The School of Architecture, KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm, Sweden Studio 11, Autumn 2018 Teachers + Editors: Claes Sörstedt, Malin Åberg-Wennerholm, Christina Pech Students: Axel Burvall Terán, Borjan Aleksov, Ella Peterson-Berger, Francisco Leão de Campos Andrade, Frithiof Engzell Waldén, Jennifer Kananke-Hewage, Marie Le Rouzic, Mattias Månsson, Oliver Cassidy, Simone Collinetti
UGLY AS FOUND
WHO DEFINES THE UGLY? FLEN
A VISUAL READER
UGLY, UGLIER, UGLIEST ON UGLINESS
AN UGLIER READING LIST ABOUT
Ugly as Found
Le Creuset Evenemangsgatan 14C, Mall of Scandinavia, Solna.
Receiving this assignment, I realized that I rarely if ever perceive environments as being ugly. I can experience places as more and less beautiful, certainly, but absence of beauty is not necessarily the same as ugliness. I can also recognize places as tasteless, or failed, or tragic. A kitschy pizzeria in the suburbs, a poorly maintained underpass, a backyard full of dilapidated and seldom used patio furniture. But those qualities don’t inspire in me a sense of aesthetic revulsion. Rather, I tend to find them fascinating or poignant – or even beautiful, in their soft-spoken melancholy. I ended up choosing a store in a shopping mall as my room. The Le Creuset store in Mall of Scandinavia, to be specific. Arguably, I don’t consider this to be an ugly space. It has a clear, somewhat elegant, aesthetic vision executed competently. It is stark and visually interesting, and could be part of some genuinely beautiful imagery; say, as a setting in a Roy Andersson film. But it is one of few environments that provoke in me a visceral sense of unease and alienation. The interior of a mall is utterly disconnected from all types of context. It shuts out the cycles of daylight and weather, putting an internal system of lighting and climate control in their place. It severs itself from the urban environment; the layers of history, the multiplicity of interests, and the neverending interconnections that permeate the city outside. It cancels out the natural topography, the sights and the sounds and scents of its surroundings. Consequently, the mall is a non-place, an abstraction which could be located anywhere and therefore belongs nowhere. Unfamiliar and unrelatable by design. Furthermore, this disconnectedness creates an instinctively uncomfortable power dynamic. By shutting out the complexities present in most environments, the mall (or its implied owners) exercise total control. The visitor is not one of a number of actors, but rather a sole intruder. Feeling exposed and powerless, at the mercy of an unseen host. Subservient to this greater authority are the individual stores. Each one allotted a piece of the blank slate, confined within which they must communicate
their brand to and compete for the attention of as many of the passersby as possible. Some – mainly restaurants and cafés – try to simulate authenticity. They wall themselves off with trellises, decorate themselves with faux-worn brick and wood veneer. Needless to say their attempts are rendered futile, almost grotesque by the nature of the space they inhabit – like building a plushy out of roadkill. Others – menswear stores, jewelleries, perfume stores and the like – strive to look refined by way of austerity. Furnished in blacks and dark browns, with slim lines and simple shapes. This, too, is sabotaged by the context. Forced to compete on equal terms with the surrounding noise, their attempts at exclusivity read like an affectation. Finally, there are those those – among them the Le Creuset I have chosen – who embrace the conditions of their environment. They display a limited but stark palette of colours, usually one derived from the graphical profile of their brand and applied uniformly across locations. Bright and garish, they attempt to overpower their neighbours in the battle for the customers’ attention. This approach is perhaps the most successful, but also the most complicit in the unpleasantness of the place. Contributing to a cacaphony of impressions all designed to agitate our autonomic nervous system, in a profoundly artificial and unrelatable space. [FEW]
Axonometric: outer limit of store. 0m
Elevation: display alcove. 0m
Detail: display case for knives. 0m
Fridhemsplan station, passageway St. Eriksgatan/DrottningholmsvĂ¤gen, Stockholm
For me ugly has a lot to do with my expectations on a design. Does the design communicate a clear idea and concept and does the outcome reflect that in a good way? It also has a lot to do with details and the finish of the design. When I experience an ugly space I often start to analyze how I could make it better. What are the qualities to make use of and enhance and what elements could be altered or simply erased? Often, I find that ugly designs are a matter of â€œtoo much going onâ€?, too many different ideas or layers not coming together as a whole. My choice of space is a part of the underground station Fridhemsplan. The space is a passage between a higher and a lower level of the station. The rectangular space is enclosed on three sides and open to a larger space on the fourth. On the opposite side of the open side it is connected to the higher level by stairs and an elevator. The space is characterized by the light green terrazzo used for flooring and walls and three large diagonal holes in the ceiling. I find the space ugly for several reasons. First it has something to do with materiality and function. I do not have a problem with the green terrazzo per se, but I find it a confusing choice of material and color in this space as it is not found in any other part of the station. The higher level of the station is covered in yellow tiles and the lower features a more cave-like interior with a lot of greyish and bluish tones. I feel that the green terrazzo accentuates this rather boring passage as something important or interesting while it is not. As a part of a underground station the main goal with the design should be to allow people to easily navigate and move through this space. In this space the emphasis is clearly on the materiality of the walls and floor and not so much about communicating which way you should go. The stairs and elevator are both hidden in corners and really narrow. What I find most ugly in this place is the addition of glass panels in front of the terrazzo walls. It was done as a part of an ongoing renovation of the station and I think the main reason was to have a material that was easier to maintain and clean. Howev-
er, it is something about the contrast between the matte, earthy, heavy terrazzo and the shiny, perfect, fragile glass on top of it that is really ugly. I feel that it takes away the quality and feeling of the terrazzo and replaces it with something entirely different. The glass panels are now casting harsh reflections from the artificial light in the space which makes it look cheap. Contrary to what was intended it has also made the space dirtier and harder to clean. In the space between the panels and the walls dust and dirt is collected and displayed as in a museum behind glass. When you think about the time and money spent on applying these panels the question that arises is why? [MM]
Axonometric: elevator entrance.
Detail: glass, dirt, inspection door. 0m
Hostel Room Alströmergatan 15, Kungsholmen.
I’ve chosen a double room at Stockholm Hostel. The room is fairly small, about 2.8 x 3 m. The shape is almost rectangular, but the wall on one of the short edges is partly tilted. The furniture is extremely basic: a double bed, a bedside table, an open cabinet, a coat hanger, a foldable plastic chair, two lamps and a mirror. Most of the furniture is recognizably Ikea. The roof is white-painted concrete and the floor is covered with a dark grey broadloom carpet. The room feels almost like a prison cell with the cheapest possible off-the-shelf furniture, the dull grey carpet and no windows – and it could easily have been described as ‘Boring’ rather than ‘Ugly’, if it weren’t for the only clear design move – a wall painted in a very bright orange with a graphical pattern in black and white. The orange wall and the pattern are possibly done to alleviate the boringness and does well in that respect – by transforming the room from being just boring to being ugly. Not hideous, horrible or nauseating – just a little bit ugly. The bright orange color feels very imposing and aggressive for such a small space, while it might have worked as part of a larger space. The highly contrasted pattern ends rather annoyingly and abruptly in a corner and feels very disconnected from the rest of the room - except for the mirror whose form it follows, making the mirror the centerpiece of the room. In addition to this, the shape of the room also invokes a slight annoyance - almost rectangular only if it weren’t for the wall which is just slightly tilted. A room at a youth hostel could be considered an easy target for this exercise – no one really expects a youth hostel to be beautiful. Price, rather than aesthetics or comfort, is the deciding factor for its guests. But the room serves as a rather straightforward, scaled-down illustration of a tendency in contemporary architecture, especially everyday architecture such as housing. The fear of ‘boringness’, but the lack of time, money, skill, ambition etc to avoid it at root often results in a rather desperate application of something colorful or eye-catching at the surface. In the case of the hostel room, it is ugly but not really provocative – you can easily imagine that the staff of the hostel did it themselves
just to freshen up the rooms or differentiate them from each other. In other cases, it’s more provoking. Large private developers building cost-efficient and highly standardized apartment buildings but using, for example, colorful balconies in polycarbonate as sprinkle on top. Instead of working creatively even within small budgets and with industrialized methods, eye-catching surfaces becomes a last-minute solution and an excuse for lack of ambition. [AB]
Detail: Mirror frame. 0m
An Entrancehall Klippgatan 12A, Solna
I would not say the room is ugly because of my expectations. The materials on the building look very cheap so I did not have any high expectations on how the interior would look like. My low expectations are not only connected to the materials on the outside but also to my association of the time period when the building was made. I know from before that the 60â€™s were the starting point for building cheap and fast. So even if ugly can be linked with your expectations, as mentioned in the text, I would say this was not the case in this situation since I had very low and almost no expectations at all of this entrance situation. When defining ugly one can argue that something is ugly from the perspective of the detail; that something is ugly when you look closely at each detail. In this case I would not either say the room is ugly because of its details. When I look at each part of the room separately each part and material all have their qualities. For instance, brick is a very beautiful material because I associate it with something natural even though this specific brick looks extremely cheap and machine made, but still, the brick stands for something handmade, something with an old history, which is the opposite of what this building is showing from the outside. The wood used for the doors and frames around the glass, neither they are ugly. Wood gives me the same association like brick. It is a material that has history and that is strongly linked to our old building traditions in Sweden. For me it symbolizes warmth and cosiness. When looking at the details one by one I can even see qualities in the yellow painted metal. Since the facade is yellow one can assume is it not a coincidence that there are some yellow details inside this entrance. Someone might have thought that through. The floor has this beautiful marble, reminding me of one of my favorites; in Swedish called KolmĂĽrds marmor. It has a beautiful variety of colors from white and grey to green. This natural and expensive material is for me associated with luxury: an expensive bathroom, kitchen or a very ancient building
from the oldest parts of Rome. Besides expectations and the details, ugliness can also be defined or something can also be defined as ugly because of the context it sits in/belongs to or because of your impression of the whole. In this particular case I would say the ugliness could be derived to both my impression of the whole and the context. There is a thought behind and something beautiful with each and every material in this room but the way they are put together is just too much and creates something very ugly. The pieces have different size and every piece have their own colour so even if they both have their own symmetry because of how they are places, it all becomes so messy since every brick has its individual color and the same with the floor. Together it just becomes too much so that each of the materials qualities are outnumbered by the other. It would have been something else if the floor had a color and the wall was made of brick, or the other way around. The wall had one color and the floor was made of the natural stone. Together there would be a better harmony very each material would get their own time to shine, now it is just to much. The room also gets a darker impression because of the dark timber is combined with the brick wall while wood as a material works just fine with stone floors or with brick in general but all together and the color combinations just gets to much. Adding yellow color to this already over-patterned room just gives it an even more messy impression. The material that is added to the lower parts of the doors contributes to the messy impression even more and makes the space feel less design and more functional. The corridor that is next to this room is also very ugly and has a completely different style, which contributes to the ugliness of this room. The corridor has totally different colors and materials; nothing ties these two spaces together. So the room is ugly because of how all the different materials are put together but also because of the relationship to the space next to it. [JKH]
An Ugly Hostel Bedroom Vasastan, Stockholm
The ugly space I am describing is one of the rooms of a hostel located near the Stockholm Public Library. The hostel looks like pretty nice from the outside, the building is from the late 19th century apparently and the front door is a normal one. Just after the entrance, a staircase covered in red carpet leads you downstairs to the main common area. It’s pretty clear that the whole hostel is on the basement of the building. So the rooms are. All of them. The chosen bedroom is meant for two people even though it does not even satisfy the minimum dimensions for a single room - which already are limitative: it’s only 240 x 260 cm big and the ceiling is more or less 240 cm high. Being at the basement it has no natural ventilation so an old and noisy fan circulates and moves the air around the bedroom; a small and fixed window is the only glazed part of the space, and it lets light come in when it’s switched on by someone walking through the outside common corridor. It happens that sometimes bad spaces get a little better with the right lighting, as well as good places can get worse with a bad lighting system. I reckon this is the case where an ugly room gets even uglier because of its ceiling lamp: for some unknown reason the owner has put a 3000K light bulb or even more, maybe for saving money and just buying the cheapest he could find regardless of the type, and unfortunately there are some technical issues because it starts flickering after only three minutes. Such a tiny and oppressive space should be at least well-finished. There are so few pieces of furniture that you could expect them to be nice. Never. Random interior design seems to have been ruled for ages here: the walls, four of them, as in every rectangular space in the world, are in three different colours. The front and both the side ones have a flowery wallpaper which is so colourful and heavy that your cubic meters of available air suddenly pass from fifteen to almost five. On top of that is the fact that it was not used the same type of pattern: the front wall’s tonality is kind of light blue with red and white roses. The one on the side walls has a white background but fully filled with pink roses and oth-
er species of flowers. As soon as you rest and lay down for a while, your sight start jumping from leaf to leaf. Up there to that rose. And back again to the first leaf ready to go towards that other rose in the corner of the room. And all of a sudden you are attracted to the other side of the room. Which is only two meters far from you. It seems that a bee is flying around. And you can even hear that noise. It’s in your head. You can’t stop it. But you are wrong, there is no bee inside the room. Just the fan. Doing its job. This was the room my dad and my sister booked when they came to visit me for the first time. They could not find anything better at a low price - it was quite expectable since they booked only one week in advance. One single night had been enough for them, the following day they cancelled their reservation and came at my house, sleeping on the sofa for one week. But at least I could offer fresh air from big windows and no strange flowery wallpapers all around! [SC]
Elevation: old and noisy fan. 0m
Axonometric: drawer unit that nobody ever uses. 0m
Järnvägsrestaurangen, Östra Station Valhallavägen 77, Stockholm
The Järnvägsrestaurangen at Östra Station demonstrates many qualities commonly associated with ugliness, yet still fosters a markedly pleasant and inviting atmosphere. It is incredibly popular with both locals and tourists, either for a swift drink at the bar on the way home, or for a full sit-down meal. It is also associated with the local football team, which further contributes to its popularity. As a place of contradiction (typically ugly qualities contrasted with satisfying atmosphere) it sparked my interest for investigation. Some of the ugly features of the space are linked to its aged appearance. The materials are mostly dated and feel cheap, their colours indicate their age and show that redecoration has not occurred in many years. This gives a tired look rather than the patina associated with graceful, curated ageing. The materiality, generally, is ugly. The off-yellow of the timber makes it feel unintentionally distressed and the fake plants are obviously so, contributing to the slightly plastic feel of the space. Although the restaurant has largely been untouched over the years, the works which have taken place have been unsympathetic. The intervention of the timber and frosted glass screens collide clumsily with the columns and compromise the otherwise grand circular space. Running around the space is odd exposed pipework and bad, contemporary art, contributing to the room’s unkempt appearance. Conversely, the impressive ambition of the original design does still resonate in the room; the open mezzanine connects the restaurant to the concourse below allowing the effervescent railway station hubbub to seep into the restaurant. It is partly this flâneuristic connection and partly the perfect ugliness that creates its distinct charm and attraction. The elements I have previously described as unloved are crucial in demonstrating the space’s originality and age; the obvious contemporary interventions are so clearly contrary to these original pieces that they allow them to exist in isolation, further preserving their realness. They do this in an unfussy way that allows the space to feel naturally preserved rather than artificially maintained. This
division feeds in to the overriding narrative which is one of authenticity. While so many of the popular chain restaurants/ bars/cafes that currently permeate the streets are fake, stylistically appropriating elements from various eras, Järnvägsrestaurangen feels fresh in comparison. The reality of its history, creates a solid identity which people are attracted to; any perceived ugliness of individual elements actually contributes to this fundamental character. As a whole the restaurant marks an interesting point, that ugliness, when presented in a certain way can become somewhat attractive for what it might represent, rather than what is told by one’s instinctive response. It also shows us that perceptions of ugliness, develop with cultural trends. For me this splits ugliness into two, more definite categories, the immediate, unfiltered reaction, and the more intellectualised, culturally driven idea. This second response is that which we process, weighing up what the image before us represents - does it align with our political views or with our aesthetic tastes? The next investigation should be to explore the connection between these two reactions: How connected are they and what other factors might influence their formation? [OC]
A Corner in a Sports Bar Gubbängstorget 118, Enskede
The chosen space of study is a corner located furthest into a sports bar in Gubbängen, Stockholm. The walls in this bar are covered with orange brown fake wooden parquet, the floor is decorated with mélange grey tiles, and the ceiling consists of large white Masonite slates. On the left side, in a small niche, an emergency door with frosted glass is placed. Around this door there are white rails, wires and plastic cans placed in a random order. From 10 am you can enjoy a steak and a beer in a black fake leather armchair while watching a game. My idea of a successful space lies in the performance, the balance and harmony, the details forming an entity that feels elaborated and well-thought. A space where you sense that there exists an overall command. The opposite then would be a space where this control has vanished, where things just ended up, aimlessly and without thought. I believe that this corner is an example of that control getting lost. This space radiates regulations, installations, practicalities. It is somehow an expression of reality which one can perceive as honest, and honesty can be beautiful. But this corner lacks the feeling that this might be an aesthetic statement. It is a rather subdued under all the constraining regulations that are required in a public venue, and therefore it is easier to apprehend this space as a slave under it. The position of the emergency door also contributes to this feeling, since it makes the corner difficult to furnish, which gives the corner a dead expression. The visual ugliness also expresses itself through the materials and its combination. They feel cheap, plastic and shiny, but still indicates an attempt to achieve a luxurious and edgy look. I imagine someone knowing a guy that had a large party of fake wooden parquet, and it ended up on the walls. Still, this is a sports bar where the beer is cheap, and what can you expect? Maybe the plastic, shiny walls are practical and functional when a guest has had too many beers – you can just rinse them off. Given this corner some thought, I also acknowledged the possibility of the fact that the activity of this space might impinge my perception of it.
Watching sports is not my favourite thing to do. Especially not in a sports bar. The atmosphere in these kind of places is noisy and often expresses a manly behaviour that I resent. It makes me feel like I do not belong. Still, I manage to find a way to appreciate and enjoy this particular space. This bar does not pretend to be something it is not, which makes it natural and confident in a sense. Also, knowing that this bar is an important meeting point for lost and lonely souls in this neighbourhood, makes me respect it. But although the atmosphere is friendly, and it is nice to have a drink and meet people here, it would not have hurt to hire an architect. I believe that there is a thin line between ugly and not when it comes to this bar. It is possible, that at some point, the atmosphere can be so great, that one gets the feeling that the visual expression of this place is so obvious, so well-thought, and that you really believe it was supposed to look like this. When you sense that the look of this space is adding to this fantastic atmosphere, then maybe the bar is not ugly anymore. I however decided that it is fun to have a beer in this bar, and it makes me feel like I am on a small adventure. And maybe all this is something important to bring along when we are discussing space; Ugly can sometimes be really nice when it triggers reflections about what the space is, what it has been and what it could have been. [EPB]
Axonometric: The Corner. 0m
Elevation: Emergency Exit Door. 0m
Detail: Emergency Exit, Door Handle. 0m
A Spray Room KTH School of Architecture, Stockholm
In this first endeavor it was as like ugly could be anything, to look for a room that defines ugly for me was to stablish the rules capable to define ugliness itself- at least the one that I am personally related with. This is also an exercise in which I looked for characteristics that could be generally evaluated as ugly, if such a thing is possible. After all, for me, it is irrefutable that there is a strong character of personal perception in this kind of choosing. Without further ado, here it is my rationalization of the choosing. The reason why I identified this room as ugly was due the interruption on the spatial mood that it caused. This room is located in the new building designed by Tham & VidegĂĽrd Arkitekter, The New School of Architecture, Royal Institute of Technology. This is the room in which students are allowed to use sprays, like: paint, glue and varnish. The building counts with a very organic and fluid ground floor, and ateliers with a lot of space and few compartmentations. But as any building there are some needs that have very strict regulations, which usually generate this generic spatiality. And although I believe that the room attends to the technical requirements, it disrupts the felling that was accomplished with all the other spaces. Differently from the rest of the building, that shows and warm itself with a raw wood panels, in this room what predominates are the raw concrete and aluminum from the machineries, which brings a colder ambience. There are no windows or shafts, so all the illumination is made with artificial lights, which are all white industrial lights that also attenuates the cold aspect of the room. Since is situated on the back ground floor is partially underground and many of the pipes and electrical wires are showing and marking their presence with their noises and colors. The presence of this residual infrastructures that are apparent also interfere with the height of the room. And that is one of the major aspects that led me on picking this room for this assignment too, the room passes a feeling of enclosure. This aspect added with the non-existence of a relation with the outside detach this room from the building, leading
to a very not welcoming working space. If we consider ugly as a full body experience, rather than just an esthetical one, there is also a noise factor. Due to the fumes from the spray and the lack of natural wind, the room need a powerful vacuum system which already set a standard noise level that is very present. Together present with the ventilation system are the pipes of sewer that from time to time have water and solids passing by, which also contribute for a non-welcome space. Still on the characteristics that go besides the vision, we do have the smell. Even with very powerful vacuums there is a present smell of paint, glue and varnish which start to conform an insalubrity that contributes for this sensorial repulse for this room. All of what was previously commented contributed to my picking of this example for this exercise, but there are some visual aspects that are possible to point out after thinking and observing it thoroughly. For instance there is an ever present lack, a void of significant visual stimulus. And this may pass unnoticed in other places but as it was mentioned there is the context that generates a contrast. And contrast is essential for visual apprehension. The colors of the room varies with black for the cabinets and shelves, metal for the sink and the structure of the vacuum work table and electrical tubes, grey for the ground and some pipes, white for the walls together with some pipes, and some blue for another kind of pipes. Which make a very monotonous environment. In the end this room ugliness is tangled with a disregard for its apparel, for the human permanence and also for the missed opportunity of becoming relevant and generous. Which resulted of a also missed opportunity to contribute for the overall spatial interaction. [FL]
Axonometric: working area, metal structure 0m
Longitudinal section 0m
Detail: ceiling corner with its pipes 0m
The Purple Bookshop Pocket Shop, Stockholms Centralstation
To begin my study of ugly spaces, I decide to explore the little stores inside the Central Station of Stockholm. I walk past the alcoves nested into the walls of the station containing packed little stores acting as snapshots of their brands, each trying to grasp the attention of hurried travellers. One of them definitely caught my eye, Pocket shop. Pocket shop is a bookshop which focuses on pocket sized books. Even before entering the store, my visual field is already filled by an overpowering purple that covers almost every surface of the shop. The colour is omnipresent and overwhelming in the tight space. Accents of bright pink come clashing with the purple towards the back of the shop. My reaction is a mix of both fascination and disgust. The colour combination evokes notions of tackiness, bad taste and poor quality. The store almost seems fake. Even though, a quick analysis of the store’s layout reveals that the symmetrical arrangement allows an easy reading of the space and fluid circulation of customers. The store reveals itself to be functional. However the harmony and efficiency of the layout doesn’t prevent my aversion for the shiny colour combination which disagree with the beigy-brown of the original floors. The adjective kitsch comes to mind when describing the crammed little space that resembles more a toy store than a bookshop. This dichotomy between what we expect a “generic” bookstore to look like and this flashy-coloured shop may also be one of the reason I find it ugly. Indeed, the store seems out of place, unexpected, in the clear stone halls of the station. Entering the store is like stepping into another world, and maybe that was the intention behind the design. James Farnell, creative director with Little says “retailers are looking to engage the senses.”1 The stimulation caused by the bright colours is a powerful tool for the brand. The customer is engaged and enters a space that could appear vibrant, playful and dynamic. I understand how for some people the same colours that to me appear tasteless could be described as cheerful by others. Farnell affirms that establishing a connexion on an emotional level
with customers is essential for any store.1 Evoking childhood and adventures through a unique design allows the shopping experience to be enriched with meaning. The design allows costumers to enter another world, one that is cut from reality, enabling them to dive into the books and the different stories. Needless to say, the shopping experience is memorable. The design manages to create a distinct memory of the experience and thus of the company. The customer associates these particular colours to the Pocket shop brand, allowing the later to be unique among its competition. Gastón Olvera from MBH Architects confirms that “the shopping experience has to be memorable, personalised and somehow unique in order to beat the online competition.”1 I am fascinated by the power of the interior scheme to represent both an efficient marketing tool and an example for ugliness in design. Caroline O’Donnell, in her text “Fugly” in The Absurd, writes about the “positive ugly”.2 Pocket shop would be a representation of the contrast between something that could be described as aesthetically ugly but also creates an identity, a uniqueness that Pocket shop plays with by connecting the purple bookshop with meaningful memories in the minds of the costumers. [MLR]
1. Julie Higginbotham, “7 fresh retail design strategies”, Building
Design + Construction, 2014. 2. Caroline O’Donnell, “Fugly. The Absurd”, Log no. 22, 2011, pp. 90-100.
