Beauty as the enemy of sustainability

Why is beauty often the enemy of sustainability? How come two good things are in such opposition?

This concerns me greatly as there are many examples of aesthetics being in conflict with sustainability – a leather armchair, a cotton shirt, sash windows, cheese, Ferraris … you name it.

One of the things which adds significantly to the cost and hassle of home refurbishment is that we hide pipes and wires behind plaster, floorboards, carpets and skirting boards. So if you want to redo the energy systems in your house, you can’t avoid digging through the surface infrastructure. Of course, it would be horribly ugly if all the pipes were exposed.

We must look for the reason. Perhaps this is because our own pipes are inside our bodies for evolutionary reasons. If the piping were on the outside we would quickly perish if we had to chase a rabbit into some thorn bushes or if we got caught on the branch of a tree. As a result, naturally external piping seems ugly to us – so that our ancestors knew not to mate with a mutant which had external piping. And so we project this innate evolutionary aesthetic onto our built environment.

While some aesthetics might be subjective and can be influenced by culture, it is hard to imagine that we could change our views on piping. So we remain stuck, in this case, with a conflict between beauty and sustainability.

Any suggestions as to how to resolve this conflict would be gratefully received.

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