Communitarianism and Emotivism

Author: Mindy Gowen

In “Communitarianism and Emotivism,” Mindy Gowen uses Philip Bess’ perspective on modern urbanism to emphasize the importance of the sense of community and architects’ duty to create it in the city. In accordance with Philip Bess’ point of view, Gowen points out that individual’s emotional experience is highly prioritized over the community in current society. This article is meaningful since it reminds us of what we are missing in the modern era.– Editor: Yeji Yi

“Ethics is money. Morals is sex.” Philip Bess opens his critique with a striking truth that often goes unspoken today. A code of ethics in truth no longer exists. We try to pretend it is still there through the charade of the business world, but in truth our world has never been so individualized. The modern era has succumbed to an individualistic rationalization that destroys our sense of morality, community, and virtue.


When driving through the city, every single person would know what areas are best suited for daily activity, (ie. School, Malls, Movie theaters) but they would also know what areas to stay away from. We a community divided and architecture has played a big role in making this possible, if not encouraging it. Architecture has lost its sense of community and connection to the cities to which they serve. Many of the postmodern architects of the day boast on prioritizing a person’s emotional experience through a building and how the structure establishes an emotional connection, but what about the effects of the community? As Bess mentions, “only in an individualist social order can a hot-house architecture designed to shelter and promote the relentless stoking of consumer passions be counted as some sort of civic achievement”. Architecture has fallen into blending into the culture around us instead of addressing the issues we are trained to address; “durability, convenience, and beauty”. We have prioritized the individual over the community.


Forgetting that our designs belong to more than just the client who pays the money. We must remember our buildings are meant to serve as landmarks within a community they are more than an individual experience. We have a duty to the formal order of the city with which we impact rather than the individual. As technology continues to advance and individualize the world around us, architecture must remember its sense of duty to provide community and fulfill the needs of the city.


Kate Nesbitt, Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. pp. 370-382



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