Elevation: Shop entrance. 0m
Axonometric: The top 10 corner. 0m
Detail: Layers of different textures and materials on the floor. 0m
Who Defines the Ugly?
Peter Olsson, Arkitekturupproret
Peter Olsson is a student of Gothenburg School of Economics and suppleant in the board of Arkitekturupproret. He has also studied cultural science, ethnology and has a big interest in environmental psychology. Mattias Månsson: What do you consider to be ugly architecture? Peter Olsson: If you talk about specific attributes, I would say architecture that is very grey and colorless or architecture that has very loud and contrasting colors is ugly. I also don’t like architecture that are to uniform so that you don’t know where to look, that gives a very large-scale impression. Materials that are perceived as cold like concrete, steel and glass can be ugly if they are very dominating in the design. I also think that more subconscious, mathematic things like proportions and symmetry are important and can produce negative feelings if they are to off. It also has to do with how the architecture works in its context. If a building doesn’t enhance the qualities in a specific site but rather makes the overall impression worse, I find it extra negative. Different styles contain different amounts of the attributes I’ve described here. I especially have a hard time with the modernist style although I think that It can work in its own special context. I also think that some modernist building, functionalist, can be quite okay. MM: Can you give an example? PO: There is a building being built in central Gothenburg called Nya Regionens hus. It’s a tall building made from glass and steel located next to an old beautiful station building. For me the new building is an example of architecture made for the car with long bands of windows, like speed lines. The design makes it difficult to know where to look and to rest
your eyes. The building doesn’t fit into the context but instead hides the old original building which I find annoying. As it is also one of few tall buildings in Gothenburg it’s going to be visible from everywhere in the city which makes it even worse. The façade design with a gradient from dark to light grey feels like an afterthought to try to make the design more interesting. The idea might have been that when you see the building from the ground the top is going to melt together with the sky. However, you don’t see the building from that perspective that much and therefore it just becomes strange. Another thing that bothers me is that this area is supposed to prioritize pedestrians however it seems like the architecture is designed more to be seen from the car. The large scale and uniformness do not encourage one to walk there.
Fig. 1: Nya regionens hus, Martin Spaak, 2018, Göteborg.
MM: Why is it ugly? PO: As I described It has a lot to do with the colors and the materiality as well as the scale and the uniformness. It doesn’t make you want to look at it and there is nowhere to rest your eyes. It has something to do with lack of humanity and warmth in the ar-
chitecture. The large-scale, industrial and cold material mediates something different than for example handmade materials. I think this has partly to do with subconscious biological things since many feel the same. MM: How has your values on ugly architecture been created? PO: I’m interested in environmental psychology and from that there are two main explanations, that it’s either biological or culturally shaped. I think it is always a combination of those two. As for the biological part there is for example studies that show that babies are more drawn to certain kind of appearances and shapes. Another example could be that a lot of people dislike certain sounds, for example a chalk against a blackboard. It is of course always dangerous to generelize like this but it could explain how people tend to like the same when it comes to symmetry and proportions. It could of course also be culturally shaped. If you perceive the environment through your eyes, you usually do that within seconds. I mean that when you see a building you might not look that carefully for all the details but instead you perceive it as a whole in a short amount of time. The advantage of more traditional architecture is that people know how it is supposed to look, you know what a door or window would look like which makes it easier to understand the building. The disadvantage of more uniform large-scale modern architecture is that you don’t understand it in the same way. At the same time, I think that every building need something unique to not be boring. I’ve never had a giant interest in architecture, but I’ve thought about that a lot of dull buildings are being built. They never work in their context and everything seems very uniform. I don’t think it’s the same with other cultural expressions. As I got more
interested, I found Arkitekturupproret and got involved. My father was a construction engineer so it’s possible that my interest somehow has been created from that. Other than that, I do not have a background within art or architecture but have studied culture science, ethnology and now a degree in business and economics with a focus on marketing. Then I’ve linked my different interest in my bachelor thesis that was about city branding. Mattias Månsson
Ingemar Josefsson, Stockholm Beauty Council
Ingemar Josefsson is a Swedish politician, who between 1994 and 2002 was member of parliament for the Municipality of Stockholm constituency. He is also the president of the Beauty Council and was nominated by the Social Democrats. Axel Burvall Terán: What do you consider to be ugly architecture? Ingemar Josefsson: Well, I don’t really accept the terms ‘ugly’ and ‘ugliness’. I think it’s way too general and subjective and therefore not useful as a term. When it comes to architecture, I think that you should rather talk about Quality, which of course can be divided into subcategories such as function, place, durability, sustainability, material and totality. That the term ‘ugly’ is rather meaningless can be illustrated with the art world as an example. What is ‘ugly’ art, what does it even mean to say that something is ugly? Often the artist wants to convey a message or a feeling, which doesn’t necessarilyhave to be either ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’. People who are not very well versed in art often use the terms ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ to describe a painting. But if we take Picasso’s Guernica as an example – is that ugly? It’s an artwork that conveys feelings, a contribution to a debate, a war cry. Therefore it’s hard to just describe it as ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’. ABT: If you don’t accept the term ‘ugly’, do you accept the term ‘beauty’? After all, you are the chairman of “The Beauty Council”… IJ: [Laughing] Well, that’s true. However, the Beauty Council is almost 100 years old, it was formed in 1919. And yes, it might happen that we sloppily refer to something as ‘ugly’ during meetings, but in general I would say that we don’t really speak about things in terms of ‘ugly’ or ‘ugly’, especially not those of us with a background in architecture. However, the question of quality is very important to us.
ABT: Can you give an example of ugly architecture? IJ: If I really have to choose something I consider ugly, I would take Stockholm Waterfront as an example – especially the ornamentation on the congress center, the sticks. But the reason that I think it is ugly is to a large degree the site and the context, it is simply in the wrong place. To quote the grandchild of Ragnar Östberg, Stockholm Waterfront diminishes the City Hall to a rural church. And since it can never be compared with the City Hall, both buildings lose on the vicinity to each other. The Waterfront building should have been places somewhere more suitable. It would have been better if I saw it in Kista for example. And that’s not because I consider Kista to be ugly, but because the builg would have been, so to speak, able to compete on its own terms there. ABT: How has your values on ugly architecture been created? IJ: It is a very hard question and I don’t really feel that I can answer it. However, my opinions about aesthetics in general have certainly been formed a lot by my parents and my childhood. My dad was a painter by trade and also very interested in art, so I always went with him on art exhibitions. Although it is hard to speculate exactly how this have contributed towards my views on aesthetics, I have ‘grown into’ culture since I was a child, it’s just something that have always been a big part of my life. Axel Burvall Terán
Ola Johansson, Centre Party
Ola Johansson is an MP for Centre Party since 2014. His background is key account manager. Frithiof Engzell Waldén: What do you consider to be ugly architecture? Ola Johansson: That’s in the eye of the beholder. I would say it’s a design that doesn’t take its surroundings into account. Which is not to say that one can’t blend modern and older architecture, it’s more a question of differences in scale and materials. But it’s not the task of politicians to have opinions about beauty and appearances. Our responsibility is to build a sustainable society. Sustainable in relation to the Earth’s resources, in relation to the people inhabiting this environment, and in relation to the generations to come. It would be presumptuous of me to speak about beauty based on my personal views. Is that a good answer? It’s the only answer I can give. FEW: It’s a good answer. I understand that your view is that you, in the role of a politician, should refrain from attempting to exert any sort of aesthetic influence. Nonetheless, you as an individual must hold some type of views on the matter, somewhere in the background. Views you can choose to more or less consciously set aside, but they’re inescapably there. OJ: I am, first and foremost, a politicial working with housing policy. Not long ago, we negotiated the architectural policy in the joint committee of culture and civil affairs. Politicians of housing and cultural policy working together, that is. That’s awful, really, that we have to keep cultural policyand housing policy separate, but when it comes to architecture we have to take functionality into account. We need to make sure we have a cost-effective development that’s well-suited to the people who will use and have access to what we
build, while at the same time putting all this in relation to the artistic qualities of the design. When a lot of people are out of a place to live, and we’re spending a great deal of resources on building schools, theatres, public spaces, office buildings and so on, it’s important that we don’t hamper progress by setting the demands on architecture and appearance too high. At the same time, we can’t be too short-sighted either, because a building must serve its purpose well. Preferably over a long period of time. It’s a compromise, where functionality and cost-efficiency sometimes ends up in a state of opposition to the aesthetic considerations. And then there’s a risk that you end up with ugly buildings – buildings that are ugly but practical. Take for example SKL:s procurement of concept homes. Some people may call those houses ugly, and it’s true. But they’re significantly cheaper to build than if one had created a particular design for this specific purpose. And what, then, is more important? The architecture is good enough for those who will live there. But it’s possible to make mistakes, of course. We’ve done that before, in what we now refer to as disadvantaged areas. Then again, while some may claim that the problems in those areas stem from the architecture alone, it’s not that simple. It has more to do with a failure of housing policy. We lock people into an environment and fail to give them the opportunity to leave, we fail to make sure there’s a will to invest in those areas, fail to make them attractive to other people. FEW: Yeah, I’m not trying to insinuate that the aesthetics are the only, or necessarily the most important, aspect of architecture. But you do have a personal idea of what ugly architecture is: one you describe as ”buildings that don’t take their surroundings into account”?
Fig. 1: Valand Block 6, Kungsbacka, Sweden. Fig. 2: Valand Block 6, conceptual render.
OJ: If I am to define what I mean by ”ugly buildings”, that could be one way of putting it. But it’s also a matter of approachability. In my hometown, Kungsbacka, they’re currently building a parking garage, (Fig. 1 & 2) five or six stories tall. It appeared incredibly ugly at first, but when it receives a nice finish, when the facade gets some colour and the surrounding buildings are completed as well, then it eventually turns beautiful. It’s such a typical small town mentality, too. Kungsbacka is a fairly large municipality – eighty thousand inhabitants – but the actual town is small. And everybody has an opinion about the town, regardless of whether they actually live inside it or not. And so, you end up having having discussions about ugly kiosks and toilets in the town square and such, things that have already been there for a long time. Are they ugly? Sure, but it’s useful to have a toilet in the town square. And a toilet building could be significantly uglier. There are so many damn opinions being thrown around. We have political parties back in the municipality that are founded based on the two little wooden houses on the town square. FEW: My next question is whether you can give an example of ugly architecture. Should I take the parking garage as your answer to that one, or would you prefer to give a different reply? OJ: That’s just more opining. You’re asking me as a politician now, but that would be the opinion of an individual. FEW: You’re more than welcome to express your personal views. OJ: The nazis had an architectural policy based on
declaring that ”this is beautiful” and ”this is ugly”. And there are parties in Sweden with tendencies like that. Thinking that anything that is weird, or is not considered Swedish, or has too modern a design – that such things are unacceptable. I would never, as a politician, have opinions about architecture. FEW: If you express your personal views, I will make it clear in the recountal that you don’t claim to speak for your party. I understand that. OJ: As a politican, one should not have opinions about architecture. Take the proposition on architectural policy we’ve processed in the Parliament, for example. It’s a bunch of texts (I can barely even remember what they say) meant to act as a source of guidance for the architecture to come, but we don’t go any further than that. The things we discuss in the committee I’m part of, the one in charge of housing policy, is how strict demands we are to set on the zoning plans. What do we allow? How much freedom should we allow the municipalities to – while issuing building permits – deviate from what’s regulated within the plans? A zoning plan can stay in effect for decades. It stays in effect until someone decides to alter it, really. If we, for example, specify within a plan that buildings can be no more than three or four stories tall, but then the development of the area eventually reaches a point where it would be perfectly fine to have sixteen-story building provided they’re made of wood, then it has to be fairly easy to make such an alteration to the plan. It has to be possible to make adjustments while the journey is underway. Every new era must be allowed to have its own
ideas about beauty and functionality, but we can’t make decisions that anchor future generations to any given viewpoint. I’m not quite answering your question here, am I? FEW: No. I understand why you aren’t. Personally, I find it sympathetic. But if you, in spite of all this, allow yourself to speak as an individual? OJ: I suppose the most beautiful thing would be a forest grove by a lake, where the only sound to be heard is birdsong. As soon as you do anything there – putting up a fencepost would be enough – you’re making it uglier. Everything that has an impact on the natural landscape can be regarded as ugly, in relation to what came before. What nature created on its own. Then again, there’s very little in nature that mankind hasn’t fiddled with already. And the change brought about by human intervention, even if it’s an uglification, is a change we grow to feel at home in and eventually regard as beautiful. And we must allow it to go on like that. But if I am to give an example of something ugly: let’s talk about industrial buildings. A metal shed, chucked onto a field. It could be a warehouse, or a
Fig. 3: Aranäsgymnasiet, Kungsbacka, Sweden.
hauling company. You couldn’t call that pretty. But it’s good. Because it creates jobs, growth, and income for the people running the company and the people working there. And it’s not hard to demolish, because it was in all likelihood pretty cheap to build. It could be a gymnasium for a school, too. We’ve built a lot of very ugly gymnasiums. But perhaps those don’t need to look pretty. Perhaps it’s enough for them to provide a roof above the sports field, and a couple of walls and so on. But yeah, that’s something I would consider ugly. FEW: Thank you. So, without necessarily passing
any judgement regarding the building’s overall value or reason to exist: could you put into words why such a gymnasium or industrial building is ugly? Wherein does the ugliness lie? OJ: One thing that can be ugly is when the surface material, something originally meant to be beautiful, starts to erode. When the surroundings cause a colour to cease looking good, or when the architect has chosen inappropriate materials and the paints begins to chip. In those cases, it’s a failure to preserve the architect’s intention over time. I am reminded of the building for the secondary school home in Kungsbacka. (Fig 3) It was designed by Gert Wingårdh, and won the Kasper Salin award. But I just can’t find it pretty. Especially now that the black facade is turning gray. And this building isn’t even more than fifteen years old. But that’s just the facade. Architecture isn’t just about what we see on the outside, it’s about the internal functionality too, and I haven’t heard any complaints about that. Function is important, especially when it comes to school buildings. FEW: Indeed. My final question is this: how have your values on ugly architecture been created? OJ: Well, I’m a country boy. Who lives in the city. Who lives in a town. I suppose one’s views stem in large part from where one grew up. But not entirely, of course. I can find a barnhouse ugly as all hell, especially if it was built recently. Aren’t one’s views fostered by one’s surroundings as well? By the views of friends and loved ones? Your ideas about aesthetics could be a position you adopt in relation to other people. Either because you want to agree and be obliging. Or because you want a viewpoint that stands in opposition to them, because you think they’re bloody idiots. Perhaps you don’t share their values in other respects, and to make this clear you claim that what they find bloody ugly actually looks great, and the other way around. Frithiof Engzell Waldén
Kieran Long, ArkDes
Kieran Long is a British journalist and curator specialised in the field of architecture. We met with him in his office at ArkDes, the Swedish national centre for architecture and design, to which he currently is the director, to ask him about his views on ugliness in the built environment. Marie Le Rouzic: What would you consider ugly in architecture? Kieran Long: This is tricky, there are two different questions in your question, “what you consider ugly in architecture” and “give me an example of an ugly building” and the second one is much more difficult in a way than the first one. We can talk in general, there have been many different versions of what beauty is and that ugliness is nearly the opposite of beauty. As many times as our ideas in history of beauty have changed so have our ideas of ugliness. There are certainly enduring ideas of ugliness that don’t really apply to architecture, like the body rotting or the body failing, to do with things out of place, these kinds of more general definitions come back and back into our aesthetics. But architecture is much more tricky because architecture tends to define itself by beauty first and ugliness second. So I suppose in the Renaissance you have a situation where people’s idea of beauty is defined by perspective and proportion and something therefore that is not in proportion or has incorrect proportions, particularly later in neo-classical architecture, is seen to be ugly. So much of our 20th century scholarship has of course shown those measures to be arbitrary, that even Palladio did not conform to his own rules about proportion, that the rules on architecture can be something that you can follow and still produce an ugly building. I think also for instance what appeared in architectural history when we had the clearest rules on beauty, which is
probably the 19th century, academic classicism and neo-classicism, of course 19th century architecture was so hated by modernist architects that they demolished it all or completely wanted to create a complete aesthetic break between modernism and 19th century architecture. So I suppose my answer in short is that the ugly in architecture is something that shifts as often as beauty in architecture. To be a bit more precise what today we might consider ugly in architecture it feels to me to be a context specific conversation. So in a town like Stockholm which is extremely conservative when it comes to heritage and where the debate is absolutely about preserving the historic city, ugliness is somehow connected to modernity. The modernistic to Stockholm was ugly compared to what was there before. So the clearest example we have in Stockholm is Klarakvarteren and the reconstruction of the central city next to Centralstation, next to the station, during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, which is still a painful thing for Stockholmers and is still used by heritage compaigners to say “modernism is ugly. Look what you took away that was beautiful and what you replaced it with is ugly”. We see that across the world in different forms but in Stockholm that’s particularly strong, much stronger than it would be in other Swedish cities. I don’t find these buildings ugly, but one of the things I really believe is that architecture today has to engage somehow with popular taste. It has to understand that there is a degree to which the public is not fond of much of the output of contemporary architecture. Probably they would say they find it ugly, and architects’ usual response to that is to say “if you just understood it better you would not find it ugly”. And that’s really difficult because ugliness and beauty as I’m sure Eco1 writes, is somehow connected to irrational as well as rational. The thought process is adding to feelings and
emotions as well as to rules. I simply don’t agree that if you talk to Bjarke Ingels you find his buildings more beautiful. And that doesn’t seem to be the case. So it’s very tricky. I think this is somehow today context specific. What’s ugly in Stockholm would not be ugly in Dubai. If you’re talking even more personally what I find ugly, I suppose the thing I see most often now, and I can’t really explain why I don’t like it so much, and perhaps that’s the important thing to get to, is the contemporary production of buildings in Sweden, housing buildings for example. It feels to have become so industrialised that it has no material quality at all. So you see these buildings put up, we know they have good spaces standards, we know they perform environmentally, and we know they even have some good social mix, they may even have nurseries in the bottom. So all of these things that you, as architects, and me, as architectural critic and thinker, we want all those things but still the buildings that are produced then have a facade that looks so industrially produced and has no quality at all. It looks like something that won’t last. It looks like something that has no relationship with the historic environment of the city. You don’t want to touch it. I’m not saying that my ideas of beauty and ugliness have to do with materials but right now the buildings that I see that make me think “God that’s ugly” are those ones. They are the mass produced housing buildings of Sweden. That’s a very broad array, good architects are involved in some of those buildings and bad architects are involved in some of those buildings, but somehow the industry is producing something that just feels aesthetically deficient. MLR: So the kind of copy/paste of the same model repeating other and other again without any connections to the context. KL: Yeah it’s like a copy/paste of a building with a different facade on it. And in Sweden the architect’s job is to design that facade very often, not to design anything behind it or how it meets the public realm. In the city, as I walk around, something that I’m extremely sensitive to is the kind of ugliness which results from a lack of care. I think one important aspect, for me, of living in a city is to feel like living in a cared for environment. I might sound a little old fashioned. In some ways Stockholm is a strange mix because in Sweden we are extremely cared for, we have fantastic health care, child care and education and child support and all of the basic services of the city are extremely high level compared to Italy
or the UK, especially compared to the rest of the world. But the physical fabric of the city can feel very uncared for. Like if you walk down Drottningatan, one of the city’s main shopping street, and you look at the way that it is paved and you look at the street furniture and you look at the lack of care with which are put on the ground and the way that the ground meets the buildings, there’s no craft skill in that, there’s no care or attention to it. That’s quite surprising for a country that is so extremely careful with us in terms of our rights and the services of the city. That’s somehow what Public Luxury2 is about. The exhibition touches on some of these aspects. MLR: To come back to what you said a bit earlier, you only think about ugliness as the negation of beauty? You don’t see it as something that could be not related to beauty at all but a thing in itself? KL: Yes it can be a thing in itself but as I said it relates to those more honest definitions of ugliness to do with decay. When it’s not the opposite of beauty, ugliness for me... I’m trying to find a good example in our field or in an artistic field. You would say that thereis a lot of art that has to do with the deliberate ugliness as a strategy of shocking you or de-familiarising you with an object or changing your relationship or trying to provoke an emotional reaction. We can think of the work of Hans Berg and Nathalie Djurberg that were just here in the Moderna Museet, which is related to the grotesque. These kind of figures where physical attributes take on extreme proportions, where bodily fluids and bodily interaction become exaggerated and these things are kind of ugly. In that case it’s funny, it makes you laugh, it doesn’t shock you in a horrifying way. Perhaps it makes you just take a step back. But if you look at say the work of Damien Hirst, The Shark for instance, if you see it now it is falling to pieces and it’s quite a horrifying object to see, to see this body in decay. Lots of British art has been about that in the 80’s of course. I tend to feel most clearly ugliness when it relates to the body in decay or a body altered, those kinds of things for me are called ugliness. I think in architecture it’s particularly difficult. For every quality you can give to ugliness you can find an example in which that was beautiful. You could say “incoherence, that’s ugly”, but then you can find lots of incoherence that’s just unbelievably beautiful. I think for instance in 1950 we would’ve all found the work of Albert Speer to be extremely ugly because it represented so clearly a logical framework that was horrifying to us. You know the
extreme stripped back classicism meant then authoritarianism and therefore it was ugly. Now we see the work of David Chipperfield and we don’t feel like that about it. These things in architecture are quite extremely difficult to pin down to a definition of ugliness. Do you have any? What do you think? Are you trying to say “that’s an ugly building” or are you trying to find rules for ugliness or a bit of both? MLR: A bit of both I guess. I mean it’s hard to find the rule of ugliness. Because I feel like it depends on the person. It can be really subjective, it depends on personal experiences. Simone Collinetti: It goes along with what you were saying on rational and irrational. MLR: Yes like someone could be completely disgusted in front of a piece of architecture because it evokes something for this person but for someone else it could be completely fine. KL: Let me think of a building from my career that has a high degree of agreement among critics and commentators that it is ugly. I think of the work of MAKE Architects. Ken Shuttleworth was a partner of Foster + Partner and started its own practice and he was very successful but no one can quite understand why because so much of his work just feels so ugly to people. Let me give you an example of a building. I think the building is on Edgware Road. [looks through MAKE Architects’ website on his phone] I mean some of these buildings are reasonable commercial architecture, but with this one I just remember thinking “what the hell is that?”. There are still those moments aren’t there? Where there’s some degree of consensus about a building. [continues to scroll through MAKE Architects’ projects on their website] Maybe they don’t even have it on their website. That’s a good definition of ugliness, the buildings that architects themselves don’t even put on their own website. [laughter] This is it. It was on Baker Street. It’s interesting that they put this interior picture as the main picture. [Fig.1] “Inviting the public in” they say. See when they photograph it like this it doesn’t look half as bad. [Fig.2] But this glass thing... There are many reasons why it felt really... Everybody was like “have you seen that thing on Edgware Road it’s fucking terrible, it’s by MAKE” and when you see this picture you think “ok is it worst or better than any other commercial building?”. But this is the entrance of the building, it’s horrifyingly out of scale. This huge sort of glass entrance, you enter under this thing which is neither a door or an arch, it’s nothing at all. All of this steel is painted
white and it makes it feel sort of heavy even though in this picture it looks quite thin. It feels a bit 1980’s, like the first era when glass atrium buildings arrived with very very simple geometry and trying to look futuristic. It felt like a bit out of time. And then there’s a contrast between this thing [points at glass atrium] and this thing [points at neighbouring facade] which is the most boring facade you’ll ever see. This might even be a renovation of an existing building. I don’t know. It’s funny, looking back now it’s quite hard for me to explain just quite why everybody found this ugly but I just remember going to parties and people were saying “have you seen that thing?”. And it was one of the first buildings that they made as MAKE when he left Foster + Partners. Again I can’t derive any rules out of that, there was just this moment I remember when everyone turned around and said “what the fucking hell did they just make? So untalented. They have no ability.” It is somehow to do with proportion, material, clarity of an image like you can’t really see what this building is trying to be, what it’s trying to represent. MLR: Yes you can’t really read it. KL: And somehow that hit those buttons with people. Taking other big controversies in my time in architecture, when I was quite a bit younger and when I was writing about these things. Daniel Libeskind with his project for an extension of the Victoria and Albert museum. He made this project after the Berlin museum. He was one of the most famous architects at the time. He did the Berlin museum and for the Victoria and Albert museum he wanted to build a building in the courtyard. [Fig.3] You will know that the V&A now has this courtyard entrance by Amanda Levete. This was the project before that this is from the 90’s. Libeskind was thought of as one of the great artists in our field at the time, his signature style with these fractured and disjointed volumes meeting each other in unexpected ways. He won this competition and designed this building. You can see that there’s these very formal red bricks and terracotta and stone dressed buildings, these very fine buildings of the V&A from the late 19th century, and his building has of course nothing to do with those buildings, very deliberately doing something else. Internally it connected all these buildings together, providing lots of exhibition space. It was a clever building, it provided a new entrance for the museum. Local people hated this building so much that they run this very very convincing campaign to stop it. In the end it was successful at stopping it.
