“The greatest wealth is to live content with little.” – Plato
Plato is one of the greatest thinkers of all time, a philosopher who changed the world, and unquestionably a teacher who can’t be forgotten. His works in the field of philosophy have influenced mankind significantly and those influences can still be seen today. Plato was a simple man who wanted to aid people to reach a state called Eudaimonia or fulfillment. He had many great philosophies to make life more fulfilled.
He pushed his pupils and everyone around him to think more, make more logical decisions. He believed that many times humans never thought before they acted, succumbing to Doxa, which is whatthe ancient Greeks called popular opinions that edged us towards the wrong values, opinions, careers, and relationships. Plato’s answer to this problem of crowd mentality was to know yourself, do a special kind of therapy called philosophy, examine your ideas, contradict, and question them. This process popularly came to be known as Socratic Discussion later on.
If Plato was an architect, I believe he would have been a very research-oriented and human-centric designer. Seeing the process of design as a free-flowing and flexible development, he would have contradicted all of his ideas in the initial stages of the designs, questioned everything (typical philosopher work ethic), and come up with wonderful and yet simple design solutions, nothing too out there. He would keep going back to multiple design stages, switching between them, unafraid to retouch things, making the entire process a non-linear advancement.
Another one of his ideas to attain true fulfillment was to decode beauty. Humans have always loved beautiful things but Plato was the first to ask why do we love beautiful things? He posed an answer to his question himself – Beautiful objects whisper important truth to us about the good life. According to him, we only found objects beautiful when we unconsciously sensed in them the qualities that we needed but were absent from our lives. He was convinced that beauty educates our souls.
Now, if Plato practiced architecture instead of philosophy, I imagine there would have been a special place for beauty in all of his works. His facades would have celebrated beauty, all the while having an underlying sense of order, kind of like the buildings from the renaissance period. He would have cherished beauty in every niche and groove of a building, using light colors I presume, as they suit his personality. Nothing too loud, too attention-grabbing, something silent and efficient and breathtakingly beautiful, classical perhaps.
The Certosa di Pavia, Italy can be an example of how his works might have looked like.
Plato was obsessed with forms, although his definition of form was poles apart from our understanding of forms in the architectural world. According to him, there existed a perfect world of forms beyond our imperfect world. The form was the ideal version of things and concepts that we see around us, an instruction manual of sorts. Trees would have ideal forms, so would birds and buildings. Plato thought that our reality consisted of imperfect copies of these ideal forms.
I see Plato being a very form-based architect, all of his designs being dictated by the form, one that he deemed ideal for the project. His works being as close to perfection as they could get. He would start with forms. All the services and the technicalities would be thought out, later on, all the details (and there would be a plethora of them) kept in mind while designing. His designs are almost flawless.
While situating human kind amongst the animals, Plato lumped us in with the birds, calling us the ‘Featherless Bipeds’. I envision Plato also being heavily inspired by nature, maybe practicing biomimicry in many of his proposals.
Plato firmly believed that a reform in the society of ancient Greece was a pressing necessity, his ideology on this topic can be seen in his book called The Republic. He argued that ruling was the craft of contemplating forms and anyone who mastered this craft was fit to lead. Therefore, Plato wanted philosophers to be kings or the kings of that era were to become philosophers if an ideal society was to be formed. Plato was the first utopian thinker of the world, a true believer of a society where everything was perfect. Plato also divided the society into three groups – the producers, the military, and the rulers to help attain this seamless society.
As an architect, I see him dabbling in urban planning as well, knowing exactly where to place what, all the while solving many of the problems the ancient Greeks had back then. He was fixated with ideal and utopian forms. Words like harmony and balance come to mind, something that could have been a common denominator in all of his works. Harmonious proportions, round arches, and sturdy piers, something along the lines of Romanesque could have been his style. All of his works being content with how they stood and where they stood the way they did.
Being the founder of the Academy, I imagine Plato trying to change the world with his architectural works, designing important structures like more academies, schools, and colleges, government complexes for his philosopher-kings, and whatnot. There would be an underlying meaning to all of his works, but he would also be experimental, always trying something new out, never sticking to a single niche but also having certain principles and qualities common in all of them. Something like the Capitol in the USA can be an example of his style of work.
The world of architecture would have been exceptionally different if Plato was an architect. With his buildings being content, something not too flamboyant and confident, as if making a statement and his style being utopian, forms and architecture, in general, would have had a changed meaning perhaps. Sigh.