As you know very well, I am not a philosopher.
I tend to enjoy reading and writing about topics as boring as inflation, and as niche as foreign relations.
Between issues like these, there is little time for me to write about big philosophical questions. I think about them on a daily basis. Frankly, I think about them a lot; but I rarely express them on paper.
However, this morning, I was walking and I could not avoid thinking, “God, why is modern architecture so ugly?”
It is astonishing, isn’t it? Centuries ago, we were able to build majestic buildings and breathtaking cathedrals. Meanwhile, today, our architecture could not be more uninspiring, more soulless – a complete ode to ugliness.
Don’t get me wrong. I am among the lucky few. I live in Madrid, which is a beautiful city full of light, history and good culture. However, this is not thanks to modernity, but in spite of it.
This is the case in most European cities. People don’t come here to see the newest building in town. Millions of tourists come to Europe to see pieces of history, and end up falling in love with our cities’ Gothic/Renaissance tradition.
Many would argue that our current architecture is functional. But to them, I would answer: Yes, but at what cost? From the door locks in our rooms to the ceilings in our offices, it is astonishing how ugly modern architecture really is, just think about it.
Today, people in developed countries are way wealthier than 99 percent of those who lived during the age of enlightenment. And still, kids study in public schools that look like hangars at best, and like jails at worst. Can we actually expect them to become creative thinkers under those conditions?
This means that our problem is not our lack of resources. Our problem is our lack of taste. It is not that we don’t have the means to achieve beauty, it is that we don’t care about it.
This is noticeable not just in our architecture, but in all aspects of our modern life, from clothing to music, from our emotional relationships to our relationship with God. Our society is no longer striving for something bigger than itself.
In the Post-Enlightenment, artists like Richard Wagner, the famous German composer, said that art was “the unique vestige of the sacred in our world” – meaning, that art was meant to turn something mundane into something meaningful.
Today, this lesson has been completely forgotten. We have lost our way. Our culture is not seeking the divine, it is celebrating the mundane. We are distracted by the ephemeral, instead of seeking the transcendental. This is why we elect certain politicians, follow certain artists, and overall, I think this is why more and more people are subscribing themselves to ideologies that seek to level down all of us, instead of trying to enhance our full potential.
Unlike most of my columns, I do not have a collective solution for this problem. This is not by any means my area of expertise. However, I do believe that we, individually, are not destined to live in this manner. We have agency. We have our free will, and we have the capacity to shape our future as we please.
So, to you, I would say: do not wait for the world to change, become the change you want to see. Cultivate your mind, strive for meaning, build a transcendental life, and never settle for anything less. If you do this, you would be moving our societies forward. And perhaps, in a generation or two, we will be able to proudly say that our society came alive, once again.