Beauty of Modernity and Individuality: Baudelaire and Simmel

The beauty of modernity holds many meanings, one being “a modern way of thinking, working, etc; contemporariness”[1], and relates to the present time. Charles Baudelaire believed modernity was not only based in the present, but a separate moment from time itself. Georg Simmel viewed modernity as an individual’s internal worldly experience. Simmel saw beauty in cities due to individualism coordinating with synchronized groups, and Baudelaire saw the captured moment in the present as something of beauty. In a world that values individuality, architectural styles have progressed to reflect the two writer’s thoughts on beauty in the modern era within the city landscape.

Baudelaire discussed in his essay about M.G. who “admire[d] the eternal beauty and the astonishing harmony of life in the capital cities, a harmony so providentially maintained in the tumult of human liberty.”[2] Individuals who lived within the chaotic busy city, lived within the moment and present, found pleasure, freedom, and harmony within the lifestyle. Pleasure could be identified as beauty due to it being enjoyment and gratification[3] of the present, thus by Baudelaire’s focus, beautiful due to the individual freely experiencing the world, capturing the moment as a memory.[4] The artist and architect too, captures an individual moment in time.

Georg Simmel focused on the human environment and its psychological  effect on individuals. Within cities, there are more people within proximity to each other living life independent from one another compared to the rural lifestyle, that is often expansive in space and holds a sense of community through individual’s contributions. It seems contradictory to live within a group and never interact, seemingly blending in with one another to go about individual business. “To be concrete, an urban dweller may be suspicious of passersby, while a rural dweller may greet them.”[5] Though Simmel notes “specialization makes each man the more directly dependent upon the supplementary activities of all others.”[6] Thus the modern man (or woman) often seeks to be different through the “the fleeting nature of inner experiences”[7], making their desire of difference a definition of beauty and art. This can be actively seen through today’s modern use of social media, and organizations such as Humans of New York[8] reflect upon people’s desire for individuality in a very grey and dull day-to-day human environment of the city.

Within cities, individuality and modernity can be found even at the first developments of the skyscraper. Though technology was limited in the beginning, therefore limiting a skyscraper’s individuality amongst its neighbors, their differences began to unfold as technology advanced. There was a craving for individuality, a desire to stand out, amongst the architects and designers of skyscrapers. The city of New York is a prime example, with old skyscrapers lining the sky and brand-new ones, such as the One World Trade Center[9], that stands out amongst the rest as a unique building. It can also be said about the Renaissance Center in Detroit, the Willis Tower in Chicago, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

In cities across the world new buildings are erected as a form of competitiveness towards individuality. Architects use shape, materiality, and new technology as it becomes available to create something of new beauty, a building that provokes pleasure and captures a moment in modern time.

Bibliography / Footnotes:

[1] Oxford University Press. “Modernity.” Modernity – definition of modernity in English | Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford Dictionaries, n.d. Web. <>.

[2] Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Phaidon Press. PDF.

[3] Oxford University Press. “Pleasure.” Pleasure – definition of pleasure in English | Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford Dictionaries, n.d. Web. <>.

[4] Plowright, Phillip. “Beauty.” Design Theory: Module 8. Lawrence Technological University, Southfield. Lecture. Web.

[5] Boundless. “Social Interaction in Urban Areas.” Boundless Sociology Boundless, ‎26 ‎May. ‎2016. <>

[6] Simmel, Georg. “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” The Sociology Georg Simmel, New York. Free Press. 1950. PDF.

[7] Frisby, David. Fragments of Modernity: Theories of Modernity in the Work of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin, Routledge. 1986. PDF

[8] Latest Stories. Humans of New York. Web. <>

[9] “One World Trade Center / SOM” 14 Sep 2016. ArchDaily. <>

Class: Design Theory, Master of Architecture, Lawrence Technological University

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