Fig. 1. Make Architects. (2008 ) 55 Baker Street. London, U.K. View from inside the atrium.
Fig. 2. MAKE Architects. (2008) 55 Baker Street. London, U.K. View of the facade.
Fig. 3. Studio Libeskind, Miller Hare (2002) London, U.K. Proposition for the V&A museum reconversion.
Fig. 4. Studio Libeskind, Steven Evans Photography (2007) Ontario, Canada. Royal Ontario museum.
So even though this building got planning permission and the V&A had the money, or had most of the money, to build it, they decided not to because people hated it so much they thought “this is gonna be a problem for us forever if we do this”. Libeskind’s work, you could say, is a deliberate uglification of architecture. What the Berlin museum tries to do is to evoke in architectural form a horrific event, of the holocaust, and he uses that formal strategy in all of his projects after that, whether it’s a holocaust museum or not. So this is quite hard for people to understand. I think the public had a point about this project, but why? What possible reasons could there be for these intersecting forms to look like that? It has no relationship to history, there’s no relationship to museum architecture, it has no relationship to anything except Libeskind’s own work. I can agree that that is a version of ugliness. When you think about the buildings that he did build, like this building in Ontario, this famous museum. [Fig.4] He got to do it in a way. He wrapped this kind of series of glassy shards around a very formal late 19th, early 20th century, neo-romanesque museum building. And you would say that by any measure this is ugly, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I’m not judging it, I don’t have to attach a moral value to ugliness. Maybe Ontario needed that. I don’t know I’ve never been there actually. But you could say that Libeskind’s work has to be a deliberate uglification of the environment in order to make you think about something. We can then judge whether we think that’s good or bad. I mean personally I hate his work but there are other museums in a similar vein, there are other buildings in a similar vein. But surely one of his strategies must be to make a shocking contrast that cannot be categorised as beautiful. MLR: It’s amazing the reaction that people can have. They really didn’t want this building. They did everything they could not to have this building. It reminds me of the memorial in Norway that you have in the exhibition as well. People really fought not to have this memorial built. SC: Also the new project by David Chipperfield, the Nobel centre. It was approved but the work hasn’t started yet... KL: It’s still going through the courts, it’s still waiting for the court in Sweden to make a decision. The question is really whether that hinges on ugliness or not. To some extend I think it does. And what I’m talking about here I think is the same in the Nobel centre. There is a popular definition of
ugliness that is consistent at least in Europe. Where you can say that buildings that have bad manners are considered ugly. We can say that in our field we have great artists, like Zaha Hadid, who would say “our work is not about context, it’s not really about history of architecture it’s about the future of architecture”. We can have our personal views about that but she’s celebrated in our field as a great artist. But there’s no doubt that to a member of the public it’s quite hard to understand why that might be considered worthwhile as an architecture project. And Libeskind I would say is probably one of the most extreme example of that because his buildings are so unbelievably ugly and badly made often. The funny thing about the Nobel centre is, a very senior politician here said to me “the thing they should have done is they should have got Zaha Hadid to do that project because it would have been more weird and more extreme. The problem is that it’s trying to fit in, and it doesn’t fit in” and I don’t agree with that, but it shows you that the nature of the conversation is quite difficult. I think if you were to try and generalise what the public thinks is ugly, it’s often an extreme jolting difference from what came before. I can be extremely sympathetic with that definition of ugliness. Because if your city is made of one thing shouldn’t it be expected of an architect that they at least understand that history and try to relate to it. For me it’s a starting point for architecture. But for many of the biggest stars of our field that is not a starting point. So you can understand why the public finds these things ugly. MLR: When we think of cities like London for example where you have a lot of different architectural styles mixing in the same city, what do you think about that? Because you can have a Victorian house next to a very contemporary skyscraper next to a brutalist building, do you think that’s ugly this mix of very different styles? Because for me I think it works together I mean there’s a kind of unity in the city. KL: That’s true. But I suppose you would certainly say that many of the 60’s buildings in London are worst than the equivalent in Stockholm for example. There are many ugly housing buildings that you and I would not want to live in. They are badly maintained, they are badly technically resolved and have all sorts of problems that made them visually appalling but also even worst to live in. Compared to that Sweden has an extraordinary high standard of
architecture from first war period, much better than London. I mean London’s a mess and always has been. I think you have to be careful what you wish for though, because the fact that we all enjoy that mix has lead to, for instance in the City of London, a generation of buildings that don’t care at all about context. You now have ten skyscrapers in the City of London since I’ve lived in London. I’ve lived in London for 20 years. When the Gherkin, the Norman Foster building, was built there was only one tall building in the City of London that was the NatWest tower, now you have a number of buildings, London bridge tower, two more Norman Foster towers... I don’t really care that much about skylines actually, and some people do, some people care very much about the beauty of the skyline and usually what they mean is the heritage skyline. Stockholm cares very much about that. There are no high buildings in the centre of Stockholm. But London has decided not to care about that in the City of London. We all love the mix and it’s great because modern architecture can be next to historic architecture. But when they built Norman Foster’s building, the Gherkin, they demolished a very fine building there the Corner Exchange which had been damaged by fire but was perfectly possible to save. Everybody forgets about that now because London has been obsessed with the new and the image of London as a future city. I care little or not at all about the quality of individual buildings but what has definitely happened is that the footprints of the buildings in the City of London have got bigger, streets have got less street-like, there’s an effect I think on the urbanism of the city which is really problematic for those buildings. You have to be careful what you wish for. You can say the mix is nice but do you like the same thing when you’re in Shanghai? They also have a crazy mix. But in Shanghai it’s quite a different environment to walk around than London. We can like it in Hong Kong, because Hong Kong has some sort of urban density and fantastic urban life that doesn’t depend on individual buildings and on the quality of individual buildings. Arguably Stockholm is not like that. Venice is not like that. You wouldn’t want Venice to become like Shanghai. So maybe we’re saying that coherence is in the eye of the beholder. Developers of course would love for us to say “the thing about Torino is that it would be much better if there was more of a mix in the city centre and we could put up more high buildings we could put up
bigger buildings with bigger footprints and more shopping malls because they make more money.” They are that cynical. So we have, as architects and people who care about architecture, we have to be extremely careful what we wish for. MLR: How do you think your values on ugly architecture have been created? You think it’s maybe in your education that you’ve built these ideas of what should be beautiful architecture and what should not be created. KL: Certainly it’s depending on your education. I didn’t study architecture and I’m not an architect so I don’t have the education you have. I studied English literature and my view is that in a way the city, any city of a certain scale, is a kind of force that cannot really be controlled. You cannot really design it, it sort of happens as a result of so many different forces in which architecture is just one. That’s not to say that architecture is not important, it’s just to say that the city is produced by many hands. So trying to control its beauty or ugliness as a whole is quite a foolish and impossible thing to wish. The only people that have managed to control whole cities’ aesthetics or either dictators or heritage people. Like Venice is quite safe. No-one is gonna build a skyscraper in Venice. Venice is basically finished more or less. Stockholm has a bit of that feeling although I wish it had a bit less of that feeling because Stockholm needs to not be that. But I suppose I was educated in a period where philosophically and theoretically my background is in post-modernism which celebrated first of all the clashes and inconsistencies that modernism did not appreciate. Modernism wanted a system that ties things and post-modernism was more comfortable with that mix that you’re describing. Post-modernism was also more interested in history, whether we like or dislike that in the architecture. It was interested in how the whole of culture is produced by our history, by our future, that nothing is really original. So I’ve never found the work of Libeskind or Zaha or the avant-gardists beautiful or interesting because I think they’re perpetuating a myth of architectural creation that is to do with “if I’m original then I’m making important work ” And I don’t think that originality is something that any of us should strive for. I don’t think it’s interesting I don’t think it’s possible. It’s like a myth of an artist. But that myth is very strong and it exists in every artistic field. It doesn’t interest me. I grew up with a generation of architects in London whose work was based very
strongly in the urbanism and the history of London. It doesn’t mean that they’re building buildings that look like old buildings. I’m thinking of Caruso St John and Stephen Tayler and Patrick Lynch and all of that great generation of architects who were kind of my pears and who I’ve written about for 20 years. All of them were interested in the history of London in interesting ways. So like Caruso St John got interested in the late 19th century architecture. That is not fashionable at all, it’s quite a perverse thing to be interested in. So they started making buildings that were very decorative and that used neo-classical proportions and all of that stuff. That was a recapturing of something that had been lost in modernism and I find that very interesting. I don’t think they would like their work to be called post-modern, but in my view it certainly is, it fits in that category. I think beauty is found in complexity and in richness in the layers of history that we have to deal with and the layers of the past that we don’t want to erase in the city. Maybe one answer to your question as to ugliness, my education would be something like coherence. A city that was all one thing would have to be ugly, it couldn’t possibly be beautiful. Like my old professor used to say, a city cannot be generalised about. It’s so dependant on specific social interactions and specific situations it create. And architects don’t define that. The guy that runs the shop defines that, as well as the architect and the urban planner and the mayor and the developers and all of these people together. So you know I suppose in all my writing on architecture I really haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on ugliness or beauty, like I’ve been more interested in some of these more complex questions. Because as soon as you say “this is beautiful, this is ugly” in architecture, I suppose people think you’re saying “this is ugly therefore it should not exist” and I don’t feel like that. There’s room in the city for ugliness. One of the things I often say to my colleagues here while trying to think about the city especially in Sweden, is that Sweden as this mania for cleaning up things. Sweden wants everything to be at a standard. That means sometimes it tidies away things and sometimes that has a moral connotation. Like you don’t want to see homeless people for example. There’s a very strong feeling in Swedish culture that you don’t want to see them, because Sweden didn’t have homeless people before the 90’s really in all visible homelessness. If you come from London you don’t even think about it, it’s part
of what the city is but for Stockholm it’s quite difficult to deal with. Sometimes it has this moral connotation. I try to say to my colleagues and Swedish architects, think about the city, every good city in the history of cities has had crime in it. Does the good city depend on a certain level of crime? Like Chicago in the 30’s had a lot of crime but it also had invented jazz, and those two things might be dependant on one another. It doesn’t mean I want us to encourage crime it means we have to see the city as a thing that includes all of these things that a policy maker or a politician would want to get rid of. Ugliness might be in that category. A city planner might say “I don’t want to build any ugly building or have ugly buildings while I am city planner in Stockholm” but that wouldn’t make a good city because every good city has had ugly buildings in it. It’s a strange paradox that you, as architects, and we, as thinkers of architecture, have the luxury of embracing. Some buildings will be ugly. We can’t control it, we shouldn’t want to control it. We should still fight for beauty of whatever it is you think a building should be or should do, but it doesn’t mean you should then say “because I do it this way you should stop doing it that way”. I don’t know, this is a very complex territory. I think as architects you have to hold in your mind contradictory thoughts at the same time. City planners and politicians cannot do that. Politicians have to say “I want crime to be zero”. Of course they have to say that. “I want there to be zero rapes in Stockholm”. We all want that. But there will never be. There will never be because every society produces a degree of this behaviour and the city contains that behaviour. Rape is a bad example, let’s talk about drug use. Every city now would say “I want zero drug use”, but drugs are part of all sorts of cultural club scenes, they are something that exist in every city, so do you really want there to be no drugs? Do you really want that? Because you could think that the whole series of outcome might not be good for your city. That’s a terrible thing to say for a politician, but for an architect maybe that’s an ok thing to say. We can have that ugliness. The city always has ugliness in it. But what we must do is be human beings towards those people, we must treat them well, we must try to understand who they are and what their needs are and create a space in which they can exist. The interesting thing about living in Sweden is that they are rather good at this when it comes to the law and services but they are
bad at it when it comes to space and architecture. There is no need to be homeless in Sweden, there is a bed for absolutely every homeless person in Sweden. You could stay for free in a warm bed every single night. That’s a wonderful thing that Sweden provides that as a service, that’s not the case in London, I’m sure it’s not the case in cities in Italy. You have to be in the streets because there is nowhere else to be, that’s not the case here. But actually when we look at the design of our public spaces. If you go to Sergels torg now, I’ve lived quite close to there, you see quite a lot of homelessness, drug use, people from backgrounds that don’t fit the Swedish template. How do they deal with that in the public space? They don’t redesign the public space, they put police cars in the public space and the police goes and harass those people and tell them to move. For me that’s something that we can design. It might be that they react like that because Swedish politicians find Sergels torg more ugly if there are more drug uses in this space. That’s when ugliness becomes moral and that’s when we have to be extremely careful and say “every good city has had drug uses, what are you gonna do?”. We have to provide a space for them, either to take drugs or we have to provide a therapeutic program or whatever it is but there has to be some journey, some way, for them to fit in the public sphere. If it’s not in Sergels torg then where? That is the question. So you move that moral ugliness from Sergels torg to Skärholmen or to Tensta and gradually it moves out of the city but it doesn’t go away. MLR: In this text Mark Cousins3 writes about cleaning away and trying to push everything away from us. He’s saying that we want to keep everything that’s ugly at a distance because it threatens our safety. We all want to keep a safety distance because we’re afraid that it’s going to contaminate us and threaten us. KL: That is a very Swedish attitude. As you know we’ve just built this new small exhibition space and we’ve started talking to younger architects about having shows there. We talked to a young practice of women doing quite activist work in Sweden, exactly the kind of practice we would like to give a platform to. They want to do a project about women’s safety in the public realm. I said to them “you can’t do this project. You don’t want to do this project because if you do this project it will lead to more police, more surveillance, more gates more divisions in the public realm”. Even though I want
women to be safe, if you focus on safety, if you focus on “the thing that threatens me must go away”, it divides public spaces. We must have a different starting point as architects about public space. Young Swedish architects, and particularly women actually, are very concerned about personal safety in the public realm. My perspective on that is that Sweden is more or less the safest place in the whole world to walk around in the public realm. Stockholm is considered, in fairly recent surveys, one of the ten safest cities in the whole world. There aren’t many ways you can make it safer than it already is. Living in a city is to accept to some degree that you have to moderate your behaviour, like none of us would go to London and walk down certain streets on our own with our wallet in our hand, you just don’t do that, that’s stupid. I don’t demand the right to do that, I just avoid the problem. Because actually I don’t want that street to have police boxes or to have cameras, I just don’t walk down here at two o’clock in morning. I’m being a little bit flippant but I think here this is precisely the problem. Of course it has very strong racial undertones too. We’re getting into way more complex territory now but the funny thing about this is that most research says that the more similar you are to other people in your community, the safer your community is. That is just an empirical fact. Cities that are more coherent, have more people from the same race and social background, they are less likely to commit crimes to each other than in diverse cities. Diverse cities have lots going for them and I love living in divers cities, but statistically we are not going to win the argument. We have to find other ways to win the argument for diversity. They are not safer, people don’t know their neighbours more. I lived in White Chapel in East London and I didn’t know my Bangladeshi neighbours. You are much more likely to know your neighbours if you live in a Stockholm suburb with lots of other people who look exactly like you. All of the research says that. So that’s why this is so difficult because we do have a tendency, us as smart, young and interesting architecture type people, we want to walk down the street and see lots of different kinds of people, but we don’t really know them. If you’re really honest with yourself how much interaction do you actually have with those people? We have a tendency as architects and people in this field to demand that everybody accepts our version of what a public space can be. So what
are people really saying when they don’t want to see brown faces in their public spaces? I find that deeply problematic but we can’t just call them racists. We have to have some way of saying “well how can we turn that into a design problem? How can we turn that into a thing that we can act on?” So we’ve been working in Skärholmen in the South of Stockholm on two public spaces. There are two major public spaces in Skärholmen one of which that is underused, but around that public space there’s a theatre, there’s a school for autistic children, there’s a mosque, there’s a new building being built which will have a conference centre in it, there’s all these wonderful things, institutions about it, none of which have relationships to one another. The question there is the Swedish version of combating this division, the “we don’t want the other to be close to us”, is to say we’ll provide everybody the same thing. We’ll generalise. We’ll say “we are basically the same. You are the same as me, even though you are from a different country, with a completely different background, a different gender, different views on politics. We are the same. We’ll pretend you’re the same so we’ll provide a public space that just generalises you”. Our approach has been to say, what if you build a mosque for the people who are renting the space in an office building to worship in. And you say “this is just for you but it’ll be so beautiful and the outside of it will deal with the public space in such a good way that it might create a shop where people might shop and meet in that community or it might create a market”. Architects are rather good at this. It doesn’t come from giving everybody the same, it comes from taking each of those individual communities and saying “what do you need? We can give you a public face we can give you an opportunity to show who you are in this community to others that are not like you”. It might not mean that you invite them out for dinner or that your kids go to the same school even in London it doesn’t mean that. But it does somehow mean that we can go to Brick Lane and we can meet Bangladeshi people in an economic transaction and we can feel that we’re part of the same city. The great scale of London is to make us feel like Londoners even though we’re massively different from one another, but we don’t really know each other. I’m thinking in a more macro scale, of course what Mark is probably talking about, I don’t know this text, but this thing of “things not being in their right place”, there’s always been a feeling of funda-
mental places of ugliness. For architects that’s really difficult because you have a lot of power. If you make it impossible for a homeless person to sleep in a courtyard of your building, what is that? It might make it less ugly, but it also makes it morally ugly. So maybe we should have a definition of ugliness that is to do with the kind of architecture that hides our prejudices, there’s a lot of that kind of architecture. It’s quite hard to read it. When I was at the Victoria and Albert museum I collected for the collection, these anti-homeless pikes, you know these pikes that they put in public space. I find that an ugly object, because they demonstrate so clearly a division, a lack of humanity, a lack of care, a lack of sympathy, as a designed object. Someone designed that. If you got that commission what would you do? Would you just say no? Maybe? Then somebody else would do it. Is there a way of designing an anti-homeless spike ethically and beautifully? Probably not. They are just a category of object that would always be ugly and that’s very difficult. MLR: In this case that’s not the aesthetic of the object that is ugly, it’s more the representation and the moral of it. KL: Having said that there are uglier ones and less ugly ones. When you research it and you look at all of those anti-homeless pikes some of them might be worst than others. That is also interesting. What’s the ugliest ugly object and what’s the less ugly ugly object? You could have the same criticism about our exhibition. There’s a possible criticism that no one has made about our exhibition, you know we did these three anti-terror bollards, these concrete objects that sit in the street. There’s a possible criticism with that project that says “why would you use design to just do the thing that insecurity in the street wants to do”. Which is to put things in the street that block the street, that remind ourselves this attack. However you design it, it will always be ugly because it will always represent something. And actually the mean to tackle this is by not invading Syria. You know what I mean. I do believe, and I believe more and more as I get older, that design and architectures has to tackle what it can tackle. It has to not pretend that it has more influence that it has. You, as architects, will never be able to stop the war in Syria but there is a way I think of designing that object in a more ethical, beautiful way that contributes positively to the public realm. You could say
that by designing a bench that stops a terrorist attack, the bench gives us the opportunity to sit down, meet each other and have a conversation. Now that doesn’t solve the problem of Islam and Christianity, it doesn’t solve refugees. But it’s just a small contribution and it’s still a worthwhile contribution. I think as young architects it’s very tempting to say “what’s the point? Because I have to solve the whole problem of gender or the whole problem with refugees”. You don’t. You just have to design the front door of your building in a way that does not destroy people’s life and does not make people feel not included. So I think we have to control what we can control. Somehow Public Luxury is about that. It’s about limits as well as the possibilities. SC: I just wonder, in your opinion, traveling from city to city, from country to country, from culture to culture, if having different views of the world, of how the world is, can help people on having different positions on what is ugly and not ugly? And what you consider is ugly and why if you’ve lived in a place rather than another place. KL: So you mean just a perspective... SC: Yeah. If a person has never moved from his town, is he able to have a different position on ugliness or giving opinions on the beauty? KL: I understand. This is a very interesting question. So if you’re Bjarke Ingels and you spend 200 nights a year in a hotel somewhere in the world. Like do you remember that Rem Koolhas thing where he drew a picture of his year and he was in a hotel more than 200 nights a year and he’s in a different city every two days? Do you have more knowledge? Do you have more aesthetic authority than the person who has only ever lived in their small village, but knows their village extremely well and extremely precisely and knows every single thing about that village? I don’t know. Again I start to change my view on this the older I get. 20 years doing this stuff now. I am one of those people who has that perspective, I’ve been all over the world writing about buildings, in the UK I’ve been to every single city in the UK, written about every single building that you could imagine for over fifteen years. You would think that gives me quite a good perspective on these questions, like a general overview. But actually I find it more and more that the overview is not useful. Well not as useful as you would think. Of course it’s useful to go all over the world and see interesting buildings and think about why they are beautiful or ugly, whether they work
or don’t work. But then in this category, all those people who travel all over the world and have this helicopter view of what the city might be, including star architects, including major developers, including political leaders, they see the world in a certain way. Like if you’re an MIT professor you get invited all over the world to come and talk about the work that you do at MIT and then you go back to MIT and say “I was in Ghana and I saw the problems in Ghana and here’s why that gives us a different perspective on Boston or London”. I would say that more and more I feel that the people who behave like that are creating a kind of globalized version of a city. Which is just as bad sometimes as the version that puts a Macdonalds on every corner in every city. That kind of flattens differences between cities and makes us less likely to understand the specifics of why one city has a particular character. Coming back to London, I worked for the Evening Standard, London’s newspaper you have a million readers, and everybody is a Londoner. What’s interesting about having that job is that you can assume quite high level of knowledge about the city when you’re writing. Every Londoner has a very passionate relationship with London. Whether they know about the history, the buses, the tube, or they know the best pub in London, whether they love Victorian or Georgian or modern or whatever it is. Everybody has that passion from the guy who runs the shop in the corner of your street to the academic sat in the Royal College of Art. So that’s a great privilege. Those people are not the same as one another, they are diverse but they somehow have an identity that is in common. When a non Londoner then comes in and says “London would be much more if you run it a bit more like Sydney”. All those Londoners say “no fucking way”. [laughter] And that’s the quality of the city, it has a certain resistance. You can’t just turn up like Rem Koolhas and tell us how to plan the city. The Chinese cities don’t have that resistance, they do invite Rem Koolhas to come and just do the thing, draw the plan. And not with Rem Koolhas, but the cities that were invented out of nowhere did not pay attention to landscape ecology, society, all of those concepts, they are not as good as the ones that have all of those layers in them. It’s very hard to design that. I just think that good cities have a certain resistance to the outsider coming in and just imposing the plan that worked in Berlin or London and imposing it in Stockholm. You would never think of doing that
here. Unfortunately, architects are doing that to Asian cities all the time. But I think we have to be very careful. That’s why I’m always a bit sceptical of, I’m not really involved in it, things like the London School of Economics, it has conferences all other the world with mayors from different cities coming together trying to learn from each other. Some of that is of course very good. If you have a good tram system in Stockholm or Copenhagen, that London looks at that sustainable type of transport that we could use, of course that kind of information sharing is good. But the problem emerges when we start to say “this thing that made London beautiful would make other cities beautiful”. It would be such a weird way for us to think, don’t you think? I mean for you, as young artists, I can’t imagine you starting to say “if I design this building here it will work wherever you are”. Maybe just to end, the reverse of this, the reverse of the person who travels all over the world and who has all these perspectives and therefore is more able to make aesthetic judgements, you should read the work of Raphael Moneo whose the architect of this building [ArkDes]. When I did the architecture Biennale in 2012 with David Chipperfield, we asked Raphael Moneo to do an installation of his drawings, it was the last thing you saw in our exhibition. He wrote this very beautiful and quite short text where he talked about being a Madrid architect. He said “throughout my life, that’s 40 years of practice, I’ve always had projects in Madrid many of them on the same street”. He made this drawing, a very long very important street, on one end was the Prado which he did, and his first bank building is on that street, there are like 15 projects on that street, he’s built all these institutions on that street. And he said in that text “very few architects will have this privilege in the future. I have it and I’ll probably be the last”. For him “Madrid was my project”. No matter where he built, his understanding of cities was driven by one street in Madrid. I think it’s very hard to argue. I mean Moneo is one the great architects I think. He’s still alive today, probably not his best work but he’s still a good architect you can trust him. I think it’s rather worth looking at his ideas of a certain sort of rootedness “I can generalise to some extent. I am from this place. My understanding of how a building meets the street was driven by how Madrid people use the street. It’s not driven by how Stockholmers use the streets, it’s not driven by how a theoretical person uses the street, it’s my neigh-
bours, it’s my daughter, it’s 40 years of attention to one place”. I find that a rather beautiful aspiration. Again we can have opinions about whether the first works are beautiful or ugly but I tend to feel that it has an extremely deep understanding of where the building sits and therefore very often it’s successful and very beautiful. He published two recent quite big books of essays4 and they’re really worth digging into, you might find this text. He’s a great teacher. Marie Le Rouzic
References 1. Umberto Eco, On ugliness, (MacLehose Press: London), 2011. 2. Kieran Long and Daniel Golling, Exhibition: Public Luxury, (ArkDes: Stockholm), 1 June 2018 - 13 January 2019. 3. Mark Cousins, “The Ugly [part1-3]”, AA Files, no. 28, 1994, pp. 6164, no. 29, 1995, pp. 3-6, no. 30, 1995, pp. 65-68. 4. Rafael Moneo, Theoretical anxiety and design strategies in the
work of eight contemporary architects, (The MIT Press: Cambridge Massachusetts), 2004. José Rafael Moneo, Laura Martínez de Guereñu and Michael Moran, Rafael Moneo: Remarks on 21 works, (Thames & Hudson: London), 2010.
