Intrinsic value versus intrinsic beauty

When it comes to design, I really believe that intrinsic beauty is more important than intrinsic value – at least when we use the word “value” in the way that it is most widely used today (i.e. market value). Unless something has usefulness on a fundamental level, like food or shelter, it could be argued that its “value” is a construct based in culture and reliant on supply-and-demand.

Beauty is arguably also culture and taste-defined, but if considered in the broader sense of the word, there seems to be some things that just touch us on a human level irrespective of time or cultural bias: things that move us, awe us or inspire us. Things that don’t rely on an explanation, a price tag, or a celebrity endorsement to let us know that they are great.

Our culture makes it easy for us to conflate the ideas of value, cost, scarcity and beauty but just because covering something with diamonds makes it expensive, does not necessarily make it beautiful.

A good example of beauty created with materials that are considered to have low intrinsic value is the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos BC, designed by Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden. The building uses rammed earth extensively with concrete and Corten steel – or in other words, dirt, concrete and rusty metal. But the building, especially in the context of its desert setting, is stunningly beautiful on a macro and micro level.

The concepts of value and beauty are heavily covered territory in the world of art, design and aesthetics so there is no need to go on about here, but my point is that if we strip back our own and our society’s ideas about beauty vis-a-vis value, we find beauty all around us, sometimes in the most unlikely and humblest of places. Good design can draw out and highlight this beauty and harness it to make our experience of living richer.