Historical Architecture & Aesthetic Environment

I was appreciating the interior of Trattoria Belle Arti, and it got me thinking: in an American restaurant, exposed-brick domed ceilings would be unexpected, amazing, and an expensive design decision; here in Bologna, it’s a standard feature of the local buildings and is likely how the space was when the pizzeria moved in.

I’m curious about the effects of aesthetic environmental exposure over time: do the locals here appreciate the architecture to the same degree that we visitors do, or do they no longer find it as salient? Why do we, broadly speaking “Americans,” find beauty and pleasure in relatively simple Italian architectural features? Is there some intrinsic aesthetic superiority, or is it mostly novelty?

Conversely, how does the Bolognese aesthetic environment affect locals’ appreciation of modern design; are they typically impressed, turned off, or apathetic? More generally, are they more strongly affected by the aesthetics of their environment; that is, are they more appreciative of beauty, and more vulnerable to ugliness? As an extension, are they better judges of aesthetics and better designers? This article on embodied cognition takes the question even further with a brief discussion on how one’s environment influences the way one interprets social interactions.

On a related note, I also wonder about the cultural differences regarding the relative values of new things and old things, which in turn hinder or promote the preservation of old architecture. Does aesthetic appreciation of the old drive the desire to preserve, or does the value and practice of preservation, through exposure, instill appreciation? While asking these questions, I do acknowledge that America is a young nation, and hence has had less opportunity to accumulate historical architecture. Nevertheless, I feel the cult of newness is much stronger in America than in Europe.

– Munis

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