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Three Classicists - Francis Terry on Delight

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Classicist Francis Terry, on Delight

Given all the terrible things about life, it is sometimes easy to hate the world. Throughout history, this weakness has been nurtured by the clergy, politicians, and now environmentalists. I recently heard an eminent architect saying that, due to climate change, architects no longer have the luxury to think of style. Eco-building – which is only functionalism in sheep’s clothing – has hijacked a good cause. It is up to the lovers of the world to champion beauty; an essential part of all good architecture.

The way I approach beauty is through the rules and motifs of the classical style. For me, there is a magic to these architectural forms and shapes, which have a quality of being right, like the comforting resolution of a musical phrase. For example, the height of a Roman Ionic order is nine times its bottom diameter. Nine and a half looks too slim and eight and half looks too fat. It is like cooking the perfect piece of toast; neither burnt nor still bread.

The way I approach beauty is through the rules and motifs of the classical style. For me, there is a magic to these architectural forms and shapes

The Vitruvian term venustas has been translated in various ways. English author and diplomat Henry Wotton (1568-1639) described it as ‘delight’, but perhaps loveliness, charm, attractiveness or beauty would be more accurate. These words are rarely used to describe architecture and are often not even the aim of architects.

Architects are shy of using words like beauty, despite its importance to all of us. If classicism can offer one piece of advice to contemporary architecture, it should be to take beauty seriously. Who knows, in the future all buildings could be more delightful.

Francis Terry is a partner at Quinlan & Francis Terry

Three Classicists will be at the RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London W1, until 29 May. www.threeclassicists.com

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