Professor Emeritus of Sociology Jim Spates gave a lecture titled “All of Us are Builders: The Continuing Relevance of John Ruskin’s The Seven Lamps of Architecture to Modern Architecture” during the “Helping in the Work of Creation: John Ruskin and William Morris Today” symposium in Berkeley, Calif. on Saturday, May 31.
During the 19th century, John Ruskin (1819-1900), a British writer and critic, authored “The Seven Lamps” after conducting an intense study of the cities and buildings of Europe and England. Ruskin’s keen insights were celebrated, with his work influencing such noted figures as William Morris (1834-1896), the founder of the English Arts and Crafts Movement.
Central to Spates’ presentation are Ruskin’s ‘Seven Lamps;’ the principles of architecture proposed in his 19th century text – Sacrifice, Truth, Power, Beauty, Life, Memory and Obedience. Spates says, the ‘Seven Lamps’ are now largely forgotten in today’s modern architecture. “When the ‘Lamps’ are not present-as, for example, in almost any shopping plaza in the world-we pay the price in boredom and are taught, even if inadvertently, that our buildings are only for utility, not pleasure,” he says. Spates’ lecture will stress the importance of re-learning Ruskin’s “Seven Lamps” and reintegrating them into today’s architecture.
“Ruskin’s conviction was that architecture, rightly conceived and executed, elevates everyone who is involved in it, its creators, builders, and users to new and higher levels of delight in life,” says Spates. “When buildings don’t possess these lamps, they are, quite literally, more pedestrian and deader and, lamentably, transfer, whether we are aware of the communication or not, those same dubious qualities to us.”
The symposium was sponsored by The Hillside Club, an organization founded in the late 1800s based in large measure on Ruskin’s arguments stressing the importance of sustaining the environment and living in tune with that environment. The symposium included six speakers, among them, Clive Wilmer of Cambridge University, England who is currently Master of The Guild of St. George, an organization founded by Ruskin in the early 1870s to promote humane communities in pollution-free environments.
Spates has been researching and writing on Ruskin for nearly a quarter century, first introduced to him by a long-time colleague at HWS, Professor Emerita of English Claudette Columbus during a semester co-teaching “London in the Nineteenth Century.” Since then, he has published numerous articles and essays on Ruskin, “whose analytical brilliance was not only unsurpassed, but whose approach to social life, in contradistinction to most social scientific study these days, was unabashedly moral,” says Spates. “Ruskin was not afraid to say, as he finished his various sociological analyses, that this way of organizing social life was good for human beings while that way of organizing it was harmful.”
Spates’ Ruskin articles include, “Why Ruskin?” (2009); “The Caretaker” (2011); “Some Conversations with Van Akin Burd” (2012) and “An Entirely Honest Merchant” (2013). His book, “Why Ruskin?” is soon to be published by Pallas Athene Publishers, London. For more of Spates’ work on Ruskin, visit his website, http://whyruskin.wordpress.com.