Images Fig.1. MAKE Architects, 55 Baker Street, Inside the atrium, 2008. Available at: https://www.makearchitects.com/projects/55- baker-street/ [Accessed 4 Nov. 2018] Fig.2. MAKE Architects, 55 Baker Street, Facade, 2008. Available at: https://www.makearchitects.com/projects/55- baker-street/ [Accessed 4 Nov. 2018] Fig.3. Studio Libeskind, Miller Hare, V&A Museum extension compe-
tition, 2002. Available at: https://libeskind.com/work/va-museum-extension-competition/ [Accessed 4 Nov. 2018]. Fig.4. Studio Libeskind, Steven Evans Photography, Royal Ontario
Museum, 2007. Available at: https://libeskind.com/work/royal-ontario-museum/ [Accessed 4 Nov. 2018].
Sara Kristoffersson, Konstfack
Sara Kristoffersson is Professor of Design History at Konstfack University in Stockholm, Sweden. She has written books on design and popular culture and lectures on these topics around the world. Oliver Cassidy: What do you consider to be ugly architecture? In general, what do you think makes an ugly building? Sara Kristoffersson: Ah, It’s a little bit difficult due to the question… I think that its very related to taste. But it is perhaps also a little bit related to context, so one building could be ugly in one circumstance, but perhaps it might be a little bit more beautiful in another context. So, I can’t tell you any characteristics, like just amorphous is ugly. OC: Yes, its fluid, isn’t it? SK: But in general when you’re talking about ugliness it is very much connected to taste, which in turn is connected to: class, time, context and so on. I mean that’s obvious. OC: Yes, I would agree that it completely depends on the information that surrounds a building like where its come from, and who its for. Like you say its very difficult to give a definition. But this leads us well into the next question which is: Would you be able to give an example of something you thought was an ugly building? Maybe, a famous building from around the world or one in Stockholm? SK: OK. I think, what we call the artichoke, in Stockholm. I don’t like that building. OC: The Artichoke? SK: You know the one, next to the city hall - next to the conference centre, at the central station? OC: Yes, I know it, we were actually there last week. We have a conversation club where we discuss texts, we decided to meet there because we thought it was especially ugly. SK: Yes, so that’s an example. But its an interesting
example because its also related to the context, because the building gets more ugly because its so… Its placed in Stockholm in such a insensitive way. It makes it even more ugly than it perhaps would be in another city. But, placed in Stockholm, in the place where it is, its very ugly.
Fig. 1: Stockholm Waterfront
OC: Why do you feel it is so ugly? SK: Like I said, its not ugly in itself perhaps, but the placing of the building is insensitive and so it makes the whole environment around it ugly. OC: Yes, I would agree, do you think it has to do with factors like the economic and the political context of the building as well, which might feed into perceptions? SK: Yes, perhaps it is because it has to do with city branding and a belief that the city would generate more money, at some sort of subconscious level. Perhaps, it has to do with that. But its not about the material or such or form or whatever, its about the placing. OC: Yes, its very interesting you say, for you it is almost completely independent of the form and the material. The basic architecture is almost irrelevant. OC: Heading slightly off-topic, how do you feel your
values on architecture have been created? You were talking about taste and how that really affects it (ugliness), what would you say might have developed your own thoughts on that? SK: I mean, of course it’s a complex thing, because it has to do with class, I mean if you are working class, middle class etc? I believe that taste always is in some way related to class, without saying I’m a Marxist… But it has also to do with education, what you do as a profession. So when you say that taste is personal or individual, of course it is individual, but the individual is really connected to things like where are you from and what do you do. Also, in a geographical way, because it is often said that Swedes have this preference for something austere or functionalist. But Swedes aren’t born to like that stuff. If you are born and raised here, you sort of learn to like those kinds of features. It doesn’t have to do with something biological, it has to do with where you are brought up, the culture and the national heritage. OC: Yes, I agree. Do you think that maybe those things you were talking about: class, education and the geographical. Would you say that any of those might have shaped why you thought the Artichoke was ugly? Or is there something more certain in there? SK: Yes, perhaps if you are a little bit involved in, for example, how Stockholm has developed and in the area around that. Perhaps you have to have a little bit of a pre-knowledge about city planning. But its not only connected to something purely aesthetic, it has also to do with political reasons: that you don’t think its necessary to do those kinds of buildings because you don’t like that commercial factors are totally in charge. So you don’t like that and that perhaps makes you think that its even more ugly, if you know what I mean. OC: Yeah, its sort of allows you to really dislike it. I see what you mean, because if it was, if the building performed another function it might not be ugly, it might just be kind of… bad. You know? SK: Yes, now it has some sort of dollar sign on it, in some way. OC: Yeah, that’s really interesting to see that. Its almost two levels: the bad architectural decision and then the meaning behind it which is maybe more down to taste. SK: I really think that this building is very ugly. Many people in Sweden think the million project is very ugly, but, I would say that this building is more ugly.
They can’t really be compared it is so much more ugly. OC: Maybe it depends on what you really think about the way in which people should build and what we should build for as well, where you place political value. But then I suppose a lot of people didn’t like the artichoke? It was quite unpopular across the board. There weren’t many people who were fond of it, so maybe that says something more universal? SK: Perhaps, but again, where it lies, the building is insensitive in relation to its surroundings. It sounds a little bit conservative to be honest. Another example is that new building that blocks the old church, the Klara Church. It is was an old hotel before, also at the central station, it is very high. OC: I suppose that on another level, some people don’t find it so bad and they would rather have an icon? SK: Yes, I know, I kind of agree with Rem Koolhaas in, ‘Fuck the context’ and all those sort of discussions. But there are differences, sometimes you can fuck the context, but in these cases you can’t. SK: A good example that I am sure you will already have. Is the discussion of the apple store in Kunstagarden. OC: No, we haven’t spoken about that. SK: OK you have to bring that in, as it’s a similar example. Apple wants to build a huge flagship store in Kungsträdgården. And there has been a lot of discussion about this. We all agree that whatever apple do is good-looking, you just have to look at your phone. I mean I’m sure they will build a super beautiful building, of course, but it would be so totally wrong in that context, in Kungsträdgården. It would block the whole entrance. So it a sort of pedagogical example when you talk about what’s beautiful and what’s ugly, because even though the building would be beautiful, it would be very ugly there. Oliver Cassidy
Jonas Hesse, Petra Gipp Studio
Jonas Hesse is architect and co-founder at Petra Gipp Studio. The aspiration of the practice is to create buildings that relate to their specific conditions through their simple and distinctly articulated spaces. Without compromising matters of functionality and logistics, the issues relevant to each project are addressed in line with the main concept, which shapes the expression of materials and defines the scale and proportions of the architecture. A quality building has a longer life and it encourages its caretakers to maintain it with pride. Simone Collinetti: What do you consider to be ugly architecture? Jonas Hesse: Looking at what’s being build today, we are maybe able to divide the ugliness of the city into different degrees: at first I think of buildings, just plain buildings, and they’re often quite ugly, or maybe just boring. They’re houses where architecture is not given much attention, there nothing special. There have been built a lot of those here in Stockholm. Take for example Liljeholmen: the area is built almost by just one company. You can see that the structure of the houses is all the same and it seems like the facade is just added in the last moment, just some few millimetres of plaster in different colours. But these buildings still make streets and courtyards and its maybe working as a nice place to live. It doesn’t piss me off that much! Another degree of ugliness is when someone for some reason wants to add “architecture” to these buildings. Maybe some fancy colourful balconies, a funky form on the roof, or maybe one part of the building is lifted on strange pillars to really make something special. This can be found in Liljeholmen too. It’s not at all working for me! But I think that there’s another way of looking
at the question. You could look at the total building-mass that we call the city on a scale from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous. The old city is quite homogeneous. It basically works with the same ideas, there are some changes and variations in the facades, it is making quarters, streets and courtyards. In the other end of the scale we could take the church on the top of the hill. The gold for the spire has been washed out from the dirt and placed on the top of the church, and it’s pointing upwards into the sky. This scale is not about beauty or ugliness, you can’t really say that the town is ugly and the church is beautiful. It’s more about seeing the city as more or less sorted or refined. A way to see it is maybe that when working as an architect you have to know what you are doing. You are putting a small brick in this whole mass that is the city. And you have to put something into the world that somehow communicates or tries to make a change - maybe to make a better meaning of that place or pointing at the lack of meaning. You have to be clear about what you are bringing into the world. For me, good architecture brings something like that. It brings something from heart, and maybe therefore it is beautiful. And for being able to make good architecture you need time. So the opposite, bad or ugly architecture is fast! Architecture acting more like fashion, architects searching for something that is fashionable and hype, that’s the worst architecture in my opinion. Much of this architecture is also about selling stuff, selling a brand, selling a place or a city. Your buying, and its often about buying something shiny, a clean surface, a fast solution. So maybe it’s also about materials. I prefer materials that are beautiful over time. Materials that are real, like real bricks, not just a thin layer of plaster.
I think that good architecture is being made by concentrating and studying things, not by looking at Dezeen, for example. Dezeen is like the music industry or the fashion industry: it’s an architecture industry, but it seems many want to be part of it, a lot of people want to make flashing project and to be famous. That’s really crazy. Fashion is a quite funny comparison to architecture: fashion is often about going to the edge of things, people wear clothes that are almost ugly - and it becomes cool. Like here in Södermalm, the thing of being hipster. Maybe the toughest thing is being a bagman, someone living on the street, with a huge beard and really dirty clothes; you can’t really say “Is he a bagman or is he just super cool?” So it’s on the edge of being something really ugly. Or about being special and personal? But in the same way? SC: And how do you think it can be translated into an architectural discourse? JH: Now I’m getting a bit confused, but I think architecture needs to be a little bit more ugly. I don’t mean architecture to be like fashion, but maybe the problem is with this Dezeen projects - they are too little ugly, I would say whey are too perfect in a way. In short, ugly architecture for me is when it’s
Fig. 1: The Blue Planet, © Adam Mørk (2013) Denmark.
just form, no meaning, just form to show off, no real insights. I can give you an example of architecture I really don’t like. In my opinion the danish firm 3XN just makes horrible architecture. An example of their work is their aquarium: The Blue Planet (fig.1). I don’t like the building. It should be seen from the sky, it’s like a whirlpool-shaped, but inside the form has no meaning. When you visit it you don’t really experience that form.This is an example of architecture made to bring a lot of attention and maybe to be posted on Dezeen. Arne Jacobsen used to say As thin as possible,
and never in the middle! and I remember when I was studying architecture in Denmark I was going in a studio that was quite historical and traditional, and we were just doing the opposite: Always in the middle, and as fat a possible! and the result came out quite ugly! In Petra Gipp Studio we often consider that we don’t like our facade drawings at all, they look strange. We are often working with quite rough forms, in a sculptural way, and we are not giving the facades so much attention. But we also trust that once the building is going to be built, the material is going to save the project. That architecture is more that the form, it’s more about place, material, movement, memories and dreams. SC: How has your values on ugly architecture been created? JH: The strange thing about ugliness is that it changes. It’s like fashion, it changes over time, you see something and it is quite ugly, you don’t know if it is super hype and then after a while you think it’s super cool...and it’s for sure turning ugly again. Criteria change in time. We are working on a project now, a 300 years old house, and we were really surprised that a quite ugly renovation from the 70s is preserved, you cannot change it, it is considered special for that time. I think that’s super cool. So we need to be aware that we makes architecture in the time, and that we have to respect other times. Often what we architect consider beautiful is not what common people like. Like the old Architecture School in Stockholm: we architects think it’s beautiful and the rest of the city hates that building. But architects studied this stuff, and we should be proud of what we know. It’s pointing at the gap between what common people like and what architects like. In Denmark, where I come from, the gap is not that deep: we have a clear architecture politic since the ‘60s trying to expo the Danish architecture, and it is something people over time have learned to be proud of. They seem more integrated in the discussion. So I think we architects have a big task to communicate better. And to learn out that beautiful or ugly, or that architecture takes time. Simone Collinetti
Helena Mattsson, School of Architecture KTH
Helena Mattsson is Professor, History and theory of architecture at Royal Institute of Technology and Head of Department at School of Architecture, KTH in Stockholm, Sweden. She has written books on Architecture, Consumption and the Welfare State. Jennifer Kananke-Hewage: What do you consider to be ugly architecture? Helena Mattsson: I would like to answer the question from another perspective, and elaborate on what we mean by “the ugly”. I consider the ugly as a concept that is fully dependent on its context; on one hand it is depending on the subject and on the other depending on the social and geographical context. Like ‘dirt’ as something that is not meant to have the position in space as it has, as something displaced, the ugly also has to do with some kind of misfit. That which is not what we expected to see, which also means that the ugly comes close to the idea of the sublime, and to art or maybe even to beauty. So I am maybe avoiding the question by saying that ugly architecture for me is in continuous flux and differs depending on my temper, where it is located and how it affects me. It is not something static that I am able to pinpoint as a character, as a look or as something with a special esthetics. I am not even able to say of it is something positive or negative. I tend to like the instability of Uglycute. JKH: Can you give an example? HM: I give two examples of something ugly for me just now, one positive and one negative. The first one is the roof addition on Nils Tesch’s building, Näringsdepartementet close to the Art Academy. In many ways this looks clumsy, not sensitive to its context, banal, tries too much to be hip/modern/ cool. However I have a very positive feeling to this constellation of buildings, it makes me laugh, I think it is somehow funny - it looks like the little kangaroo
Fig. 1: Riksarkivet, Täby, Sweden.
looking out from the pouch. The other example is Arninge Riksarkiv; especially a grey rainy windy afternoon in late November I feel that this building, its surroundings and its interiors are ugly. In a negative way. JKH: Why is it ugly? HM: Both are misfits. JKH: How has your values on ugly architecture been created? HM: Through experiences, the social context, education and emotions (and maybe much more). Jennifer Kananke-Hewage
Karl Efraimsson, Sweden Democrats
Karl Efraimsson is a political advisor for the Sweden Democrats in questions regarding culture, media, religious community and leisure. This conversation took place at the Swedish Parliament in October 2018. Ella Peterson-Berger: What do you consider to be ugly architecture? Karl Efraimsson: This matter is quite subjective, but still, there are certain guidelines, and you can notice that people in general prefer a specific type of design and architecture. According to the research that has been accomplished, one can see that people prefer architecture with cultural historical values and older design, architecture that brings a comfortable and cosy feeling. I think that the important thing about beautiful design is that it has some kind of soul, a house or an area should have a soul. That is one of the biggest problems with new large building projects today – they have no soul, there is too much concrete and glass. I believe that the majority of the people is upset about today’s building design. Arkitekturupproret is an example of that. EPB: Ugly architecture is soulless architecture? KE: Mm, it is difficult to say that a specific genre is ugly, or that everything postmodern is ugly, or that functionalism is ugly. It’s rather about architecture having a desirable purpose, and architecture should be created with beauty as the main goal. And also, it should be playful, you should want to look at it. EPB: Ok, so ugly architecture is an opposite to this? KE: Yes, it’s ugly when something is taken out of its context and does not represent what it should, when the building is not telling a story. A beautiful house can survive itself and its own function and activity. This is quite subjective, but at the same time, it’s not entirely like that, there are general preferences among the people. There are different research
projects confirming this. And forming politics on this subject is tricky because it’s not up to a politician to declare what kind of architecture that is ugly or beautiful. Those judgments could be abused in a position of power. I rather suggest a larger civic anchor where you let the people choose, so that the majority can decide what is beautiful and not. That would result in buildings that people actually want, and we would get the majority’s opinion on beauty. EPB: Could you give an example of a building that you consider ugly? KE: I think that Stockholm Waterfront Congress Centre is ugly. It’s ugly because it’s situated in the wrong environment. It’s all about context, and some buildings are beautiful as solitary objects, but the context is really important. Stockholm Waterfront could have been cool in a different area, but it doesn’t fit into this part of town. EPB: Can you think of some other building that you find ugly? KE: I think that Kaknästornet is ugly. Isn’t the former school of architecture extremely ugly? EPB: Would you like to explain why you consider Kaknästornet to be ugly? KE: I find it ugly because it doesn’t have those playful qualities that I appreciate. It’s tall and visible, but you don’t feel like having a picnic under it. It’s not a nice atmosphere. EPB: And the former school of architecture, what do you think about that? KE: I just remember that I think it’s ugly. Perhaps because of the same reason - it has no soul. It didn’t feel like the building was representing a school of architecture. It should be something playful with a building like that, you should feel inspired to attend a design education. The former school of architecture didn’t succeed with this, at all. EPB: How has your values on architecture been
created? What do you think your values and opinions are based on? KE: There is definitely a cultural aspect in this, but there are also common features. I have been travelling a lot, and when I think about it, beautiful design as something playful, something with soul, something that is nice to look at, are worldwide opinions. A Chinese temple or a temple in Butane is built in a way that is interesting to look at, and I’m certain that very few people would look at it and say that it’s hideous. It’s the same when it comes to classic European or Swedish architecture. But there are buildings that people from all over the world would consider ugly, and I’m foremost thinking about brown boxes from Soviet. I have never met a person in the whole wide world who could say that those are beautiful buildings. So I don’t think that culture and upbringing are solemnly responsible, there is something more to it, and a lot lies in those qualities that I have mentioned, it’s about playfulness, context, if the building makes you think. But I guess that it‘s a mixture. EPB: Ugly buildings can also make you think. KE: Absolutely. Maybe it’s more about the symbolic values then. Architecture has a symbolic value. Old churches, for an example, were made to be magnificent and powerful, stating where the power was situated. It’s about what you want convey. In a dystopia, those grey Soviet housing complexes would fit perfectly. It’s also about identity. Your home is a symbol of your identity. If you live in a house with a lot of decorations in your garden, then it’s likely that it’s a reflection of your personality. If you live in a house with a grey and flat concrete façade, then I would say that it represents a hard person. But, as I’ve said, this is quite subjective. You may have to turn to the majority to get some real answers in this question. EPB: Is it only a matter of a visual expression? Can it be connected to atmosphere, sound and smell, for an example? KE: Absolutely. It’s probably a mixture. If you have extremely bad experiences of something, that affects how you feel about that site or building, it builds negative associations. But this is too individual, you cannot say that it’s all about that. EPB: What kind of research were you referring to before? KE: I brought this, from 2007, it’s about small towns and beautiful environments. They tried to find general dominators of what people find beautiful, and
they found them, so it’s possible. And there is also a lot of research regarding architecture and well-being. EPB: You contacted my teacher Malin ÅbergWennerholm, who also is the head of program at the school of architecture, for about a year ago. Could you tell me about that? KE: Yes, I contacted her on behalf of the party I work for. It doesn’t necessarily need to result in a specific decision, you just want to learn more. You want to know if there is any information that could be useful.
