1844/1972)


We consider it important to look at the built environment from the standpoint of critical management studies and ask how buildings contribute to the ideological, political and economic structures of domination. The paper begins by asking what is meant by 'aesthetics'. Using the work of Wolfgang Welsch (1997) and acknowledging his dependence on Theodor Adorno (199112001) we can see how polysemous the concept is. But hidden away in Welsch are a very few yet suggestive references to 'anaesthetics'. The paper, in part, seeks to develop this notion. Using Huxley's Brave New World we can detect within the Foreword what is tantamount to an ironic manifesto for anaesthetization. We compare aesthetics with anaesthetics in the context of architecture and attempt to show how the "dazzle" (Benjamin, circa 1930s/1999) of buildings is often accompanied by desensitisation of those who live and work within them. This is to say that almost every aesthetic development is matched with an anaesthetizing one. Sometimes this is only at the level of the individual sensorium but often those who designed the dazzle, those who produced the dazzle and those who provided the raw materials for the dazzle face intense desensitisation in order to produce the 'phantasamagoria' of which Walter Benjamin (circa 1930s1 999) spoke. The paper critiques an article by Mauro Guillen (1997) who sees Taylorism as an aesthetic and in so doing gives brief consideration to the 'zero architecture' (Banham, 1986) of Albert Kahn's factories and the work of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill whom are seen as the 'utilitarian heirs' to Kahn, in the realm of office design for corporate capitalism. Whilst corporate owners may well see these buildings as 'phantasamagoria', for those who work in them all that is offered is anaesthesia.


Wolfgang Welsch (1997) maintains that `the aesthetic' is a polysemy in that there is a wide variety of usages of the term circulating which, although inter-related, do give one quite distinct perspectives on the topic. Some of these are as follows:

* The measurement and appreciation of the beautiful - callistics;

* The appreciation of good design and that which provides good form i.e. cosmetics;

* The ability to makes a harmonious appealing whole from disparate elements;

* The ability to perceive contrasts between contiguous elements e.g. colour;

* The appreciation of the sensuous - that which appeals to all the senses;

* The appreciation of that which requires the higher cultivated senses;

* That which requires perceptiveness rather than sensateness;

* That which requires time to appreciate and is beyond the immediacy of the moment;

* That which concerns itself with phenomenological appearance and not substance, and

* The ability to draw all the above elements into one piece of artistic creation;

We find this helpful as a way of gaining purchase on the slipperiness of the term 'aesthetics', but what we find even more useful is a very minor point hidden away within the book. Welsch goes on, in one or two isolated spots within the text (1997, pp. 25, 72, 83), to raise the issue of the 'double figure' of aesthetics and anaesthestics. Is he suggesting then that the opposite of aesthetics is anaesthetics? Partly. This point is also made in part by Antonio Strati (1999, p. 81). Aesthetics, says Strati, is the knowledge given to us by our sensory organs and is related to the Greek verb "aisth" which means "to feel". …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.