When there are grave disagreements about whats good or bad in architecture and art, there is often someone around who is keen to quickly close the discussion down, by saying “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder” its a phrase with the power to silence. Once its been uttered adding anything else can seem a bit shrill or just plain rude. But in reality, the idea that beauty could be entirely subjective is troublesome, quite untrue and plain dangerous. For a start, no one believes it. At the extremes of the argument, we know that some things simply are, just uglier than others. And we can tell by looking at tourist figures that certain places do strike millions of people as far prettier than others. If the will of the majority can be respected in politics then it should also be respected in aesthetics. Even in more ambiguous situations, progress towards some sort of resolution can be made. By using careful logic and patient argument After all, that’s what we do with other big topics like how to run the economy or evaluate a hospital or identify which one of two restaurants might be the better. We may not be able to reach a conclusion that’s scientifically proven but non-scientific agreement can be acceptable too. We don’t need evidence from laboratories to agree on the importance of family or the intelligence of Shakespeare. or the charm of the Alps. So why insist that beauty in art and architecture should be an impossible subject to have any clear views about? The answer is actually rather sinister The people who love our doubts about beauty are one group in particular- Property Developers. Its extremely convenient for them to operate in a society that has no confidence in people’s ability to make judgements about whether things are beautiful or ugly. If there’s no such thing as an objective measure of beauty, then you can pretty much do whatever you like to a city or a landscape and that’s a lot cheaper. We shouldn’t let a few areas of doubt over beauty, whether this or that chair is more or less handsome, for example. Hijack the wider argument and lead to the reckless conclusion that all beauty is always relative. We must learn to stick up publicly and sensibly for things that a vast majority of us can see is more beautiful. So that we don’t get exploited and end up being condemned to living in the ugly environments that have become so painfully common.