Fig. 1: Kaknästornet (1967), Stockholm, Sweden.
EPB: But what was the background to you contacting her in the first place? And what did you get out from speaking with her? KE: I contacted KTH. You always have to start with contacting the institutions we have in Sweden. I said that I had received these reactions, that many people are really upset about modern architecture. I asked what the school is doing about it, what research has been done, how the students are being educated regarding this, etc. She said that the school is more focused on aesthetics now, which sounded positive. My brother is studying to become a landscape architect, and he said that architects don’t consider the context, whilst landscape architects almost only consider the context and the surroundings. This is interesting, how can this be, where is this problem situated? According Malin it’s very much about the clients, they simply order ugly houses. I contacted Malin to investigate this problem, but given the information I got from her, I made the conclusion that the education not is the biggest issue here. EPB: Just because I am curious, how is this proceeding? KE: Last year, the government released this prop-
osition, it’s called “politik för en gestaltad livsmiljö”. It’s just one in line of all the propositions and bills that have tried to fix the ugly architecture. The first one came 1995, where they wrote that people think that new houses are ugly. Apparently, people demand more subtle values, as harmony, beauty and context. We have had these problems for a long time, since 1995, and you could perceive this as a sign that it’s really difficult for the politicians to solve this. This proposition was the latest attempt, from this government, but personally I don’t think it’s going to succeed. EPB: Why not? KE: Because the proposals are toothless. They express an ambition, but it’s just an ambition, nothing more. The proposals don’t force clients or builders to consider harmony, context and beauty. EPB: I can imagine this being a problem since you need to start by defining what beauty is. KE: Yes, but you don’t always have to define beauty. Sometimes it’s enough if you just consider what has been built on the site before, and then you can build in the same style, that is ok. And if you want to build something new and modern you have to ask everyone living in the area. As an architect you could show 20 proposals of a new building and let the people vote. Then the politicians don’t need to define beauty because the people are doing it. This could be a solution. EPB: What risks do you see with this idea? KE: Maybe you have to define where in the country you can apply this method. If you want to build a new house in the middle of the forest in northern Sweden, then you can do as you please because no one is going to see it. But this will affect your personal freedom to design a house in the city, you will lose the aesthetic control. Is it fair that one person can build a house that everyone in the neighborhood hates? A consultation process would be better. But yes, it is possible that personal interests may be overlooked. EPB: Time changes, many of the buildings people like today were really debated and hated when they were built. Do you see a risk losing a part of history, our modern history? KE: Yes, that’s a risk that exists. But it’s a lottery if you have to think about the fact that someone might like a building in 20 years. People will like the house in 100 years if they can be a part of the decision now. We can’t say that we are losing something if we don’t allow people to build ugly houses
today. If we build beautiful houses today then hopefully people will find them beautiful in 100 years, and if they don’t, then they can deal with that problem then. We are shaping our time, we can’t think about what people might think in the future, because we don’t know. Many of the houses that were built in the 60’s and 70’s were extremely hated then, and most people hate them today. If it’s ugly today, then it’s ugly in 20 years. EPB: Even if it’s an expression of that specific time? KE: Yes, of course they tell something about the specific time. But we have the opportunity to choose which story we want to tell. It’s a bit ridiculous, the history is going to be written anyhow. We just tell a different story, without ugly houses. EPB: So where could the Stockholm Waterfront Congress Centre fit in? KE: I think that both Stockholm Waterfront and the new Nobel Centre could have fit into the new area Hagastaden, because there is the kind of architecture that matches those buildings. The Nobel Centre is very debated, and that is for a good reason, it simply doesn’t fit into that old environment. The Sydney Opera house was very controversial but now it is a symbol for the city. But it was guessing, hoping, gambling that it would turn out well for Sydney. The Nobel Centre could be as much symbol if it’s situated in Hagastaden. The difference is that in Hagastaden it would fit in, in the old part of Stockholm city, it does not. EPB: Because it doesn’t look like the surrounding houses? KE: Yes, but not only. It doesn’t match the houses in the area. Almost everything would fit in better. This building doesn’t consider the cultural heritage of this part of town. It’s important, beauty used to be a high-level value and I think that this has been forgotten. We need to bring it back into our public discussion. EPB: Architects work with a lot of key values, but the word beauty is seldom part of the discussion. KE: I understand, and that is very interesting, and from an artist’s point of view I can understand that it’s important to experiment. But you have think about a social perspective here. Something, that affects so many people, cannot be led by a few individuals who wants to experiment and try new things. It affects too many people and their well-being. And this is a tough questions for the politicians, we talked about it earlier regarding writing history, the individual versus the people. You need to find a
balance. We can’t have a few individuals ignoring the will of the people, because that is selfish. The architectural education should above all be focused on learning out how to satisfy the will of the people. There are two different branches here, one is to experiment and push the limits, the other one is to create environments that people like and actually want to live in. And I would like to claim that the latest absolutely is the most important, especially when talking about socioeconomic resources. EPB: The goal is of course always to create environments that people will want to live in, it’s not as experimental as you make it sound. I just reacted on the word beauty. I am not used to it as a practicing architect. KE: Beauty is a value for the people. And it’s a value that has been forgotten. You definitely need to bring it back into the architectural education, saying that this is the goal, apart from creating functional houses. Beauty should be the highest goal. Then we will get houses that people would want to live in, and look at. That’s how it is. Ella Peterson-Berger
My first reaction when arriving to Flen was disappointment. I went there on a journey into ugliness, but what I found was a rather typical, everyday, Swedish small town.
The looks I got was not just the typical small town-looks of someone unfamiliar. I felt a genuine surprise and almost confusion.
This town lacks history, context, references to the outside world and as result, it also lacks confidence.
Flen’s slogan is “The heart of Sörmland”
In a way, the chimney and the nice houses by the lake contribute to this perception of ugliness. For by their contrast it makes more palpable the possibility of something better being immediately confronted by something that is not.
There are generous public spaces and well-maintained greenery, and still itâ€™s ugly.
All over the seemingly neglected and depopulated cityscape are scattered little signs of human presence and care.
If Flen is considered ugly, it is less for its looks, and more about what kind of difficulties itâ€™s going through.
Is there a place for having coffee? “No, there’s nothing, there’s nothing at all here”, the woman at the street answered.
Overall the city does feel somewhat sparse, somewhat dead and neglected â€“ but this â€˜uglinessâ€™ is present only in a very mild and subdued manner, compared to the more brutal and assertive modern cityscapes generally associated with the label.
Dog walkers, and their dogs seemed to get a little crazy/excited when they noticed us, as if they hadnâ€™t seen people before.
There was also the absence of pavements, although the streets were wide enough for pavements on both sides, which made you feel that the whole area was prioritized for the car and that you were not supposed to walk there.
You did not see any of the traditional major clothing chains, such as H&M, Lindex or Kappahl.
There was a palpable emptiness, the kind of emptiness that is very common in small cities especially at that time when we arrived (that was 9:00 am.)
It would seem to me, that the perceived ugliness of Flen, is a result of several conditions, born from a series of poor political and architectural decisions.
Many of the stores, even at the centre of the town appear to be closed all day, with only the essentials remaining open. At 10AM, the streets are eerily quiet, the town feels empty and hostile.
It was like we had ended up in abandoned city in the zombie series The Walking Dead, or as if the whole town was shaken by a violent crime that had happened the night before and everyone now stayed in, mourning.
The ugliness may be reinforced by the dichotomy between the empty infrastructures showing the decrease of social activities and these revitalisation attempts by the municipality.
The vast majority of the built environment is of an unspeakable ugliness: an infinite collection of cheaply made buildings engaged in a perpetual contest to see which one can generate most “interest” for the lowest budget. Nothing more, nothing less.
An era without ugliness would be an era without progress.
In Moscow, totally radically different entities existed next to each other and some things were really beautiful, some things were extremely ugly, and I always thought that the quality of Moscow was to accept that coexistence almost as if it was nature.
I think that you would benefit from harmony and beauty but I think it could also give you a sort of false sense of existential security and that therefore in every life there needs to be maybe a cocktail of anxiety, disbelief, insecurity, and creativity. I think that those areas are actually quite close together and I think that to be too certain of your environment and to have an environment that is only affirming a secure situation is probably not a big blessing in the end.
The strange truth is: too much beauty would be intolerable, an awful world of meticulously cropped lawns and starched linen. We only enjoy the ephemeral deliciousness of beauty if we have an active concept of ugliness. Heaven needs hell.
We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.
Reiner de Graaf Dezeen Opinion, 10th Dec 2014
Asger Jorn Simon Sadler, The Situationist City, (1998) MIT Press
Rem Koolhaas interview, Moscow Urban Forum 17 July 2018
Rem Koolhaas interview, Moscow Urban Forum 17 July 2018
Stephen Bailey interview, Moscow Urban Forum 17 July 2018
Artists against the Eiffel Tower Petition published in Le Temps, 14 February 1887
Tanja M. Laden What makes a building ugly, vice.com 2015.09.08
Mark Wigley Architecture’s Ugly Ducklings May Not Get Time to be Swans, nytimes.com 2012.04.07
Paul Finch Does it matter what it looks like?, 17 August 2017, Architectural Review
So what exactly is the definition of “ugly” in the minds of the masses, at least in terms of architecture? Certainly not innocuous, boring buildings with zero design elements. In fact, it’s usually the opposite: truly groundbreaking monuments tend to be reviled by contemporary society and critics alike before enduring the half-century waiting period in order to become beloved landmarks.
Preservation is not simply about saving the most beautiful things. It’s about saving those objects that are an important part of our history and whose value is always going to be a subject of debate.
The accusation that a building is ugly often seems like the projection of fears or prejudices onto a physical object which has little to do with architecture, but rather a lot to do with the condition of the complainant.
The Ugly, AA files, No.28 ( Autumn 1994) p. 63
A stain must be cleansed. Is this because the stain is ugly? The stain is not an aesthetic issue as such. It is a question of something that should not be there and so must be removed.
New York Times critic when Matisse Exhibited in the Armoury show of 1913
We may as well say in the first place that his pictures are ugly, that they are coarse, that they are narrow, that to us they are revolting in their inhumanity.
Gretchen E. Henderson Ugliness: A Cultural History, p. 22
Shitao Inscription on the painting ‘Ten Thousand Ugly Inkblots’ 1685
Oscar Wilde Essays and Lectures (London, 1908), p. 530
Does ugliness disintegrate and disseminate like an invisibly fatal virus, or does it help humans to constantly renegotiate the positions of subject and object to be reminded of our interdependence within a larger world.
Once and for all cut off the ‘mind’s eye’ from conventional molds, Just as a transcendent who rides the wind has freed his spirit from the bounds of flesh and bones!
No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.
No monster is so ugly whose shape you will not find in yourself’
The most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression… It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells false and phony.
Touch brings immediacy to ugliness
Frank Sinatra on 1950’s rock and roll
Gretchen E. Henderson Ugliness: A Cultural History, p. 165
‘Art is an inherently pleasurable and instructive attempt by the artist and the beholder to communicate and share with each other the creative process that characterizes every human brain—a process that leads to an Aha! moment, the sudden recognition that we have seen into another person’s mind, and that allows us to see the truth underlying both the beauty and the ugliness depicted by the artist.
There’s a sense of brazenness to unintentionally bad art — it embodies desire gone awry. And being able to enjoy ugly art isn’t simply about making fun of it. It’s also about being able to sit in discomfort and recognize mistakes. Ugly art demands a sense of looseness; it asks you to dip into a slippery state of mind where you can hold multiple beliefs simultaneously. The piece can be both ugly and unappealing, and it can also delight and appeal for those very reasons. It can pull you closer — you want to know why this ugly art was made, what it means, and what the artists were thinking. And if you let yourself get unbalanced enough, you might just find yourself a little bit in love.
When ugliness degenerates towards dirtier connotations, one wonders whether this trend is ‘untested by the rest of life’ or whether it is so overwhelmed by life that is had nowhere to go but to be reduced to primordial ooze, making us question our cultural origins and marrow: where we have come from, what are we made of, where might we go.
It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.
Eric Kandel The Age of Insight
Katy Kelleher Ugliness Is Underrated: In Defense of Ugly Paintings, theparisreview.org, July 31, 2018.
Gretchen E. Henderson Ugliness: A Cultural History, p. 174
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Edwin Heathcote Shoddy knock-offs lead race for Carbuncle Cup, Financial Times, August 31, 2016
Edwin Heathcote Carbuncle Cup: award mocks ugly buildings, but doesn’t stop them, Financial Times, September 16, 2016
Bernard Tschumi Architecture and disjunction, 1996, MIT Press, p.125
Oscar Wilde The Portrait of Dorian Gray from Plays, prose writings and poems. Everymans Library, 1991, p.151
The irony is that, with the exception of the dim church extension, most of these structures are ugly because architects have tried to decorate them. These are buildings that try to hide their bulk behind features intended to reduce or at least enliven their visual impact with the application of garish colours, stick-on geometric glass, deliberately wonky cut-outs and balconies that are attempting to be sculptural and create a pattern across what would otherwise be vast, blank façades. These are bad buildings dressed in half-remembered imitations of “starchitect” motifs that were briefly fashionable and now looks hideously passé. Architecture is, inevitably, driven by fashion, but it takes a long time to build and its style is inevitably dated by the time it is built. But there is haute couture and there are cheap, shoddy knock-offs. These are the latter but they are not rags to be thrown away after one season; they are buildings inhabited by actual people and towers that will infect cityscapes for a generation.
What is most depressing about the shortlist and the sorry roll of Carbuncle Laureates, which includes the Walkie-Talkie in the City and the nauseating Strata tower in Elephant and Castle, is that these are not architectural outliers, aberrations on the edge of taste, but rather utterly representative of the banality of contemporary British architecture. These are not the worst. They are the most average.
Why has architectural theory [...] always claimed (at least officially) that architecture should be pleasing to the eye, as well as comfortable to the body? This presupposition seems curious when the pleasure of violence can be experienced in every other human activity, from the violence of discordant sounds in music to the clash of bodies in sports, from gangster movies to the Marquis de Sade.
The life that was to make his soul would mar his body. He would become dreadful, hideous, and uncouth.
You said that the love of the beautiful set in order the empire of the gods, for that of deformed things there is no love-did you not say something of that kind? Yes, said Agathon. Yes, my friend, and the remark was a just one. And if this is true, Love is the love of beauty and not of deformity? He assented. And the admission has been already made that Love is of something which a man wants and has not? True, he said. Then Love wants and has not beauty? Certainly, he replied. What do you mean, Diotima,’ I said, ‘is love then evil and foul?’ ‘Hush,’ she cried; ‘must that be foul which is not fair?
Simplicity is not vulgarity, except to officious aesthetes. The vast majority of buildings in our city date from the mid-nineteenth century and later. A mess of stucco and plaster Baroque, pointless small corner towers, narrow gables, false fronts, oriel windows, an occasional dreadfully disruptive pyramid roof (On the Nationalmuseum), and some equally disruptive (artistic?) mansard roofs (Gustav Adolfs torg)—this is the semi-old architecture we can see in Stockholm at the moment, as it really appears. No one has taken up cudgels against this vulgarity and no champion of culture calls us ‘to arms’ when today we repeat the worst of what was being done twenty, thirty years ago. For there is a kind of ugliness that is so insipid, so customary, that everyone considers it natural. Nobody condemns the unintentionally ugly.
The worst with this sick monster building is not only that it is extremely ugly, clumsy, deterrent and misantropic built in a style which was “modern” decades ago. It is also a prime example of a high dysfunctional, extremely costly and in all kinds of ways a scandalous jerry-building.
Ugly architecture makes us worse as humans.
Plato Symposium. Translator: B. Jowett. Project Gutenberg eBook (2013)
Gunnar Asplund et al Acceptera. Stockholm: Tiden, 1931
Hugo Rehnberg Svenska Dagbladet, 29 april 2016
Tim Parks Europa. London: Secker & Warburg, 1997, p.152
Che, J., Sun, X., Gallardo, V., Nadal, M. Progress in Brain Research vol. 237, Amsterdam: Elsevier, p. 79
Pierre Bourdieu Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste, 1984, p. 6 & 35
I reflected, leaning against a post forbidding parking, that every major monument in Europe is now cleaned and floodlit. Everything ancient and medieval, I thought [...] has been appropriately sandblasted, cleaned and illuminated. It is impossible, I thought [...] even to imagine these stony martyrs being in the gloom now, impossible to imagine these angels and gargoyles in a dark wind or under moonlight. [...] Impossible to see them as part of our lives, our nightmares, potent in the gloom, sacred in darkness or starlight. [...] These monuments have been neutralized by light, I thought, by the light and by carefully researched detergents. They have been made part of the modern city. They have been subtracted from us and made possible for us. [...] Squares where people hanged and lynched and guillotined each other and, in general, committed all sorts of irremediable crimes, are now attractive areas of floodlit public art.
The battery that Burt devised to measure children’s abilities included several tasks of aesthetic appreciation. He believed—following Spearman’s approach to intelligence—that there existed a unitary aesthetic ability, inherited and unalterable, that could be measured by means of responses to simple tests. It was possible, thus, to determine the population’s distribution of this hypothetical single factor of aesthetic appreciation. This suited administrative purposes well, because once the statistical norms were known, deviations could be easily detected, and individuals directed toward or away from careers in art.
Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed. [...] Thus one finds that the higher the level of education, the greater is the proportion of respondents who, when asked whether a series of objects would make beautiful photographs, refuse the ordinary objects of popular admiration—a first communion, a sunset or a landscape—as ‘vulgar’ or ‘ugly’ [...] and the greater is the proportion [...] declaring that a beautiful photograph, and a fortiori a beautiful painting, can be made from objects socially designated as [...] ugly or repulsive—such as a car crash, a butcher’s stall (chosen for the Rembrandt allusion) or a snake
Very often, a local municipality administration permit to erect an ugly, bad-fitting surroundings houses. It is usually connected with lack of informations about certain areas of a city, its features, characteristic and about present and earlier buildings.
The immersive ugliness of our everyday environments in America is entropy made visible. [...] I like to call it ‘the national automobile slum’. You can call it suburban sprawl. I think it’s appropriate to call it the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. You can call it a technosis externality clusterfuck.[...] We have about 38 000 places that are not worth caring about in the United States today, when we have enough of them we’re gonna have a nation that’s not worth defending.
Whether in the shape of informal concrete slums or broken social housing or trampled old towns or forests of skyscrapers, the contemporary urban archetypes that have emerged all across the Middle East have been one cause of the alienation and fragmentation of our communities.
Let there be no misunderstanding — many of the buildings advocated for preservation by the recent past proponents require not just revising standards but lowering standards. […] The vast majority of what has been built in America in the last 50 years is crap.
Without the skill and expertise of the UK’s world-leading architects there is a risk that ‘beauty’ becomes a single identikit style, failing the communities so desperate for high quality, sustainable homes.
[...] issues with quality have not arisen because contemporary architects have picked the ‘wrong style’, rather that too many house builders and politicians focus on numbers of units instead of making new places that work for the people that live in or near them.
Aleksander Asanowicz Multimedia Versus Ugliness of the city Faculty of Architecture Technical University of Bialystok, 1995
James Howard Kunstler The ghastly tragedy of the suburbs TED Talks, 2004
Marwa Al-Sabouni How Syria’s architecture laid the foundation for brutal war, TED Talks, 2016
Donovan Rypkema The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Preservationists Debate the Recent Past, Forum Journal, Vol. 20, no. 1, 2005, p. 5
Ben Derbyshire RIBA President
Lina Bo Bardi Sutis substâncias da arquitetura, de Olivia de Oliveira (Romano Guerra). p. 350-351
Marcia Muelder Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art, p. 41
Marcia Muelder Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art. p. 50
Karl Rosenkranz Aesthetics of Ugliness, 1853
The unease in the architectural profession is not based in protectionism, though some will say it is. Rather that after years of thoughtful debate and investigation into how you make well-loved, liveable new places the whole discussion gets reduced to a question of ‘style’.
Personally when I did the project of the Art Museum in São Paulo my basic concern was to make an ugly architecture [...] A poor architecture with free spaces that could be created by the collective [...] Most people find that the museum is poor, and it is. I wanted to make a poor project. That is, formally and architecturally ugly, but that would be a usable space, that would be something that could be taken over by men.
Rules of taste enforce structures of power.
An important part of the meaning of sentences containing the word “beautiful” is a statement about the pleasure felt by the person uttering the sentence.
The complex mix of sensations, belief, and value defies formulaic, universal, a-contextual assignment of a definition of “beauty.” And this means that Socrates wish for a precise definition of “beauty itself” must go unfulfilled.
If the unity of differences is destroyed by becoming contradiction without returning to unification a kind of rupture emerges that is adequately called disharmony. Such a contradiction is ugly because it destroys th fundamental condition of all aesthetic design- that is, unity- from inside. Indeed, disharmony is ugly as such, but a line must be drawn between a necessary disharmony, which is in fact beautiful, and an incidental disharmony, which is ugly. Necessary disharmony is the conflict that can occur between unified esoteric differences by their justified collision; incidental disharmony is the exoteric contradiction forced on unity.
The adjective ugly or pretty is often an no-cultural drift. That is, expression of a lack of knowledge and a poor development of perceptual sensitivity
José Juan Barba
Some architectural historians will tell you that truly ugly tall buildings are those with no bottom, middle, or top.
Tanja M. Laden
Personally, I think there’s enough “ugly” in this world right now. My goal as an architect is to put more “beautiful” out there. One detail at a time.
All speculation about ugliness travels through the realm of what it’s not.
Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules… Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.
What is an ugly building? Why save the modern heritage?
