Refugee tents in Turkey

Beauty as a poverty line:

Architecture and Dignity in the Experience of Poverty

Dignity is commonly used as a guiding principle for organizations providing housing aid to people in need. The term, however, is ambiguous in meaning and inconsistent in its application. After dissecting dignity to understand its multiple meanings, a working definition was used to analyze housing aid initiatives. This revealed that dignity, despite being an explicit policy objective, was not manifest in project outcomes. As an alternative, this paper suggests that architectural beauty, and specifically an irreducibly subjective understanding of beauty in architecture, can inform a design philosophy which produces dignity. Like dignity, beauty’s multiple meanings were analyzed to advance a notion of beauty defined as the the subjective experience generated when one’s values are embodied in architecture. The paper concludes with four brief but representative case studies that show the benefits of using a holistic notion of dignity to produce value-laden housing projects, and the risks of dismissing beauty as hedonic while aiming for a minimum threshold of dignity. Ultimately, the paper calls for a new design philosophy that should inform the entire process of housing aid project design.

This paper was presented at the 2015 International Conference on Sustainable Development in NYC.