Perspectives - Fall 2012 - (Page 8)

WHY ARE SOME BUILDINGS SO UGLY? circumstance where the writer wishes to suggest that the object of criticism unworthy of any thoughtful comment. Is ugly necessarily a bad thing? It’s a purely subjective word expressing a personal opinion. Since architects have no obligation or burning desire to “beautify” the built environment by trying to appease everybody, there will always be detractors. And the more brilliant the concept, the more daring the execution, the more the likelihood that someone will be deeply offended. We are not advocating design panels or aesthetic standards. Our goal is only to remind architects that public opinion exists and that it is unremitting, visceral, often thoughtless and, yet, extremely important. Do architects have any responsibility at all to design buildings that the general public will find attractive? Here’s an easy answer: some of the time. As it is, there are already plenty of practitioners who execute commissions that gain popular approval. Spec buildings—houses, condos, office towers—all need to find enough buyers to guarantee sales. And for corporate headquarters, memorable and impressive, but inoffensive is usually de rigeur. But cultural buildings, as we have seen most recently, don’t need to be attractive; noticeable, controversial, challenging, even unsettling, are more useful qualities, hence, the impressive volume of letters to the editor and animated sidewalk conversations. Perceived ugliness gets people’s blood up. For this feature, we decided to approach the topic of architectural ugliness from two separate directions, with the possibility of meeting in the middle: the objective (quantitative) and the subjective (qualitative). In the following essays, you will find that these two extremes are not always easy to separate. QUANTITATIVE THERM BAD BLUMAU/14.08.2009/BAD BLUMAU, AUSTRIA ORIGINAL 4288X2848 PHOTO: ©ENRICO CARCASCI CREATIVE COMMONS INTRODUCTION BY GORDON S. GRICE OAA, FRAIC “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” — Francis Bacon, essay “Of Beauty,” 1625 THERE IS A DIVIDE BETWEEN the way an architect sees the world and the way that other people see it. This divide is responsible for a lot of great architecture, since architects see creative possibilities that others don’t. But it can also lead to disagreement when an architectural vision leads to a solution that is incomprehensible to non-architects. Such solutions sometimes lead to complex, thought-provoking, challenging, ground-breaking, perfectly brilliant architectural forms or, in a term that non-architects like to use, ugly buildings. “Ugly” is not a word that architects use to describe buildings. It’s too un-nuanced. Other people use it because it’s powerful, immediate and finite; it demands no further qualification. You will rarely find the word “ugly” in architectural publications, except in the rare What makes people prefer the things they do? Research into this subject is ongoing, particularly in the fields of neuroscience and behavioural psychology. Preferences for shape, colour, texture, materials and various other criteria can be tabulated and even ascribed to human qualities such as age, gender, cultural background and experience. Too little is known about the quantitative aspects of human preference, but more knowledge on the subject continues to be gained every day. Our profession should be better acquainted and more involved with this research. QUALITATIVE Possibly far too much has been written on this topic already, by aesthetic philosophers, by architectural critics, and by the popular press, where superficial architectural criticism is the norm. Although most people would concur that there is no accounting for taste, the topic manages to provoke constant discussion. Our goal is not to define beauty, but to try to discover why ideas of beauty and ugliness so frequently vary between our profession and the public we serve. Gordon S. Grice is editor of OAA Perspectives. 8 OAA PERSPECTIVES|FALL 2012

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Perspectives - Fall 2012