What makes a building ugly, vice.com 2015.09.08
Lora Teagarden. L Design
Mark Cousins The Ugly, AA files, No.28 ( Autumn 1994)
Umberto Eco On Ugliness. 2007
Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of special effort.
Ugly buildings aren’t always bad buildings.
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, 1988
Dezeen 22 October 2018
Bad architecture is in the end as much failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendencies which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us.
Ugliness is condemned to the role of the mistake
Alain de Botton The architecture of happiness, 2006
Mark Cousins The Ugly, AA files, No.28 ( Autumn 1994)
Dave Beech On the counter-promise of ugliness. Art Monthly, vol. 334, p. 7
Mark Isitt Is modern architecture ugly?, Panel debate, Kulturhuset Stockholm 31 October 2018
Brianna Rennix, Nathan J. Robinson Why you hate contemporary architecture, currentaffairs.org, Oct 2017
Christopher Hope Most new buildings should be knocked down because they are ugly, Government minister says , The Telegraph, 23 July 2017
Beauty is good, ugliness is bad: this is the kind of opposition that needs no explanation, no theory, no debate. Or rather this is the kind of explanation that has secured itself a place within the hearts and minds of all right-thinking individuals. This means that attending to ugliness must inevitably be a political act.
It isnâ€™t the architecture in itself that is the problem, but that there is too little architecture. I want to see more architecture and not less. Maybe Arkitekturupproret [The architectural uprising] should instead rename themselves to Byggherreupproret [The building developer uprising] because it is in there the problem lies: that these concrete boxes reflect the excel-sheets that the developers work with.
Another thing you will often hear from design-school types is that contemporary architecture is honest. It doesnâ€™t rely on the forms and usages of the past, and it is not interested in coddling you and your dumb feelings. Wake up, sheeple! Your boss hates you, and your bloodsucking landlord too, and your government fully intends to grind you between its gears. Thatâ€™s the world we live in! Get used to it! Fans of Brutalism - the blocky-industrial-concrete school of architecture - are quick to emphasize that these buildings tell it like it is, as if this somehow excused the fact that they look, at best, dreary, and, at worst, like the headquarters of some kind of post-apocalyptic totalitarian dictatorship.
This notion that beauty is relative has been used to justify much of the ugliness imposed on our towns and cities by architects, planners and developers since the Second World War. This concern about beauty was at the heart of protests against the ugly buildings that developers still attempt to foist on communities against their will. You see it in the despair at the way so many contemporary buildings are identikit, lacking any sense of craft or character - built with no consideration of the past and no regard to the future. Indeed, at the heart of modern architecture, like all modern art, is the Nietzschean idea that the past is irrelevant and that we can create our own value system.
[…] how could such vulgarities come into being? Simple: American architects stood still and listened to the client. He had even heard architects argue, albeit cynically, that their hideous little ornaments and hollow grandiosities were “functional,” since one function of a building was to please the client.
Similarly, buildings will strike us as offensive not because they violate a private and mysterious visual preference but because they conflict with our understanding of the rightful sense of existence – which helps to explain the seriousness and viciousness with which disputes about fitting architecture tend to unfold.
As ugliness becomes the norm, becomes no longer shocking, our expectations change. By provoking this constant readjustment of expectations, ugliness is a motor for change.
Tom Wolfe From Bauhaus to our house, 1981
Alain de Botton The architecture of happiness, 2006
Caroline O’Donnell The Absurd, 201,. p. 100
Biomuseo, Panama CIty, Frank Gehry
Bierpinsel, Berlin, Ursula + Ralph Schuler
Icebar Stockholm, Vasaplan 4, Stockholm, Ice Sculptors JukkarsjĂ¤rvi
Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai, Tom Wright, Atkins
Absolut Vodka Distillery, Ă…hus, Sweden Photo: Alastair Philip Wiper
Fence, Innsbruck Photo: Julius C. Schreiner
Black Canyon Freeway/HWY 101 Interchange in Phoenix, AZ Photo: Peter Andrews
BarsebĂ¤ck Nuclear Powerplant, plan 6 Photo: Alastair Philip Wiper
Paris Philharmonie, Paris, Jean Nouvel
ArĂ¨nes de Picasso, Paris 1985, Manolo Nunez Photo: Rafal Klos
Bella Sky, Kรถpenhamn, 3XN
Krejaren, Ă–stermalmstorg, Stockholm, Equator Arkitekter
Fenchurch Street, London, Rafael ViĂąoly
Skolbacken, Student container housing, Hallonbergen, XLNT Living
Vårby Gård’s Church, Stockholm, Harald Thafvelin
Scandic Ariadne, Stockholm, HJS Arkitektkontor
Trump Apartment, New York, USA
Call Centre Office, Bangladesh
Denver Art Museum, Studio Libeskind
NCS 5401-G34Y | RGB 122,123,122
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Back door, Sรถdermalm
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NCS S 7500-N | RGB: 94, 92, 92
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NCS S 3050-690Y | RGB: 178, 158, 61
NCS S 3030-B | RGB: 110, 150, 176
NCS S 2030-Y60R | RGB: 224,153, 120
Apartments, Norra Djurgårdsstaden
Garbage chutes, Norra Djurgårdsstaden
Electric station, Norra Djurgårdsstaden
NCS 1080-R | RGB: 200, 35, 20
NCS 2555-B60G | RGB: 45, 121, 137
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NCS 2060-R10B | RGB: 213, 0, 59
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NCS 2500-N | RGB: 199, 192, 174
NCS 2050-G | RGB: 183, 155,103
NCS 2060-Y60R | RGB: 190, 61, 50
Tunnelbana, Solna Centrum
Baras Bar, Sรถdermalm
Kista Galleria, Underground
NCS #E2BA8F | RGB: 226, 186, 142
NCS #6F9193 | RGB: 111, 144, 147
NCS #51753E | RGB: 80, 117, 61
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NCS #B99A71 | RGB: 184, 154,112
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Self Storage, Sollentuna
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NCS S 7010-Y10R | RGB: 86, 75, 53
NCS S 2010-Y70R | RGB: 201, 167, 158
NCS S 5010-R50B | RGB: 111, 101, 110
NCS S 5030-Y80R | RGB: 131, 60, 56
NCS S 6010-B10G | RGB: 75, 92, 100
Slussen Construction Site, Stockholm
Slussen Construction Site, Stockholm
Peter Myndes Backe, Stockholm
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NCS 2070-Y70R | RGB: 199, 73, 41
NCS 3502-B | RGB: 157, 161,161 NCS 2050-G50Y | RGB: 156, 173, 81
NCS 4030-R20B | RGB: 153, 94, 112
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NCS 1075-G20Y | RGB: 58, 171, 57
NCS 0540-G30Y | RGB: 176, 222, 148 NCS 3502-B | RGB: 157, 161,161 NCS 7502-Y | RGB: 83, 80, 73
NCS 1085-Y90R | RGB: 206, 19, 37
NCS 2002-Y50R | RGB: 194, 187, 181 NCS 6502-G | RGB: 97, 103, 101
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NCS 6002-G19Y | RGB: 113,118, 112
NCS 2020-Y20R | RGB: 204, 178, 137
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NCS 2570-Y90R | RGB: 156, 33, 40
NCS 0585-Y20R | RGB: 246, 171, 44
Pa Soder Crescent, Sรถdermalm
Plant Pots, Sรถdermalm
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Kjell & Co, Hötorget
Tobaksmonopolet 4 Address: Rosenlundsgatan/Maria Skolgata, Stockholm Architect: NyrĂŠns Year: 2015 Axel Burvall TerĂĄn
Lindhagen Galleria Address: Lindhagensgatan 188, Stockholm Architect: Scheiwiller Svensson Year: 2009 Ella Petterson-Berger
Scandic Continental Address: Vasagatan 22, Stockholm Architect: 3XN Year: 2016 Oliver Cassidy
Immanuelskyrkan Address: Kungstensgatan 17, Stockholm Architect: Sture Frölén Year: 1974 Simone Collinetti
I M M A N U E L S K Y R K A N
Brf Aspuddden Longhorn Address: Erik Segersälls väg 18, Stockholm Architect: unknown (The Other Group) Year: 2016 Frithiof Engzell Waldén
Hagalund Address: Hagalundsgatan, Solna Architect: Nils Lรถnnroth Year: 1973 Jennifer Kananke-Hewage
Brinckan 2 Address: Fatburs Kvarngata 19, Stockholm Architect: EGÅ/Equator Year: 1990 Mattias Månsson
Förbundshuset Address: Olof Palmes gata 9–13 Architect: Ahlgren Olsson Silow Year: 1979–1983 Marie Le Rouzic
Townhouse Address: HollĂ¤ndargatan 30, Stockholm Architect: unknown Year: 1775 Borjan Aleksov
Ugly Stockholm, An Incomplete Guide
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1. Stockholm Waterfront Address: Nils Ericsons Plan 4, Stockholm Architect: White arkitekter Year: 2011 The conference centre is the obvious carbuncle on Stockholm’s waterfront, paying no dues to the historic city hall next to it and failing to rationalise the surrounding infrastructure. To many residents this building is material embodiment of Stockholm City’s increasing commercialisation.
2. Scandic Continental Hotel Address: Vasagatan 22, 111 20 Stockholm Architect: 3xN Year: 2017 The Scandic Continental was recently completed following the demolition of the existing hotel. It handles the mess of surrounding infrastructure poorly. The attempt to deal with the extra mass of the building is half-hearted and the angular façade is disconcerting.
3. Näringsdepartementets hus Address: 28 Jakobsgatan, Stockholm Architect: Nils Tesch, BAU Arkitekter Year: 1971, 2012 The original Näringsdepartementets hus is inoffensive, with a playful fenestration contrasting a heavy materiality. However, the 2012 addition on the roof clashes both formally and materially, over-sailing the existing form like a grounded battleship.
4. Hötorgshus 1–5 Architect: Helldén, Anders, Markelius, Lallerstedt, Backström & Reinius Year: 1960-1966 The succession of high-rise building blocks on Sveavägen in the centre of Stockholm as drastically changed the city landscape. Contrasting with the older and lower buildings of the city-centre, the buildings were at the time of their construction an attempt at modernisation. Today, they may be described as outdated and in need of refurbishment.
5. Kristall Address: Sergels torg Designer: Edvin Öhrström Year: 1974 It is a pity that a tower that has got such a beautiful effect in the night, thanks to the games of light, then turns into some alien obelisk that looks everything but a glass tower designed, on purpose, by an artist.
6. Stockholm Concert Hall Address: Hötorget 8 Architect: Ivar Tengbom Year: 1926 The massive difference between what is windows and what is plain walls, the facades painted in baby blue, the main entrance that tries to show all the elements of a classical facade (crepidoma, column, capital, architrave, frieze and tympanon) reinterpreted in a disproportionate giant order. What a mess.
7. Parkaden Address: Regeringsgatan 47, 55 Architect: Hans Asplund Year: 1965 Despite being one of the most important pieces of architecture in the second half of the 20th century and its certain positive effects on the circulation of Norrmalm, the exterior envelope of this multi-storey car park looks like a prison in which some funny civil engineer asked his or her grandma to make six pieces of lace, and cover it.
8. Förbundshuset Address: Olof Palmes gata 9-13 Architect: Ahlgren Olsson Silow Arkitektkontor Year: 1979 The office building on Olof Palmes gata presents an accidental ugliness. Even though the facade has been designed with care in terms of detailing, the covered pedestrian passage provides an uncomfortable spatial experience due to a blind facade that doesn’t engage with the public space, bad lighting and lack of maintenance.
9. Apartment house Address: Rehnsgatan 24 Architect: FFNS Year: 1985 An example of a building trying to complement its surroundings, by referencing to aesthetic qualities, but at the same time using the architectural language of its time. Unfortunately, the result is disturbing and unpleasant.
10. Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum Address: Eastmanvägen 9 Architect: Wingårdhs Year: 2011 A building with an art gallery and a cafe in the bottom floor and residential housing on top of that.The whole building is covered with sheet metal in a golden colour except the bottom floor which has a glass facade making is possible to see what is going on inside. The golden colour makes it awful because it feels so ‘braggy’!
11. Adonis 16 (Coop) Address: Sveavägen 70, 111 34 Stockholm Architect: Henning Orlando Year: 1965 Although Adonis 16 is less viscerally offensive than the above examples, its style has not aged well. The two-tone grey façade paired with the aged grey-brown concrete is made to look tired by the violent green of the Coop below.
12. Björk Residential Building Address: Husarviksgatan/Drevergatan, Norra Djurgårdsstaden Architect: Belatchew Arkitekter Year: 2012 The shape of the balconies attempt to give a rectangular, rather standard, building a prismatic shape . Unsurprisingly, it does not work too well and the eye-catching shape of the balconies reeks of the desperation of an architect wanting to escape rectilinearity, but lacking the tools to do so.
13. Gotska Sandön Residential Building Address: Jaktgatan/Älgpassgatan, Norra Djurgårdsstaden Architect: Equator Year: 2013 Gotska Sandön would have been just another standard contemporary housing block, if not for its notorious feature - a facade and balconies covered with a print of a big lightning, totally unrelated to anything else in the building and its context.
14. Muddus Residential Building Address: Storängstorget, Norra Djurgårdsstaden Architect: Wingårdhs Year: 2014-2016 Terrible colour and terrible materials! The colour does not fit in with the surrounding and the shiny materials makes it stand out even more than just the colours. It is a very loud building that screams “Here I am!”.
15. Skvadronen 4 Address: Erik Dahlbergsgatan 47-53 Architect: FFNS Year: 1991 The architect is trying to converge too many ideas into a single realization. The overall composition cannot be identified as a logical consequence of the plan disposition and the articulation of the building’s volume is inadequate for the scale of the project.
16. Residential building Address: Magnus Ladulåsgatan 32 A/B/C Architect: Bertil Ringqvist Year: 1969 A block of repetitive rectangular volumes forms a composition with uneventful appearance. It seems like the lack of architectural statement is enhancing the dullness of the structures and it creates a loop of monotonous shapes that annul any contact with public spaces.
17. Elite Hotel Carolina Tower Address: Eugeniavägen 6, Solna Architect: Reflex Arkitekter Year: 2017 The design of this new hotel in Solna does little to earn the title of Elite. It is another building representing the current trend of putting unfinished designs into construction. The ‘pattern’, of the façade is jarring and the glass box on top sits incredibly uncomfortably.
18. Svea Torn Address: Löjtnantsgatan 3 Architect: ÅWL Year: 2007 This residential tower looks squat and hypnotising, with such a repetitive geometric pattern of windows and balconies.
19. Söder Torn Address: Fatburstrappan 20 Architect: Henning Larsen Year: 1997 It’s funny to see how a residential tower can turn into a nose hair trimmer by adding two elements on the top of it. A circular common hall which does not fit in the entire shape of the building has got a sort of circular colonnade, whose use is not defined at all.
20. Tobaksmonopolet 4 Address: Rosenlundsgatan/Maria Skolgata Architect: Nyréns Year: 2015 According to the architects, the colored metal sheets on the facade are supposed to be reminiscent of features on the site. These features – foliage and soil – are of course extremely generic, but even if you are unaware of the silly motivation, the resulting mishmash of green, red and brown metal sheets is very unappealing.
21. Technical telecom building Address: Roslagsgatan 30 Architect: Ancker Lindgren Year: 1965 Although the building is honest to its function, it seems to be generating an inappropriate dialog with its surroundings. As a disturbing rupture in the urban context, it ignores the neighboring residential buildings and it tries to become its own entity in the adjacent cohesive urban block.
22. Brinckan 2, residential building Address: Fatburs kvarngata Architect: EGÅ/Equator Year: 1990 This residential block is a true work of mismatching elements from different styles. Trying to resemble something like a Greek temple, the building appears clumsy and sloppy as the perfect symmetry is broken in several parts. The contrast is even further developed by using mismatching colors on different parts of the building.
23. The Embassy of the United States of America in Sweden. Address: Dag Hammarskjölds väg 31 Architect: Ralph Rapson and John Van der Meulen Year: 1955 This complex is composed of different volumes and shapes, together creating a secluded area. The building behaves like a solitary and doesn’t engage with the built environment surrounding it. The impression is that function being the only purpose with this building. It also represents an exclusiveness which results in a cold, hard and hostile impression
24. Bofill’s Arch Address: Fatburs Brunnsgata 19, 118 28 Stockholm Architect: Ricardo Bofill Year: 1992 The Soder Crescent is bold in its plan, creating a large green space which would be pleasant if the buildings surrounding didn’t feel so oppressive. The grandeur of the ideas is contradicted by incredibly poor detailing as many of the junctions feeling unresolved.
25. Fredriksdalskajen Address: Hammarby allé 13 Architect: ÅWL Architects Year: 2016 A recently completed residential building, corresponding to the contemporary housing design. Chasing maximum living space area in relation to the set maximum gross area.
26. Spettet 21, apartment building Address: Hornsgatan 148 Architect: Lennart Pettersson + Bentele & Co Year: 1974 With a black steel façade, deep-laying windows and aggressively pointy balconies, this building looks more like an impregnable fort than a residential house.
27. Bränneriet 3, residential Address: Reimersholmsgatan 25, Reimersholme Architect: HSB Year: 1980 An apartment complex consisting of nine similar buildings spread out alongside the southern shore of Reimersholme. While the volumes work rather good with the topography at the site the materials and the scale appear worn-out and monotonous.
28. Tullgård Elementary School Address: Tullgårdsgatan 2 Architect: Erik Berg Architects Year: 1995 This elementary school building doesn’t seize its unique location by Hammarby canal or the history of the site as a former industrial area. The school corresponds a plain, rational, cheap and boring building technique, and its details feels like a last minute attempt to pimp thing up.
29. Ringen Shopping Mall Address: Götgatan 98 Architect: Höjer and Ljungqvist Architects Year: 1981 A large scale brick complex that covers a whole block. The building contains of a shopping mall at the ground floor, and rental apartments on top. The façade, which lacks symmetry and rhythm, consists of brown bricks, brown metal window frames and orange balconies and details.
30. St. Göran Hospital, Main Entrance Building Address: Sankt Göransplan 1 Architect: Unknown Year: 1985 An eight stories tall brick building with repetitive vertical window ribbons in brown metal. The orange coloured stripes on the façade apprehends as an attempt to make a serious and functional building a bit funny.
31. Kungsholmsporten Address: Franzéngatan Architect: Wingårdhs Year: 2011 These two towers manage to look cheap and evil at the same time, and would have been unworthy as signature buildings for any other area. In the context, however, they kind of make sense as a gate into the condensed ugliness of the Lindhagen area.
32. Lindhagen Galleria Address: Lindhagensgatan 118 Architect: Scheiwiller Svensson Architects Year: 2009 This shopping mall consists of two volumes assembled in a way that doesn’t convey any logic but leaves a heavy, dense and clumsy look. The inconsequent grid patterns and the details on the façade result in a disorganized and strange expression.
33. Quality Hotel Friends Address: Råsta Strandväg 1 Architect: Wingårdhs Year: 2013 An utterly alien slab adorned with “playful” circular windows. A majestic monument dedicated to nothing but its own meaninglessness.
34. Hagalund a.k.a Blue Hill Address: Hagalundsgatan, Solna Architect: Nils Lönnroth Year: 1973 An area consisting of 8 identical buildings, all block shaped with very symmetrical window setting, nothing exciting happens in the facade. Th ground floor has a facade made of tiles and the rest of the facade is made of sheet metal in different light blue nyances. The materials have been very affected by the weather and the scale is inhumane.
35. Grågåsen Förskola Address: Erik Segersälls Väg 24 Architect: Storesund Arkitekter Year: 2015 A preschool, just two properties down the road from Longhorn. A fundamentally decent-looking three-story building, unfortunately rendered an eyesore by a couple balcony railings with arbitrary slits of lime acrylic. Juxtaposing the green with a meaty hue of red on the columns and part of the walls hardly makes it better.
36. BRF Aspudden Longhorn Address: Erik Segersälls väg 18 Architect: unknown Year: 2015 Eight apartments squeezed together into the shape of a slightly oversized monopoly house, adorned with an eclectic blend of colours and materials. The front yard originally featured a prairie-esque little garden, an ornamental black cowboy hat, and a steakhouse-looking sign announcing the building’s name.
37. Residential House Address: 14 Jakobsdalsvägen, Örnsberg Architect: ÅWL Arkitekter Year: 2011 A weird mix of details, material and colour. The extremely colourful balconies makes this building as well scream “Here I am!” and does not match very well with the earthy brick colour. Then there are these weird metal details poking out from the facade.
38. Rosenborg 3-4 Address: Rosenborgsgatan 10–12 Architect: Sweco Arkitekter Year: 2014 Two utilitarian extruded-plan office buildings partially clad with a pattern of exceptionally garish tiles. The coloured facades are framed by dark bricks and bright red metal detailing which clash with the tiles as well as with each other.
39. Villa Tättingen Address: Skuggvägen 7, Sollentuna Architect: Pål Ross Year: 2012 An expensive single-family house by Pål Ross, in his trademark curvy style of quasi-palladian kitsch.
40. Tensta Torn Address: Tenstagången, Tensta Architect: Belatchew Arkitekter Year: 2017 A residential tower, covered in colored rectangular concrete elements. The bad color combinations and randomness of the color blocks create a rather uneasy pixelated facade.
41. Residential building Address: Helsingörsgatan 30, Kista Architect: Bertil Andersson Year: 1976 Social housing project with unfortunate interpretations of an idea to randomize the dwelling unit. This gives an unreadable façade with asymmetrical, disproportionate and unaligned openings, which emphasize the repulsiveness of the building’s shape.
42. Student housing Address: Jyllandsgatan 305/307, Kista Architect: Kjellander & Sjöberg Year: 2002 Poor realization of an ambitious project with a limited budget. This results in several detailing failures and unexpected choice of materials that altogether characterize the building as ‘severely’ ugly.
43. Cedergrenska Tornet Address: Kungsvägen 2, Stocksund Architect: Ferdinand Boberg, Erland Heurlin, Lars Israel Wahlman Year: 1896-1908 An eccentric pastiche of fairytale towers, built by order of the wealthy forester Albert Cedergren. Arguably more absurd than ugly, and oddly charming in its earnestness.
44. Swedbank Address: Landsvägen 50A, Sundbyberg Architect: 3XN Year: 2014 Close to the old central parts of working-class Sundbyberg this monstrous bank building with its large scale, hard angular shape and computer-generated flat façade, that in no way works in its context, gives an oppressive and threatening appearance.
45. Dorabella 1 & 2, apartment building Address: Krakel Spektakels gata 1, Bromma Architect: JoliArk Year: 2010-2012 Two identical shaped residential buildings in different colors alongside a narrow river. The overall shape is insipid while the angular pillars supporting the cantilevered volume and the pointy balconies feels like an afterthought trying to make the buildings interesting.
46. Mattisborgen 1, apartment building Address: Dartanjangs gata 60, Bromma Architect: Brunnberg & Forshed Year: 2013 A residential block consisting of three different volumes bound together in an unsatisfying way. The high-rise part is a typical attempt to build a landmark building and an identity. In attempt to give the flat and ordinary shape and façade some depth colored areas have been randomly painted over the building.
