Pretty Buildings

I remember, on my first trip to Chicago, being completely impressed by the “girly” skyscrapers. Decoration relished – despite the city’s Modernist aspirations … Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe forming secure landmarks for the city’s architectural tours. The city’s urban texture was immediate at street level, and engaging.  Decoration exuded signs of architectural thought, consideration, and pleasure.

It no doubt also signalled past wealth and excess, ideologically a problem for the socially extreme.   Certainly the Beaux-Arts raised numerous reactions from mid-century architectural students in part because of its bourgeois tendencies.   Modernism seemed so much more ethical – didn’t Vernon Brown talk about “wholemeal bread” compared with an architectural equivalent to cupcakes?  But is the envitable and eternal solution the relegating of excessive ornament to the architectural dustbin? Even wholemeal bread has a bit of texture …

I think Wellington needs more pretty buildings.   Poor little decoration has too hard a time for too long.  It’s time we made a concerted effort to revive prettiness.

A couple of girly buildings in Lambton Quay or Courtenay Place wouldn’t go astray.  Forget value engineering and other pseudynoms for crude cost-cutting.  Forget engineering!  Let’s relish the superficial, the play of light on building surfaces, and even some old-school proportioning.  Let’s get some pleasure back into the architectural elevations in the city.

Perhaps something to think about for the Queen’s Wharf competitions?

… and just to end – because I couldn’t resist it – People in Planes’ music video: “Pretty Buildings” …


6 responses to “Pretty Buildings”

  1. I was going to say that there is a simple male / female related answer to ‘prettyness’ but I think I’m wrong before I start. But at a simple, basic level, there is surely a more feminine side to being / appearing ‘pretty’ as opposed to a more masculine plain and simple = manly.

    But then I look at your images, and realise that I’m quite wrong. The top picture – by architect Louis Sullivan ? Quite beautiful, and undoubtably very pretty. And he was a very manly man too, not a girly man….

  2. For me it is kind of little more than eye-candy – while visually arresting in the first instance, becomes shallow and superficial when contemplated for any length/depth. But then, I haven’t been to Chicago…

    In this sense the gender association is perhaps a product of the subsequent ‘male gaze/appraisal’ rather than the initial moment of architectural production…?

  3. John B Avatar
    John B

    nah – I think you just need to go to Chicago m-d

  4. One of your slides appears to be a pretty in the traditional ‘frilly round the edges’ way, another just has a mass of doodlings scrawled over the top.

    And then another one of your images appears to be a series of old bed springs, or giant earrings joined together. Are you saying that is ‘pretty’? Cos it just looks like a mess to me.

  5. Actually, it just so happens that I will be before the year is out…

  6. I think the role of new technologies (I’m thinking of laser cutters etc.) might cause shifts from the predominant lack of ornament around. I suspect in the not too distant future, we’ll go through a neo-decorative stage – a post-craft mass-customisation of architectural detail.

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