PRINT April 1988



WHEN I FURNISH MY dream house, I have the exhilarating choice from all styles: Assyrian to Egyptian, Renaissance to Neoclassical, floral to Cubist, or a combination of elements from all these and others.

And when you visit my dream house, how can you say whether it is beautiful or ugly? You can pronounce your judgment, but certainly you will not be judging my house; you will be judging my taste.

Taste, however, is a feeling—a personal, intimate, and instinctive quality. It is a way for me to express my fantasies, my imagination, my memories. That’s why I can love something you find extremely ugly, and your esthetic theories cannot convince me that I shouldn’t.

The fact that taste is subjective is a good thing. The exercise of taste coincides with the increasing liberalization of a fundamental right: that of individual expression of beauty.

“Beautiful,” in this case, is that which I like; beautiful is all that is opposite from that which I consider “ugly.” I like or don’t like an object, a sofa, a food, a life-style, with immediacy and authority. Nobody can change this. Though general or abstract rules can put me before something called a masterpiece, they can’t make me feel awe. My good taste is autonomous, travels according to its own itinerary, and it can meet you in the place you call bad taste.

And when we wrest ourselves free from the father, from that illusion of objectivity that dictates esthetic norms and models, our buildings and objects are also liberated from preestablished esthetic schemes.

Thus today the behavior of designers themselves is very eclectic. Any form, provided that it is truly thought out and profound, is as valid as another; perhaps, because there’s cause for celebration as the old gods tumble, neo and post-Modern objects tend to be more cheerful than serious, more spirited than rhetorical, more highly colored than gray. This new freedom to choose, to decide on one’s own, doesn’t equal, I hasten to say, anarchy, arbitrariness, or concessions to kitsch. Rather, it signifies an increasing responsibility on the part of the individual in the process of defining the collective environment. And this participation, through the expression of creativity, is possible for all people—not just designers. We can each contribute to the creation of a global esthetic vision.

Of course, choosing how to express ourselves is very difficult, demanding, and important; it is also a shiver, a richness, to know that we all hold this trump card in our hands.

Like builders of dream houses, we can all look around us and dizzyingly choose the beauty of our world.

Alessandro Mendini is an architect and designer who lives in Milan. A former director of Domus magazine, he has published widely on design. He contributes this column regularly to Artforum.

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.