47. Office building Address: Cylindervägen 12, Nacka Strand Architect: Carl Nyréns Arkitektkontor Year: 1991 The towering office building is attempting to open up views and bring light in the upper floors of the tower. While it may provide spacious and luminous inside spaces, the pedestrians walking down the street can only see an imposing facade, covered by companies logos, with unnecessary geometric flourishes.
48. Nacka forum Address: Forumvägen 14, Nacka Architect: Gillberg Architects Year: 1989 Nacka Forum corresponds to the standard design of big suburban shopping malls. These superstructures, birthed from the urban sprawl, are attempting to swallow customers in stores cut out from reality and the outside world.
49. McDonald’s Address: Vikdalsvägen 43, Nacka Architect: AEW Architects Year: last renovation 2012 McDonald’s is an example of chain companies representing capitalism and globalisation. The design of the worldly recognisable restaurants is the embodiment of a globalised architecture created to sell, independently to geographical or cultural influences.
50. Ekerö Centrum Address: Mälarö torg 1, Ekerö Architect: Ralph Erskine Year: 1983-1991 Low-rise residential housing by the water in Ekerö Centrum. The houses have a big variety in shape, colour and material. There is no symmetry and the colour combinations does not match. The materials together with the shapes makes everything look very shattered and cluttered.
Ugly, Uglier, Ugliest
To make something purposely uglier demands a lot of clarity on what is substantiating the game rules. For an instance if the game rule is symmetry, to make it uglier one just need to attack consecutively with miss proportions on that symmetry that was established. In this model progression, the direction of the narrative will work with the dichotomy of social conscious forms and imposed individual elements. These progression tries to explore simple needs with not thought through solutions. The method here demands the manipulation of the same object that suffers from mutation generated and thought to answer individual desires and the market logic, accumulating it in one object. Ugly here is funded in the essence of the architectural proposition, and experimenting its effects in the exteriority of the architectural object. For an instance, these progression is an exercise of critical observation. It starts with this building that attends the needs in a simplistic manner, in order to build it fast and to attend a latent need to supply housing. The formal design has no particular identity besides the urge to try answering the basic needs. This posture of proposing and building is a common scenario in many different countries. This first example is usually found in social housing programs, and they are supported by ethics and generated usually in good faith. But when analyzing what it generates, we usually end up with a generic, monotonous and poorly context related building. The second object in this progression comes with the first impute of individual fetish: a garage. But in this example it is also a subversion of the modernist pilotis, that where first thought to create a ground floor more humane and free. The pilotis also states that the ground floor is thought and intended for human interaction, but here are for parking slots, just a few, for those willing to rent them. The third progression takes a step further away from the human interaction ground floor, and is fed from the need of security. Here is added a fence, to protect the cars of those few and prevent people to wonder around underneath the building. The once architectural element that intended to share the ground floor in a more democratic manner now find itself forgotten. Buried in selfishness, is excluded by the fence that pretend itself to be necessary in order to make the access to the building safer. But here we face the dialectic relationship that the presence of the fence states. As it make itself present states that the status quo requires its presence, undermining its previous goal
to keep it secure. In this forth progression a last exploration with the surroundings is made, the break of a standard height to buildings. As if someone build an extra floor, or as if the height was determined by the amount of money that was owned before building, instead of what made more sense in the context of the city in which is located. There is no problem of a building standing out throughout its difference, but there are space qualities that depend on certain rules, and to break them is also to interfere with that. Now the next interventions will deal with its inner coherence, in this fifth progression we start to explore the eccentricities of the imaginary regarding the â€œlife-styleâ€? that sells, and how those interact with the exterior aesthetics and functionality of the building. In these one is added a balcony, these simple extension of area intended to allow easy access to sunlight, but in a private environment. These particular element when applied in a democratic way does no harm, for an instance the area lack of common areas and this can be a solution to remediate it. But when applied jus for a few, for increasing the value of the property, the balcony becomes a problem. After all when it projects itself outwards it also generates shadow to the apartment below. These sixth progression comes with the need to adequate those previous buildings to a weather that provokes heavy snowing. For these case is added a roof on top of the existing building. In a way it brings a vernacular aspect to it, but because it was an afterthought its proportions are funny. And the sequence of the seventh progression comes in the same line, adding antennas to capture television signals. These two afterthoughts illustrates a ton of other examples, the roof, being these solution for a technical problem that passed unforeseen. And the antenna, representing technological solutions, like air conditioning, generators, exhaust fans etc. The eight, and final one come to inquire the purpose of all these. What are we aiming when building while being dictated by those motives? These is what we are building concretely, but what are we accomplishing with it. How does it end? That is a question that we do not usually include when designing. As if it was meant to stay there immortalizing our idea and previous mistakes. Evidently I am not implying that we should build with a programed obsolescence, but people and how they use spaces changes with time. And that should also be considered when designing, how does it dies? [FL]
When asked to design an ugly building, my first thought was to seek an example of an architectural typology that I considered ugly as a starting point. My intention was to iterate the shape of the building to make it uglier. The HLM (Habitations à loyer modéré, “rent-controlled housing”), a type of social housing that one can find in every french city, came to mind. In the 50’s, as a response to the post-war housing crisis, the rural exodus and the baby boom, the french government decided to launch a scheme of massive construction of socially subsidised residences. A large number of HLMs were built, often in large complexes mainly in the suburbs. The “box” shape of the buildings was a way to save time, effort and money during construction. Over the years, the highrise estates have developed a bad reputation within the french society, often considered the support for troubled suburban communities, with high unemployment and high crime rates. Latent racism and prejudices in the minds of numerous french people have moulded the image of unsafe and dangerous neighbourhoods. I decided to put aside the moral ugliness surrounding these types of housing and only focus on the form of the buildings. I analysed that the highrise buildings could be defined by three terms: stability, unapproachability and timely. Model #1 is the starting point of my formal exploration. It represents a typical high-rise social housing. Model #2 is a play on time as it mixes different styles. As the standard HLMs evoke a very specific time period in human history, I wanted to explore what would happen if we decided to assemble elements from different time periods together. One can observe a multitude of differently shaped windows on the facade of the building, hiding the interior organisation of the building. The facade is disconnected from any time period. Model #3 is a research on approachability. HLMs can be described as unapproachable as the building
doesn’t make an effort to include the surrounding context nor does it attempt to attract people, passerby usually walk past them without engaging with them. The model I created is emphasising the unfriendly character of the building by almost completely closing off the facade and only allowing a couple of openings. Model #4 allowed me to explore stability. As the box-shaped buildings appear particularly heavy and imposing, I tried to split the building as if it was slipping and sliding down on the ground, disturbing our perception of a usually solid architecture. Model #5 plays with both the time and the stability factors, by putting an old traditional half-timbered house on top of a long and thin modern building. Model #6 regroups alterations based on time and approachability. Stacking old houses on top of each other allowed me to disturb the readability of the building by blurring the interior layouts and confusing the observer who doesn’t know where to enter the building or how to access each dwelling. Model #7 is a mix of iterations based on approachability and stability. Contrary to the previous model, the entrance to this unstable pile of boxes is identifiable however the path to enter the building is of the utmost difficulty. Model #8 is the ultimate iteration influenced by all three adjectives. It is the apotheosis of instability, untimeliness and unapproachability. These models are for me a representation of an architecture that is trying too hard to be different or edgy. It is an unrealistic architecture that can sometimes be found in the works of big star-architects who are trying to build crazier buildings, entertaining the myth of originality. This type of architecture doesn’t engage with its context, it is not a welcoming design as the sculpture-like buildings stand on their own without integrating the surrounding landscape, without any regard to the human perspective or any care to the user’s experience. [MLR]
Ugliness can be a feeling you get when meeting a building. The building can look very beautiful but when getting closer it might change your opinion. If the bottom floor is very closed and has no windows it can create a feeling of that you can’t get in contact with the architecture because you can’t see what is happening inside. Something is not like it should, what is hidden inside? You might feel that you are closed out from the architecture, that you are refused by the building. So even though the building is beautiful you might think it is ugly because of the feeling it creates in you. Here and there in the city you find leftover spaces. Spaces that have slipped in between, spaces that are not programmed, spaces that were created underneath as a consequence when another space was created. They do not belong to anyone so they welcome everyone. Yet they are not taken care of but they are never forgotten. Some give these spaces their own meaning. Under bridges for instance. Some find shelter there and make it their home. Some linger for just a while, others just walk by. But everyone knows these spaces and what feeling they create. That feeling can by ugliness. Ugliness can be something boring and something boring could be some-
thing expected, monotone and repetitive You could argue that the architecture is lacking identity and therefore the neighborhood as well. A house you have see in many different places is not special, you have seen it many times before, you know it. What you see is what you get so now you know what you get, but that is boring. And boring is ugly. Ugliness can also be something unexpected, something you rarely see, something you usually don’t see. Something unfamiliar and something unknown. It can be scary because it doesn’t fit in, it doesn’t look like it should. Your expectations are uglifying the architecture! Ugliness can be very dependent on what materials have been used and which context the building sits in, therefor ugliness can be hard to define only by using volumes. [JKH]
The starting point for this analysis was one of the ugliest thing I know; catalogue houses. Among catalogue houses, I consider the ones built in the beginning of the 21st century, to be the ugliest. The first pair of models in this study is therefore an interpretation of this particular design concept. These models are translations of images in my head; this is what I first come to think of when the word ugly appear. This investigation can be perceived as a practical exercise, and resulted in houses that combine a pitched, cracked roof with high placed extended windows and glass sections that are cut in the same angle as the roof. The second study focuses more on function, form and construction, and this series of models possesses an ugliness that is more subtle than in the previous one. The first model has a framework on top of the building, and this design approach was something I was investigating for my diploma thesis in the third grade, since I was inspired by a school project by the Swiss architect Christian Kerez. This plan turned when we had a first review with our construction teacher, who shared the fact that it’s absolutely unnecessary from a construction point of view to put a framework like that on top of a building, since it has no constructive effect. This framework is just décor looking like construction.
The other two models in this series are in the same construction category, with forms and proportions that are hard to motivate and look unnatural. In the model with the box hanging out, the ugliness is situated in the expression of something unbalanced, something that is not supported by physics, and something that just shouldn’t be there. The last model also has these characteristics but in addition, this model is the most difficult to read and understand. The ugliness foremost lies in the unnatural, the expression of trying too hard, and in the inability of understanding it. The last sequence of models are of more of an investigating character. In this session the ambition was to translate different aspects of ugly from the theory that we have been reading and discussing. I picked three different facets found in the literature; ugly as misplaced, ugly as repellent, and ugly as unexpected. As a starting point for this investigation I chose to work with one façade on an apartment building house, giving this façade different characters in relation to these aspects of ugly. The ugly as misplaced resulted in a façade with balconies on the ground floor, the ugly as repellent lead to a façade with balcony doors but no balconies, and the ugly as unexpected turned into a façade with balconies but no balcony doors. [EPB]
Ugliness in architecture is to me often very connected to aspects such as color, material, detailing or finish, rather than just form or proportions. This study gave me an opportunity to approach the subject in a different and more conceptual manner, focusing on volume and the composition of elements. I started out with a quite archetypical two-storey house with a pitched roof – not particularly exciting but not particularly ugly either. This model was then tweaked quite systematically in seven different iterations. Each iteration deals with only one aspect of the form or one element type, making the changes between the different versions easily discernible. First, the volume was stretched upwards to make it thinner and higher, changing it from something rather well proportioned to something more narrow, almost eerie. The following iterations deals with the form and composition of elements rather than volume. The
symmetry of the building was broken in several steps – first by cutting the pitched roof on one side, then by changing the disposition of openings in several ways. The homogeneousness of the window types was also reduced by changing some of them from rectangular to circular or other shapes. The rectangular door opening was changed into a weirdly stretched arch – an attempt to create an unclear form, a form which doesn’t know what it wants to be. Lastly, the clarity of the volume was broken by cutting it diagonally on one side, creating a shape too broken to be pleasant, but too weak and too random to be interesting. As a grand finale, a badly proportioned classical motif is applied in a very brutal and unsensitive fashion on one of the facades. [ABT]
Eight models divided and investigated through three themes: shape, openings and details. The ugliest model from each theme were further developed in the next theme and so the last model has elements from all three themes. During the investigation I tried to shut down my editing eye to create designs that would be half measures, non-compositions and in-coherent. It was important to me that the models felt realistic in a way, so I tried to do subtle and precise decisions and not bring it to the extreme. I wanted to make design decisions that was between the random and the intended to find that tone that I think can make something ugly. In the first three models I investigated the overall shape. The starting point was a building divided into a top and bottom part with an angular roof in three parts. I focused on trying out different proportions and angels that had no logic to them. I wanted it to feel like the design was intended but not enough to make an impact. The three roof parts have different angels and does not come together as a whole. The cantilevered top part of the building has different proportions on different sides and weird discontinuities that doesnâ€™t give either functional or aesthetic qualities. In model four to six I focused on the shape and
placing of openings in the faĂ§ade. I tried to create funny windows that would feel like an afterthought and would not fit with the shape of the building. Windows that had a sci-fi vibe to them, with hard edges, random proportions and a very computer-generated look. Their placing follows a grid but at the same time not. Windows that were more of an ornament/pattern and where the function of letting light in and provide outlooks is heavily compromised. The last two models were about details and addons. I focused on balconies, pillars, window casings and chimneys with strange proportions and placing. One thing that bothers me are generic big balconies attached to buildings. I find that they are often not worked into the design but instead they destroy the overall shape of the building. Also pillars with strange shapes, dimensions and placing that have you questioning their load-bearing capabilities and function. [MM]
The approach to this assignment tries to be as conceptual as possible and tries to extract from the reality in terms of forms, functions and scale. The starting point of my process was supposed to be the circle, as a difficult geometric figure to deal with, speaking on architecture. But I soon realised that I like its way of being perfect, pure and untouchable. That is why I moved to the octagon which tends to be a circle but it has too little sides and at the same time it is too far from being as good-looking as the square. So, the ground zero of the series of models is sort of a tower shaped as an octagon with a smaller base. Then I organised the subsequent models in three groups: the first three respond to a matter of form, the fourth and the fifth to a matter of subtraction and addition, and the last ones to a matter of displacement. In the first model there is an alternation of full volumes and voids that represents the floors of the tower. Next step is to rotate every other floor by 22.5 degrees in order not to have the edges aligned all together. In this model, those triangular spaces that are created in every floor kind of annoy me because they are so small, but at the same time it is interesting to see how their shadows play on surfaces. The third one has some enlarged floors but the proportions between one floor and the one above stay stable. Geometric rules are always present but the overall feeling of this model has no balance and harmony. For the second series of models I wanted to give the building a function. These towers look like bolts and
boltsâ€™ function is to screw; they can screw because they can rotate. The function I wanted to give from now on is to connect: if they work both as buildings and as infrastructure at the same time, they are able to reach a leve of ugliness maybe higher. So the next model has eight holes, one per side, at the second floor. And along with the fifth one, their functions is established: three parallelepipeds are plugged into the holes so that they works as tunnels for connection, whether it is pedestrian or by train. If we imagine a utopian city plenty of these towers with people living in them, the result would be no-one walking in the streets anymore. Just an empty world but full of infrastructure. The last two models have the same pieces of the previous ones, but in two different ways of displacing them. The sixth one looks like a wedding cake with a base that is not enough big to support it, with a big and heavy top hat. Everything is going to fall downâ€Śpoor newlyweds! The seven and last model of the process tries to set order in this complete mess, aligning some floors but forgets the biggest floor on the top of the tower, which is not a tower any more. It has become just gun turret or a big mushroom with three arms! At the end of the process I must say that following geometric rules was maybe a bit restrictive in terms of imagination, but probably useful to avoid simple iterations in real design processes. [SC]
The progression of buildings pictured analyse common motifs found in ugly contemporary architecture. The initial model works with the simple proportions of the cube. The windows are slightly off-grid and oversized; they clash with our instinctive perception of where they should be and how large they should be in comparison to the door. From this point the design followed a linear progression, where each subsequent iteration was created by an additional ugly design move. Iteration #2 sees the addition of a slanted wall, allowing the buildings already imposing, monolithic façade to become more oppressive. The next iteration sees the addition of the ‘roof-box’, a common architectural feature in the overgrowing city. These are often said to ‘contrast’ the existing but normally end-up overwhelming their host like a bulbous parasite. Iteration #4 sees the reduction of scale the original form to highlight this oversizing. Iteration #5 shows the addition of ‘feature’ windows, these are, often amorphous, windows are included in designs as a lazy attempt to create interest in an otherwise boring façade that may have been better left alone. Although neither the colour nor texture of materiality is expressed by the grey card of the models, the
addition of representational lines to the roof-box on model #6 is enough to remind of the garish colours and plasticity of rainscreen cladding. For model #7, some more of the minor ‘anti-boring’ moves were added: the addition of functionally useless metal fins to the external facades (inspired by the University of Bath’s Chancellor’s Building) and long horizontal windows, otherwise unrelated to the the building’s fenestration. The pièce de résistance, our ugliest model, #8 highlights a common feature between buildings that display these endeavours, corporate branding. Although the choice of TESCO as a brand has no specific connotations, these ugly buildings, which display the exhibited ugly elements often share in common the desire of a corporation to create a ‘flagship’ or ‘iconic’ building, but without any additional cost or time. This leaves the architects following the easiest path applying stick-on, one-sizefits-all, design-moves which bare no reference to function, place or identity; the moves are characterised by their non-specific universality; applied to any mix-used building to falsely grab attention. It seems that an unwillingness to simply let a building be boring has birthed many architectural monsters. [OC]
A large part of what we perceive as ugliness depends, I believe, on execution, program, and context. Many buildings considered to be eyesores looked appealing or even beautiful in the planning phase, when viewed as abstract sculptural shapes. The task of creating inherently ugly architectural shapes – an ugliness of pure form – was difficult but intriguing. With the perfect cube as our given starting point, my first iteration was an imperfect cube. Adding a deviation in the shape small enough to be perceived as a compromise or mistake, rather than an intentional feature. Adding a window and door (to make it read as an architectural object), I attempted to space them just far enough to appear disharmonious, but not enough to create a satisfying contraposition. I also tried to create a sense of imbalance by placing them very close to the edges and leaving abundant free space unused. The second model introduced non-orthogonal angles, which – while not necessarily ugly in and of themselves – can appear violent and therefore be unpleasant if used without care. I gave the building one concave facade, believing that buildings, as massive objects-in-space, appear more ”at ease” in flat or convex overall shapes. On the convex facade I placed a single window with perfect symmetry. In western aesthetic theory symmetry is widely described as beautiful, but I think it’s better described as uncompromising. Symmetry in an otherwise beautiful composition may evoke a sense of flawlessness, but in an ugly composition it may appear brutish instead. The windows on the adjacent facade, I placed in a broken sequence. On the third model, I used a narrow slit to evoke a visceral unease; notions of getting stuck, or squashed – or of having to clean the damn space. The composition of doors and windows explores haphazard orderedness, a trap I know I’ve personally fallen for in earlier work. Any given group of elements is internally ordered according to some perfunctory logic, but without an overarching idea to bring the whole together. This model also introduces the theme of pastiche, in the form of four windows with gothic arches. The fourth model explicates the concept of top-heaviness which had started to show in the previous two models. It also attempts to invoke incoherence through subverted hierarchy, by having a large, monumental entrance on an intuitive-
ly secondary facade. The door/window composition on the facade underneath the cantilever explore a more intense disharmony. Their proportions evoke wildly different styles, and their relative placements align/overlap in ways meant to appear unnatural both structurally and functionally. The fifth model introduces discordant angles, in the form of a triangular pediment overlaid on – and jutting past – a more shallow unidirectionally sloped roof. The model also features a large window encased in a thick, boxy frame, referencing the bulky detailing of many buildings from the second half of the 20th century. The sixth model attempts to appear boundless and unconstrained in an almost bodily way, with an extension spilling like a loose intestine from a more traditional-looking house. Hierarchy is subverted again in a different way, by having the ”extension” be nearly as large as the ”main building”. The seventh model does a different take on the themes of top-heaviness and concavity. A diminishing base, a protruding roof-wedge, and a proboscis-like lift that is most narrow at the point where it connects to the building, all attempts to convey a sense of swollenness and structural frailty. There are also two attempts to invoke sloppy craftsmanship; a window that is ”accidentally” partially obscured by the lift, and a grid of windows where one is very slightly out of alignment with the rest. The first seven models all used fairly simple geometry, not because I think simplicity is necessarily ugly but because the abstraction gave my intentions a certain clarity. In my final model I revisited the concept of the sixth one, but this time made it more truly amorphous. This model also references a certain type of concept-driven architecture. Buildings based around a single ”strong idea” that are fun to look at once or reference in a lecture, but at the expense of its inhabitants and surroundings. Assessing these attempts at creating ugliness, I consider them partially successful. The designs are visually striking, and arguably interesting to look at. If they were built, some might appreciate them for their aesthetic boldness. But I believe it’s a shallow and meaningless boldness. Were they built, I think the novelty would quickly fade but a sensory unpleasantness would linger. [FEW]
City Against Ella Peterson-Berger
Hostile architecture and defensive designare two expressions more frequently debated, and are foremost discussed when it comes to design features in the city that obstruct and avert homelessness. The notion hostile architecture refers to public spaces that are altered or constructed to discourage people from using them in away not intended by the owner or the city. These antagonistic design actions appear in several countries and all over their cities–at bus stops, in the metro, outside shops, office and residential buildings. Ventilation hatches with hot air are covered with spikes. The access to corners, niches and surfaces under bridges is limited by fences, spikes and barbed wires. Concrete posts,that are normally used to prevent cars from parking on the sidewalk,are being placed as clusters in certain popular sleeping corners. Regular benches are being modified to make it impossible for people to lie on them, by letting armrests divide the bench into sections. Regular benches are also being replaced by ”benches” against which you stand and lean. The events that are described above are examples of something that is ugly by association. The moral aspects of these design actions are
easy to criticize since they tend to threaten and isolate certain members of the society. By further complicating life for the most vulnerable persons in the city, the society is stating an ideal and sends a message. It separates people, enforces segregation and emphasises who is welcome in the city and who is not.This can be perceived as an expression of a capitalist city, where people who contribute financially to the society are worth staying and living in the city, while people standing outside are being punished. This also becomes clear when seeing where the resources are being placed – short-term measures instead of dealing with these issues at a more preventive level.Adding to this ugly experience is the fact that all these actions are happening in a context of increasing homelessness, and increased gaps between different socio-economic groups. Aesthetic preferences are never free from judgement, but apart from these design actions being morally ugly, they are also ugly from a visual point of view. This is design with the clear function to discourage and frighten people from using certain spaces in a specific way. The result appears as cold, dense, grey and inhuman. The materiality, shape and colour of this design are adding to this already ugly
experience, and altogether,these reactions are uglifying the city. In the attempt to eliminate one type of ugly and inappropriate, the city succeeded in creating a new one. This also becomes an expression of fundamental values since the need to exclude some members from the society is so strong that the visual expression of the city comes second. Homelessness is uglier than spikes and wires. If considering hostile architecture and defensive design as parts of the built environment that is both visually ugly and ugly by association, it’s also possible to find other design features and conditions that would fit into this category. Many cities are subject to an urban planning that is dominated by motorways and large car lanes.This type of infrastructure rewards and encourages the usage of cars, which leads to pollutions, limited mobility for pedestrians,creates a noisy sound environment, and has devastating impact on the climate. This situation ugly because it represents a non-human and non-sustainable city. Another phenomenon that also could be perceived as a compromise of human well-being and citizens’ right to their city, is the process of public spaces being taken over by private actors and corporates, developing the city into something that could be interpreted as built finance. In Stockholm, the American company Apple planned to settle in the city’s oldest park, Kungsträdgården. In the proposal, which is drawn by the English Architectural Office Foster + Partners, thenewstore connects with,and adopts the well-known cherry blossom avenue andthe pond. This proposition is difficult to criticize from an architectural point of view,rather the ugliness is located in the fact that the project seeks to privatise a public park. The Swedish Government recently blocked the project, but same situation now arise in other cities, both regarding Apple stores, but also concerning other companies, e.g.Google. Outlining your own opinions on ugliness is challenging and requires your attention to the subject. Articulating your perception of ugly also demands certain answers to fundamental questions: Is ugly pejorative? Is ugly the opposite to beauty? Finding common features in my own perception of ugliness is not easy, since I have noticed that my view on ugliness is relational, constantly develops and always depends on the context and the situation. I’m convinced that I detest objects that are fake and pretend to be something they are not, but I can still appreciate a plastic flower in the right environ-
ment. The combination of visual ugly and ugly by association has therefore come to be one of my go-to definitions of ugly. This definition allows a wider interpretation of the subject because it covers many levels and disciplines. Italso doesn’t reduce the concept of ugliness to only process the physical conditions of an object. This,in my opinion, gives justice to the notion of ugly.
