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Using John Ruskin’s 1849 Dust-Covered ‘7 Lamps Of Architecture’ As Inspiration For A Life Well-Built

Mitchell Wilson


Mitchell Wilson


Dec 31, 2023

Using John Ruskin’s 1849 Dust-Covered ‘7 Lamps Of Architecture’ As Inspiration For A Life Well-Built

Lamps isn’t a word you hear too often outside of the light fixtures in your home.

Lamps, in this context, means: “a source of spiritual or intellectual inspiration.” Lamps are more flexible than a set of rules, making them much easier to stick to and remember. Less force, more flow. John Ruskin was a famous Victorian-Era artist who set the tone for what he thought architecture ought to be.

After going through these myself, I immediately noticed how great they’d work as principles for living well too.

Check it out.

1- The Lamp of Sacrifice

Ruskin calls for architecture to be costly.

Not only in money spent but thought given. Intention, maximized. And he describes this Lamp of Sacrifice by laying out it’s opposite:

“It is therefore most unreasoning and enthusiastic, and perhaps best negatively defined, as the opposite of the prevalent feeling of modern times, which desires to produce the largest results at the least cost.”

And too, with the life you’re building.

The Lamp of Sacrifice emphasizes giving up good enough for the sake of greatness. Put the corners back on that you have cut off. There’s no sense in aiming for an unscathed series of decades.

Let life take a piece of you.

There’s a greater bang when you forget the buck.

2- The Lamp of Truth

Ruskin despises facades in building materials.

He insisted architects ought to make the thing the real thing. No fakery. No material pretending to be another, just true nature shining through. And too, with the life you’re building.

A guiding principle of authenticity isn’t cringe, it’s crucial. 

Represent yourself honestly. Don’t pose. Portray who you really are. You’ll be better off for it because at least you’ll be solid.

Not some phony who turns out to be a let-down.

This will always fall short of first-place realness.

3- The Lamp of Power

Ruskin believes architecture must demand our attention, going on to say:

“It has often been observed that a building, in order to show its magnitude, must be seen all at once...But the error is, of course, more fatal when much of the building is also concealed”

Boldness must be the central statement, no question about it. Impressions undeniable. No ‘kindas’, no ‘maybes’. Clear-cut certainty. And too, with the life you’re building.

Your essence, your energy…more distinction, less disguise. Your center of gravity doesn’t have to be so reserved. 

Step into your power to whatever unapologetic extent you want.

4- The Lamp of Beauty

Ruskin wants the pursuit of beauty to exist in the creation of buildings.

On top of that, it doesn’t have to be exotic. It can be the stacking of fundamentals. Get the basics right and you’ll get surprisingly far. And too, with the life you’re building. 

You have to realize beauty is a good thing. Not just in your aesthetic, but in how you strive in your surroundings, relationships, and actions.

A life that delights your senses and uplifts your spirit will undoubtedly transform you along the way.

I see no harm in the pursuit.

5- The Lamp of Life

Ruskin understood that those carrying out the architectural designs and manifesting them into the world must leave their fingerprints on it. It has to go beyond just a cold hard plan and instead be infused with a personal touch:

“I believe the right question to ask, respecting all ornament, is simply this: Was it done with enjoyment—was the carver happy while he was about it?”

You can tell in someone’s work when they were simply following orders, just as you can tell when someone truly cared about the work they did. And too, with the life you’re building.

The last thing you want to do is strictly what your parents ask your path to be. This would be to ignore your own desires, tastes, and yearning to add your twist.

Either seek out your enthusiasm or add it to your current recipe.

Breathe vitality into your work.

6- The Lamp of Memory

Ruskin thought architecture out to benefit future generations too:

“Every human action gains in honor, in grace, in all true magnificence, by its regard to things that are to come…Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever.”

Of course, it’s usually the oldest buildings that we think are the coolest and most well-crafted. This is because they were intentionally meant to stand the test of time. And too, with the life you’re building.

It’s quite a life hack to orient yourself for the long term, especially once you begin thinking & acting with the decades to come in mind. (Maybe even future generations) Considering the longevity of your impact instantly raises the bar. 

The quality of your inputs will eventually bloom into the legacy of your outputs.

7- The Lamp of Obedience

Ruskin believed architects shouldn’t just be creative for creativity’s sake alone.

Instead, you need to make an honest contribution that’s built upon the past - the traditional approach plus a little sauce. You can still break the rules as long as you reference them in your style. Learn the principles from the past, but bring them to light in a new way.

As a human, you are rarely balanced in your sense-making. Either you toss all tradition aside for a detrimental bias of Now-times, or you attempt to run away from the oncoming future, back towards a paleo fantasy. Radical idea here….What about a mix of the best of tradition plus the gifts of our day?

There’s bound to be immense gain when you leverage all the knowledge that’s come before.

Build top-tier mental wealth

Let's keep your soul off airplane mode.

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