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Seven Lamps of Architecture

Category: Architecture June 20th, 2007 by mbc

I was recently wandering around the web rooting through building and design related sites and came across a reference to John Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture intrigued by the title, I decided to do some more digging and came across one of the foundations of architecture over the last 150 years.

I’ve not yet read the book, just some of the reviews and write ups scattered around the web, but it looks like fascinating stuff.

In the book, Ruskin expresses his belief in the nature and role of architecture and its aesthetics in relation to both current and future human existence.

The lamps of the title are the various modes by which architecture produces meaning – various perspectives from which we should seek meaning in the buildings we experience. The lamps can be used to judge and evaluate our buildings.

The seven lamps are:

  • Sacrifice,
  • Truth,
  • Power,
  • Beauty,
  • Life,
  • Memory,
  • Obedience…

One of Ruskin’s key charges is that in society (and don’t forget this was written in 1849) our material concerns out-weigh spiritual concerns – the body now tends to supplant the soul in our priorities.

In consideration of material concerns we must include contemplation of technology and the great gains made in this aspect of materiality since the industrial revolution. As such technology can blind us to spiritual concerns in pursuit of the material. We can fail in our spiritual obligations.

I found this particularly attractive and very relevant quote:

“The idea of self-denial for the sake of
posterity, of practising present economy for the sake of
debtors yet unborn, of planting forests that our
descendants may live under their shade, or of raising
cities for future nations to inhabit, never, I suppose,
efficiently takes place among publicly recognized motives
of exertion. Yet these are not the less our duties; nor
is our part fitly sustained upon the earth, unless the
range of our intended and deliberate usefulness include,
not only the companions, but the successors, of our
pilgrimage. God has lent us the earth for our life; it
is a great entail. It belongs as much to those who are
to come after us and whose names are already written in
the book of creation, as to us, and we have no right, by
any thing that we do or neglect, to involve them in
unnecessary penalties, or deprive them of benefits which
it was in our power to bequeath.”

John Ruskin 1849

…Ruskin, a Victorian with green credentials?

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