Beauty and Sustainable Design

What is beauty? How do we come to appreciate it? What does it mean to be beautiful? We all understand the idea of beauty in different ways, and would all agree that it’s a good thing – but what is it really?  According the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, beauty is “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit”. So, something that is pleasing to the senses.

It is important to note here that beauty doesn’t just apply to people.  An object or a place can be beautiful in much the same way as a person: by possessing qualities that are draw one’s attention and elevates their mood.  But, much as individuals find different people attractive, different people find different qualities of place attractive.

Cloud Pruning in a Japanese Zen Garden compress
Cloud Pruning in a Japanese Zen Garden compress
 


For instance, Zen practitioners follow the principles of minimalism, finding beauty and a sense of peace in living an uncluttered life.  They believe in rigid structure, of everything having a place where it belongs and it being kept there.  In this way they find relief and a sense of satisfaction in their surroundings: it is through simplicity that they find peace and beauty.  I would not argue against those that say simplicity leads to less stress, however many people find it hard to live under these conditions.  Furthermore, a bit of clutter can add a lot of character to a place.

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The Community Garden in the Docklands is by no means orderly.  Planter boxes line the walls in some attempt at order, while other garden beds and pots haphazardly fill the distance in between.  Plants overflow from their containers, as they try to conquer the garden, some climbing through the holes in the fence while others simply grow…and grow.  Any structure that some keen gardener may try to apply, by ensuring that they plant their veggies in neat rows will be overthrown when the next gardener to come along hunts for some clear space to plant.  While not taking over the space of the first, the second gardener’s efforts will still be at odds with the first’s.  Thus the garden has been constructed, not out of deliberation, but through a continual re-shaping process.

What is beautiful about it is the amount of life that radiates from there – not just the plants, but social life and interaction as well.  It is an active and productive space that stands at odds with the Docklands’ backdrop.  In this way it easily attracts attention through its difference.   Thus though at first it may appear chaotic, the beauty in the place lies in its chaos, in the way it grows as it will: sprouting, twinning and budding.  It stands apart as a place of creativity, of intimacy and of redefining city life.  In this sense it is beautiful in more than just the aesthetic sense of the word.

by Urban Reforestation's Urban Sustainability Coordinator, Clare Brereton.