Gerard Heumann

On Ethics and Architecture

There is little doubt that Israeli architecture, an accurate reflection of Israeli society as a whole, has been going through a major ethical crisis over the last generation. Hope is that the following will help readers to understand what the architectural profession should be about.

The main points:

The architect must endeavor to optimally integrate functionality and aesthetics, never one at the expense of the other. But although aesthetics is a most important part of the architect’s ethics, moral values must always come first. “The right thing poorly done is always greater than the wrong thing well done” ( Louis I. Kahn ).

They must perform their activity within the democratic framework, never acting outside it, democracy being the rule of fairness, respecting the value of human dignity. Architects must understand the various implications of their work, most especially how they affect inter-personal and social human relations. Balancing the natural and the technological, learning from and preserving tradition, they must be responsive and serving – never arrogant, addressing situational diversity – the existing built and natural environmental context appropriately, respectful of the scale of man.

important They should make their voices heard on public issues such as building and planning projects they believe are destructive to the community and aid those unable to pay for their services, giving credit where credit is due.

Architects must reject:

art for art’s sake, exaggerated aesthetic concerns, abstract geometries unrelated to man, dogmas, absolutes, untested theories,  technologies which are not subservient to true human purpose, naïve enthusiasm for new technologies, obsessions for newness, the fashionable, the luxurious and the global along with self-contained and anti-social closed enclaves.

Computer assisted design has revolutionized and created havoc in the field of architecture. Make it your slave, never your master. Over-repetition in housing design is a crime.

As is true for all professions, architects must keep themselves well-informed and up-to-date, constantly striving to improve their analytical and practical skills.

More than just a profession – a calling

Judaism & Aesthetics in the eyes of Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook:

Rabbi Kook regarded aesthetic creativity to be of great importance – the aesthetic realm as a manifestation of the Divine power, believing that feelings of beauty develop and intensify the positive powers of the soul. The material world, which of course includes architecture, he believed, is shaped by a hidden spirituality within it.

Yet even though beauty and splendor are a significant part of the laws of reality, moral values always come first. Kook was opposed to a spirituality which is abstract and separate from the reality of life and the external deed. “Man realizes that it requires but an act of will to do good and this is his prerogative at all times”.

Truth, beauty and goodness are one.

Gerard Heumann – Architect and Town Planner – Jerusalem /                

About the Author
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.