(Note: This post has been updated (1) as of 3:16 PM Eastern on 3 Sep. See below)
The subject is architecture, and the question is one of a building's utility as a valid measure of architectural worth.
Here's a précis of a typical argument pro:
Some of the "beauty trumps all else" crowd seem under the impression that their opponents are weirdos for raising such questions as livability and flexibility [i.e., so-called "adaptability"], let alone whether or not you're going to go broke trying to keep the place together why, they're just missing the point of True Architecture (let alone True Greatness)!
Oh? What's weird isn't worrying about bumping your head, or the rising damp, or whether you're going to have to put out buckets in the middle of the living room to catch the leaking rainwater these are normal concerns, and more than valid in a discussion of a building's worth. What's weird is trying to confine a discussion about an architect's work to the sole question of whether or not it's beautiful.
So, focusing on beauty and beauty alone in a discussion of architecture? OK, sure, fine, and I'd be the last person to try to pass a law against it. But let's get one thing straight: historically speaking, it's weird.
In support of that argument, the writer invokes the Western Ur-architect, Vitruvius.
This isn't just my perverse opinion, by the way. Here are the terms by which architecture has almost always been discussed: "Commodity, firmness and delight." (From Vitruvius, the earliest ancient whose writings on architecture we have.) Which means: the appropriateness and fitness of the design to what it's intended for; the quality of its construction; and its beauty. (And notice the order these criteria are presented in.) Through all of recorded history the modernist era aside, of course these are the terms by which the judgment and discussion of architecture have taken place.
Problem is, of course, Vitruvius never said that. The poet Henry Wotton in his 1624 treatise on architecture, The Elements of Architecture, said that. In that treatise, Wotton (wrongly) paraphrased and condensed what he thought Vitruvius was saying concerning on what architecture depends, and that condensed paraphrase has since gained currency far and wide as Vitruvius's final word on the matter.
So, what did Vitruvius actually say? What he said was (this from the classic Gwilt translation of 1826),
Architecture depends on fitness (ordinatio) and arrangement (dispositio)...it also depends on proportion, uniformity, consistency, and economy....
And just what did Vitruvius mean by those terms?
Fitness is the adjustment of size of the several parts to their several uses, and required due regard to the general proportions of the fabric [material]: it arises out of dimension (quantitas).... Dimension regulates the general scale of the work, so that the parts may all tell and be effective. Arrangement is the disposition in their just and proper places of all the parts of the building, and the pleasing effect of the same; keeping in view its appropriate character.
Proportion is that agreeable harmony between the several parts of a building, which is the result of a just and regular agreement of them with each other; the height to the width, this to the length, and each of these to the whole.
Uniformity is the parity of the parts to one another; each corresponding with its opposite, as in the human figure. The arms, feet, hands, fingers, are similar to, and symmetrical with, one another; so should the respective parts of a building correspond.
Consistency is found in that work whose whole and detail are suitable to the occasion. It arises from circumstance, custom, and nature.
Economy consists in a due and proper application of the means afforded according to the ability of the employer and the situation chosen; care being taken that the expenditure is prudently conducted.
[all bolding mine]
Those are the principles, Vitruvius said, upon which all architecture depends. And with the possible exception of economy, all those principles refer to but one thing and one thing only: aesthetics (surprise!).
I've remarked frequently in my posts on architecture that genuine architecture is art first, and building second. No art, no architecture, which is to say that any building in whose design aesthetic considerations were not treated as primary is an example of mere building, and not architecture. And so for critical purposes a distinction must be made between mere building and architecture. "Bumping your head...the rising damp...whether you're going to have to put out buckets in the middle of the living room to catch the leaking rainwater" are all valid primary critical criteria in judging the worth of a mere building. They are in no way valid primary critical criteria in judging the worth of a work of architecture. As I've hammered home ad nauseam here and elsewhere, concern with aesthetics art is always and forever architecture's primary defining characteristic. It's that alone which separates architecture from mere building, and is alone architecture's and the architect's sine qua non, and very raison d'être..
Update (3:16 PM Eastern on 3 Sep): See this post for objections to the above post, and my answer to those objections.