Ugly Buildings, Are Ugly For A Reason

Ugly Buildings, Are Ugly For A Reason

There are nice looking buildings, and unfortunately ugly ones. The ramifications for creating an ugly building means that communities have to live with the results for decades. This simple fact distinguishes Architecture from other professions where a product can be used for a much shorter period of time and then discarded. Because of the financial investment in building, being careful on what you allow to be built is critical to a building’s life and community.
 
Here’s an example of a horrible developer and designer, who was probably a structural engineer or a very unskilled architect. One can just read this residential building and hear the conversation. “Keep it as cheap as possible, but lets add balconies to be a feature that will get people to purchase the units.
 
Even more critical to your neighborhood when your project is at an intersection where two sides, which have the opportunity to define the spirit of a community, are exposed to the public.
 
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So here we are, 6 don’t’s no one should impose on their building:
 
1) Balconies: Don’t add balconies to the front of a building, where the resulting impression is dark shadows and people’s junk displayed for the world to see.
 
2) Setbacks: Don’t set your building back from the street wall and leave an unsightly blank wall defining your property.
3) Silhouette: Define the top of the building with something other than a gutter, or as shown in this example.  Smaller contextual buildings should always be complete from base, body and top.
4) Facade:  Not only does this side facade have a variety of haphazard openings, but the proportions of window to wall are weak.  Not having a plan to accommodate air-conditioning is also just cheap.  White window and door frames looks cheap in the context of this brick color.
5) What’s acceptable? The brick color is acceptable and the fence style is acceptable, but the ‘stoop’ and balcony door/window combination is problematic as the door is at the corner of an interior room making the wall adjacent to the door unusable.
6) Front & Side Yard:  Paving the entire front and side yards ensures that trash, or in this case trash cans will be placed wherever, adding to that feeling of ugliness. The addition of having trash cans in front of basement windows isn’t exactly ideal, especially during summer months.  Because this front slopes down, it would have been better to have a small retaining wall with the fence horizontal, with of course a planting bed for greenery. The current ‘solution’ is hot, dusty and unfriendly.
The same budget could be used to make a nice looking building that 1) ensures the best income and 2) adds to the quality of the neighborhood which in turns secures the income that can be generated by this investment.  Instead of using a skilled company to bring this building’s design up to snuff, we are all left with a hole in the fabric of the community, where the most common response is to just not look at it in order to avoid the negative spirit it portrays so well.
Most disheartening is that ugly buildings exist because of stereotypes, the kind that makes people like those responsible for this building think that what they are doing is the best approach for success.  They are the type that think only of the most basic things they can write on a description of the building, like 2 bedroom, balcony, full bath, etc. as if the list is what defines quality when one’s eye can see it is a complete failure, except the brick color.
Look just next door, a nice facade with meaningful openings and a stoop/entrance to match.

[architecture] A look back: Avery Fisher Renovation – NY Times

NYTimes, August 5, 1992

Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic announced the final details yesterday of their collaborative plan to renovate the stage of Avery Fisher Hall. The renovation is to take place from Aug. 23 to Sept. 12. It is to cost $3 million, and will involve no alterations to the hall itself. Read more

The dark side of the Building Code

Every building code is designed to keep people safe and improve their lives, but often the code imposes a negative impact on the potential quality of a place.

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[theory] Helping Cities Grow: What to do.

[theory] Helping Cities Grow: What to do.

An important issue for many cities dealing with circumstances initiated by others in the past, like a blighted looking city filled with parking lot scars, etc. From my experience I’ve witnessed many cities do the wrong thing in order to encourage development. The point of this post is, if you do something, it could have a negative impact on your city, so make sure you do the right thing. Read more

[theory] The future city, future life.

Hastened by the rapid growth of humans on this earth, our needs far outpace our ability to think rationally about what is required by us and what is required by our earth. It must be understood that we can not just allow our cities to bleed out and merge with other urban areas indefinitely for a multitude of reasons, the loss of nature, the total inefficiency in first building and then maintaining such a beast, and the probable lack of quality housing which itself needs maintaining.

So if we set goals, perhaps we can address the real issues facing our society.

1) To build in such a way to allow infrastructure to be easily maintained, first by limiting how much infrastructure we build by building it ‘more efficient.’

2) To provide housing that in it’s core can be refurbished without extra effort, to ensure it’s bones serve future generations.

3) To preserve nature, both on the outskirts of urban areas but to incorporate it into those areas.

4) To build housing that serves all the needs of humans, of privacy versus public, of closed versus open, of fully functional while relaxing, interconnected while remaining unique an special in it’s place.

5) To create infrastructure that has built in a highly efficient transportation system for all things, goods, people, utilities, in such a way that they inherently can ensure weather and the elements that normally cause decay, and to do so in a way to encourage identity rather than ubiquitousness.

6) To reinforce hierarchy within our urban environments, to encourage pride and identity of one’s place, in order to help with it’s maintenance.

7) To create vehicular systems that allow quick transportation of all individuals without the need of individual vehicles, but to also offer the infrastructure to support vehicles that can be securely storage from criminal activity and weather, to help ‘ween off’ individuals from their dependency.

8) By removing vehicles from the street scape, to encourage nature scapes within all communities, to fully integrate nature and the urban environment in such a way that reinforces safety and beauty.

While there is always the danger of creating a ‘utopian idea’ that is doomed for failure, the notion that we shouldn’t think about how we plan for the future is pure folly and has obvious ramifications, like heavy taxes to afford maintenance of the monster, air and environmental pollution, horrible neighborhoods and housing, dangerous streets due to overcrowding of vehicles, etc.  There is a way to take what we know about urban living and infuse this with new concepts that both respect the human individual, the environment and the mechanism that is the city to create a balance that is truly functional and beautiful.  Why wouldn’t us humans try to achieve exactly this?

In future  posts, I will break this down with examples for each item, to begin to establish in concrete terms what it means to use efficiency to create a better more affordable world.

[construction] Designing a better Urban Residential Block

[construction] Designing a better Urban Residential Block

It’s long overdue, that is, the re-design of our urban fabric.  What we have today stems from century old thinking and technology as well as the notion of building only what is required for today.   Read more

[architecture] Afghan Cultural Centre 9/24

[architecture] Afghan Cultural Centre 9/24

A cultural center has a unique opportunity to bring people of diverse backgrounds together to appreciate a culture. For this proposal we bring together the rich culture of the Bamiyan people of Afghanistan in one complete composition that embraces the culture, the landscape and the core beliefs all humans share, in physical form.

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[architecture] Building Brick Neighborhoods

[architecture] Building Brick Neighborhoods

Based on the previous post, lets look at what defines a neighborhood.  Certainly in most neighborhoods there is an implied center, perhaps a linear street filled with shops, that becomes the focus of people’s daily needs.   Read more