The Face Francisco LeĂŁo de Campos Andrader
Ugly, here, will be stressed with experiments aiming to access a more relatable knowledge. The intent is to generate a proper common ground, so as I dwell on the subject what is absorbed with this rehearsal would be an empathetic knowledge through experiencing imagetic confrontations rather than a peruse on the abstractions of this subject, ugliness.The description of this connected circumstances that generates specific results, were chosen in order to allow us a glimpse of a bigger picture through a case study. And that has the intent to trace the path from the characters singularities to the personal apprehension that presences the aesthetical ugly experience. In order to do so, I am choosing to use the [face] as our object of intervention, being inspired by the metaphor and concepts built by Mark Cousins in his AA files that also used the face as this common place. The dual character of existing and representing, inherit of an object, when applied to the face allow a net of contextual characteristics to build up into identity, hardwired reactions and aesthetical experiences. Some of this characteristics comes along with the preset of the genetic information, such as skin and eye color, proportions between features, proportions of the features, type, color and length
of hair and so on. Together with the physicality of these features our face is capable of conforming arrangements of muscular tensioning that emerges into an imagetic composition becoming an expression of an interior presence, the psyche expressed emotions. This sequence of descriptions sets the apprehension for a palpable understanding of our object in a static mode. But the face also accumulates the passage of time. Now using as theoretical background some lectures of Dr.Joe Dispenza about habits and the mind structure that perpetuate them I will illustrate the dynamic between the subject judgement and some ulterior motives that guide it. For instance that expression resultant of an emotion, imprints both on the superficiality of the face as on the essential presence itself (psyche). As our habits generates similar situations, we start to develop a standard emotional response to what surrounds us, exercising this specific set of emotions. The persistence of this emotional manifestations develops into the individual humor. And if this humor persists, then it is established this individual temper, which if persists longer, at last, composes a personality trait. And the set of these personality traits that we carry influence our judgement on reality. Person-
ality traits also influence our object of study, for it manifest itself both on the face and on the way that the subject will be able to absorb reality’s content. All of this description was made in order to conform a better understanding of our object, the face, and what does this existing object shelters on its representation. Which in a way, is also a reflection on the judgement on ugliness itself Our characteristics also influence on how our context sees us, which in return result influencing on how we relate to our surroundings. And added to that,our baggage of personality traits brings a hardwire set of reactions towards the environment and how we are supposed to feel when in its presence. With that chain of reactions traced, we then arrive in the set in which ugly happens. This statement, “oh that’s ugly”, is composed by several mechanisms. But it is mostly a confrontation. A confrontation between our projected expectations for the object, with the reflection of the esthetic set rules presented on its formality and meaning. When a break on the expectations happens, then it is interpreted as a provocative esthetical experience, which could lead to the conclusion of a ugly presence. This relation between subject and object gets even stronger when the object of confrontation is a face. Although a face usually belongs to another subject, it also exists in its representation of something else, another’s identity. And it is in this dynamic relation with another’s identity that I will tension the perception of ugly. A face, unlike a city or a building, transpires more explicitly identities that generates confront. Although Sweden is a very progressive country, and gender equality seem very tangible here, it is still a very good example to understand the confrontations generated by esthetic adversities. In Brazil, there is a queer vocabulary term [afronte] that states the moment when a LGBTQIA + person confronts its surrounding with
its “different” aesthetics. A more literal translation would lead you to the verb “to provoke”. This [afronte] can be identified by the confrontation generated with two main esthetical reactions. The first one, made by the subject who don’t identify with the esthetic presented, interpreting that as an entity that does not belong in the same category of itself. Labeling the confronting image as a non-belonging entity. The second would come from the one that generates de [afronte], which by seeing the reaction on the observers face and the denial of a plural esthetic regime, would label the observer in return as ignorant. This dichotomy generated by the denial of something – present on the act of labeling something as non-belonging, ugly and the reflective reaction of acknowledging the observers limitations exemplifies what I consider to be a relevant diagnostic on esthetical judgement. For, in this moment, what shows is not an intrinsic character of ugliness presented in the object itself, but rather the limits of the observer subject esthetical set boundaries. This exercise used so far the face as these mirror of our reactions. But so far the tensioning came from the interactions between people, and the problematic exemplified was a very specific case of this context. But to judge architecture is different. The repercussions of it are different, which does not mean that they are less harmful. To affirm an aesthetic in the build environment over others, in theory, could be purely for aesthetic homogeneous sake. But there is a social aspect to it, the process has an economic driven motion. And tend to exclude parts of our society that are identified, again, as non belonging entities. What does the common sense on architecture dictates, and what is this aesthetic creating? Does ugliness have a role to play, and if yes, what does its absence implies, what do we give up off when eradicating ugliness?
The Ugly City Axel Burvall Terán
Welcome to the Ugly City! Is this your first time here?You are very welcome to take a tour! You will experience an exhilarating collection of different shapes, colors and materials, all freed from the straightjacket of Beauty. But please, don’t come back to the Tourist Office asking for stability, utility or beauty.The Ugly City does not work that way. The Ugly City will make you laugh, it will make you cry and it will leave you confused. The Ugly City is a rush, a liberating experience. A visit here will change your life - Once you’ve immersed yourself in ugliness, you can never return to your old standards. The beauty that you used to hold so dear will suddenly seems limited and repressive, the symmetries that you cherished will make you bored and restless, and the harmonies that kept you calm will appear sterile and stiff. The Ugly City is not like anything you are used to. Where you are looking for harmony, you will find chaos. Where you are looking for coherence, you will find randomness. Where you are looking for tranquility, you will find aggressive color schemes taken from corporate logotypes. Wherever you turn your head, walls will be tilted, symmetries will be broken and shapes will protrude from nowhere. The Ugly City will offend you, it will
mesmerize you and it will ignore you. Do you like it here? You can stay, maybe even build something on your own? Build whatever you want, how you want, when you want. Rules were abolished here centuries ago, so don’t worry about permits or neighbors, scales or color schemes, materials or proportions. Please just try to refrain from using the Golden Section. Sounds good? Welcome, you are now a citizen of The Ugly City.
On Atrocious (Arduous) Ugliness Borjan Aleksov
Instead of kindling the discussion whether the term ‘ugly’ is a mere opposite of ‘beautiful’, we should aim at dissociating ugliness into descriptive pieces that will attain meaning to it. Such approach gives rise to a debate related to objectivity in the evaluation. In order to define the boundaries in which it is possible to analyze we could look at the earliest meanings of the origin of the word ‘ugly’. They are associated with fear and dreadfulness, which by itself can be used as an argument suggesting that we should observe ugliness with objective subjectivism1. This will allow us to use ‘atrocious’ or ‘nauseating’ as attributing pieces. The statement can be fortified if we try to observe the concept of ugly deeper, below superficial characteristics and synonyms. When we move to identifying triggered intrinsic feelings related to its meaning in our cognitive matrices, we could observe atrocity with respect to our topic, which can be described by Gestalt theory psychologists. They argue that the whole is something else or something different than the sum of its parts (Koffka 1935). And indeed, if we perceive each element of a composition2 we can see that it might be beautiful in itself, but when combined in a whole it becomes atrocious,
hence ugly. This approach describes the term using ‘beauty’, but it avoids simple opposition on their meanings. If we compare a poem to an architectural composition, we could explain the topic in a simplified (abstracted) manner by relating to their inner meanings. It is very difficult to characterize a poem by its beauty (or ugliness), because it is conveying a feeling that we can subjectively classify as good or bad. This can then create a meaningful relation for us and we will perceive ‘the conclusion’. In any case, a poem is entity in itself, a mental picture of current feelings that aim to translate their meanings to the reader. However, if we experiment with the wholeness of it, and try to combine pieces into new synergic unity, what we will get can be very arduous. Describing it as atrocity we will immediately associate it with ugliness and perceive it as ugly. But we don’t feel ugly for the parts of the whole! By translating the discussion back to architecture the conclusion can be drawn. Constituent elements are not what we define as ugly when they exist in free space, but once we start fusing new beings, we can get to ugliness in an unexpected way.
A house is like a black cat at night, only a silhouette. A house roams at night when its occupants sleep. Night dreams are accelerated in fixed rooms. Day dreams blank out light. The yawning of a house comes from the excessive sound of its inhabitants. The house likes the weaver, it remembers its early construction. The sister of a house is its garden. (Hejduk 1953) I like the house and the house lies in the trivial. I object to trivialism and what comes behind. The observance of a home feeling is to be vital since it absorbs the wholeness of the truth. I! Do I understand the meaning of the house? To be one with a house it must require knowledge or does the truth lie in the trivial? The sense of the wholeness of inseparable elements. Designs consults Nature To give presence to the elements A work of art makes manifest the wholeness of the â€˜Formâ€™ a symphony of the selected shapes of the elements. (Kahn 1974) Some oxen of burden pass every day in front of my window. Because of being designed and redesigned the ox - of pebble and of root becomes bull. (Corbusier 1953) Form is from outer space Design, as an imaginary form of formlessness becomes what it is. Truth it is not. Imagination it will remain.
Beauty, Architecture´s Ugly Word Oliver Cassidy
In recent years, an architectural criticism based on aesthetic values of beauty or ugliness has largely been off the menu for reviewers. Most debate has centred around the tangible; aspects such as usability, environmental efficiency and economic viability have been considered more important. When aesthetic judgements are made, the criticism is normally broken down into less provocative, euphemistic terms; phrases such as ‘appropriate scale’ and ‘sympathetic to context’ are used, concealing aesthetic commentary. If there is a more explicit beauty judgement, it is often given lesser importance, towards the end of an article, and is caveated as the authors own taste. The architectural profession’s reluctance to use the terms, ugly or beautiful, is due to the word’ absolutist nature. When one describes something as ugly, it does not imply opinion, so much as a statement of fact; it would seem that critics are aware of this issue of interpretation, and would not attempt to speak for everyone. However, this wary attitude towards absolute aesthetic criticism cannot be accredited to the new, resurgent, group of commentators. They are a vocal minority consisting of; a small proportion of the general public, their
political counterparts and a minority of architectural theorists. These groups are becoming louder and more numerous across Europe. In Sweden, Arkitekturuppror, roughly translated as The Architectural Uprising, describes itself as a ‘people’s movement’ and has become increasingly prevalent, campaigning against what they see as the ‘continued ugliﬁcation of their cities’. Similar groups can be found across the other Nordic Countries. These ‘people’s movements’ have also extended onto other social media platforms. The twitter accounts, European Beauty (@magicaleurope) and ArchtiecturalRevival (@Arch_Revival_) share almost 80,000 followers between them and often throw around the words ugly and beauty in their descriptions, which they see as synonymous with tradition and heritage. In the last few months the UK’s government has endorsed a similar strain of views, forming the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission which is chaired by the conservative peer and aesthetic philosopher, Roger Scruton. Although the commission itself, and the studies on which its creation is based (generated by the thinktank Policy Exchange) do not openly prescribe beautiful archi-
tecture as traditionalist, its chairman does. The more worrying trend, however, is not the historicism but the provocative choice of language from a government body. The resurgent use of the words beautiful and ugly as objective criticism raises several ethical questions.
representation. The face as representation dominates my experience to the point that the perception of the head as a physical volume, which therefore implies an inside, is repressed. Everything I see is organized around the face as a vehicle of expression.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder In a prolonged investigation of ugliness (or beauty), the question of subjectivity is inevitably raised. Many philosophers have attempted to write rules of beauty and, conversely, a few of them also attempted to write rules of ugliness. The earliest comprehensive set of rules, was written by Karl Rosenkranz in, Aesthetic of Ugliness (1853) where he cited Amorphousness, Asymmetry & Disharmony as the three qualities of ugliness, positioning them as the inverse of beauty. These narrow set of rules, although aligning with the classical principles of the time, failed to see shifting future perceptions. His judgements were based on his immediate social and geographic environment; his rules defined purely on limited aesthetic and ‘moral’ terms. Perhaps a better reading of ugliness and its related terms is found in more recent works, which take a view on ugliness from a psychoanalytical standpoint. In ‘Ugly, Creepy, Disgusting, and Other Modes of Abjection’, Jela Krecic and Slavoj Žižek aim to analyse these similar yet distinct notions. They initially study corporeal disgust, described by Freud as the breaking of the layers that separate the inside from the outside, this is the skin which protects us from the outside world. Examples of these include blood seeping from open wounds or saliva once it leaves our mouths. They are obvious and elicit a truly visceral response, such as nausea or faintness. Upon these basic corporeal reactions, we then extrapolate further laws of the world, creating our own systems of judgement which allow us to negotiate external reality. Whenever this internal reality is confronted, at either a basic corporeal level or higher aesthetic level, we experience some degree of abjection. The most acute example of this is our reading of the human face, as noted by Mark Cousins in his lecture series at the AA titled, The Ugly:
This is why it is so abjectly horrifying if someone loses part of their face in an accident, our psychological construction of them is broken. Reality, with its lack of meaning, is thrust unwillingly upon us. This is our experience of the ugly. These psychological constructions are developed through our own individual experience. Our own realities and methods are tried, tested and subsequently altered as we encounter different environments every day. This helps to explain humanity’s varied reactions to different stimuli, that which some might perceive as ugly others may believe to be beautiful. Umberto Eco documented many examples of these in his comprehensive book on the subject, On Ugliness. He attempts to document the development and variation of ugliness, across continents and eras, pointing to two obvious examples in the introduction:
“When I experience another’s face in the order of representation and expression, I do not experience the face as the exterior of a head any more than I experience it as a surface of
“To a Westerner an African ritual mask might seem hair-raising – while for a native it might represent a benevolent divinity. Conversely, believers in some non-European religion might be disgusted by the image of Christ scourged, bleeding and humiliated, while this apparent corporeal ugliness might arouse sympathy and emotion in a Christian.” We can also look to a more immediate architectural example in the Eiffel tower, the construction of which began in 1887 to much public debate, described as “monstrous” by “lover’s of Paris’s still intact beauty” in a letter published by Le Temps, signed by celebrated French artists of the time. However, today we would struggle to find anyone who sees Eiffel’s iron construction as anything but beautiful, it has become a symbol of Parisian and even French identity. A lack of this sensitivity to place or awareness of cultural identity is a criticism often levelled at contemporary architecture by traditionalist critics who fail to see cities as a changeable, developing organism. often this view is based more on short-sightedness rather than genuine architectural criticism. Although the Eiffel Tower is
one specific example, the same can be said more generally for the concurrent industrial European architecture, which is now viewed with a rose-tinted, romanticising eye. Dangerous institutionalised aesthetics The creation of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission has stirred a feeling of unease amongst many architects in the UK. There have always been a small number of people who have campaigned for a historical revival, but to see a government commission setting standards of beauty is a new turn which strikes worrying similarities with past political movements. Standards of beauty and its alleged counterpart, ugliness, have not been explicitly written into government policy, most likely due to their obvious subjectivity. However, if the new commission gain significant backing this will become more likely. An institutionalisation of aesthetics was key in the fascist governments of both Hitler and Mussolini and, although I don’t wish to suggest any overt relation to current policy in the UK, it is worth examining the development and extreme conclusion of these trains of thought. In Italy Gabriele D’Annuzio was first to engage aesthetics directly in politics, arguing that what pervades the everyday must be important to politics as well, creating an all-encompassing ‘politics of beauty’, which formed part of Mussolini’s doctrine. In an edition of the Journal of Contemporary History: The Aesthetics of Fascism, George L. Mosse writes about the way in which a standard of beauty was set by these two governments as a way of mobilising people: “The ideal of beauty was central to this aesthetic, whether that of the human body or of the political liturgy. The longing for a set standard of beauty was deeply ingrained in the European middle classes, and the definition of the beautiful as the ‘good, the true, and the holy’ was an important background to the fascist cult.” The utilising of an aesthetic as a standard for society is powerful because of its universality; it pervades private as well as public life, engaging people at all levels. During the evolving modern era people were searching for national identity, so the rediscovery of classical antiquity was welcomed, as most Europeans claimed it as their own. Fascism
offered a ‘spiritual revolution through traditional aesthetic’, capturing nationalism as a civic religion, and utilising architecture as part of its liturgy. In line with the emerging pre-eminence of the visual sense in Western culture, the body was deemed representative of the mind, allowing the creation of the stereotypes of the New Fascist Man and the Aryan German. These body types took their lead from the classical ideals of beauty for both men and women, as did the architectural standards. These allowed the government to encourage certain ways of living, working and exercising for the benefit of the nation, posited as the method of achieving the ideal. Furthermore, with these ideal stereotypes came the more vicious counter-type, allowing for the easy visual identification of the other; the opposite to the correct standard, and a threat to the security of the national tradition. The two standards becoming the diametrically opposed embodiment of the beautiful and the ugly. The truth of beauty It would seem that the problem with beauty ideals, specifically their definition as absolute and implementation in government, is that it leads to creation of the binary other, the beautiful or the ugly. If we return to the idea of ugliness as ontological confrontation, we come closer to understanding how devotion to beauty has these consequences. In popular discourse, beauty and ugly are considered opposites. However deeper psychoanalytical investigation of these terms shows their relationship as part of a more complicated metaphysical web including notions such as the sublime, the grotesque and the monstrous. Although it is difficult to define exactly where all of these terms lie in relation to each other (some put the sublime as a step between beauty and ugliness), their existence alone challenges this simplistic perception of beauty and ugly. As ugly is that which challenges us, beauty is that which appeases and conforms. Pure beauty allows us to maintain our reality; beauty, in one sense, is the absence of the ugly realities of life, demanding pervasive beauty is wilful reclusion. This shows why the existence of a beauty standard can be so popular; it allows people to avoid any confrontation of their values, to repress anything which may cause them to re-evaluate their ideas. It lets them believe their existing views are true. One of the reasons that fascism managed to take such a hold in Italy and Germany is that it played on
pre-existing sentiments; the stereotypes, defined by ideals of beauty and ugliness, were already there, fascism brought them to the surface and politicised them. The German Aryan and the Italian New Fascist Man had their socially acceptable counterparts in the Clean-cut Englishman and the All-American Boy, and many of the tropes of the counter-types lingered after the war. Popular notions of beauty will always be present, but under progressive society they are challenged by ethical consideration, whereas populism exploits them, they become weaponised. Unfortunately, today we can draw small similarities in those political situations and current ones. Behind the increase in populist nationalism is a disavowal of contemporary progressive values which challenge people to change. An increasingly individualised social and cultural environment has created an estranged population again searching for a source of identity. For those whose beauty standards are aligned with an ideal of national heritage, nationalism proffers an assurance of identity through the assurance of recognisable, traditional values. This brand of ideology is exactly what we see offered by the popular architectural twitter accounts European Beauty and Architectural Revival, as documented by Sarah Manavis in her 2017 article for the New Statesman. Although no overt racism is found in these accounts own tweets, it is rife in their following. European Beauty’s neglecting to include non-white European contributions amongst its cultural history and its endorsing the use of the swastika in contemporary is also worrying, as is Architectural Revival’s following of the TraditonalBritain account, who only today tweeted out in protest against the representation of multi-cultural relationships in Christmas advertising. Unfortunately for those who simply appreciate the vibrant cultural history, these accounts are magnets for alt-right activists.
and investigate the lack of community and architect influence in most new developments. The wheeling-out of the polarising and technically unqualified Scruton has restarted the ‘style wars’, diverting the conversation away from the intended concerns whilst simultaneously creating a populist narrative which plays into the nationalistic sentiment that we have seen expressed in the replies to the tweets of Architectural Revival and European Beauty. Again, architectural traditionalism itself is not the enemy, people should have the right to build or buy homes in whichever style they enjoy. The issue arises in the championing of historicism as the only true beauty, particularly by a man who, not only enjoys the architecture of the 18th century, but also finds his morality there as well. He is quoted as saying there is “no such crime” as date rape, that sexual harassment “just means sexual advances made by the unattractive”, and that “although homosexuality has been normalised, it is not normal”. Aside from these statements being morally abhorrent, they provide a rallying-post for people who agree with the sentiment, and allow architecture to become a vehicle for expressing them. Giving a person like this a position of power legitimises the points of view expressed by him and endorses an understanding of aesthetics which is exclusive to his immediate culture and narrow understanding of the world. In the Brexit referendum aftermath we saw a 5-year peak in hate-crime, shown by figures from Home Office. This data shows us that racists and bigots will take anything they can as an opportunity to justify their views, and that even as a minority amongst mostly good people, their impact will be felt. Having previously thought that the architectural community was slightly detached from current divisive politics I now worry that it will increasingly become a passive apparatus of propaganda. Allowing traditional architecture to be a euphemistic tool for far-right nationalists is a mistake that we could come to regret.
Distraction tactics For some these values easily translate into a limp historicism as championed by Scruton and his kin. However, this rigid stylistic ideal was not the original aim of the government. The commission, although suspiciously named, was originally set up to with the bold but genuine intentions of solving the housing crisis. It was supposed to ask questions of the generally poor design quality of new housing
Ugliness in the Streets; Exploration of Moral Ugliness Marie Le Rouzic
Is there a universal ugliness? After researching the ways ugliness manifests itself in our built environments for the past few month, I came to wonder if there was an absolute and objective ugliness, independent to time, region or personal taste. When studying ugliness through the scope of aesthetics, one is limited by subjective opinions. As taste changes from person to person and trends shifts depending on the historic and geographical context, is it possible to find an ugliness that transcends the limitations of aesthetics? I found that architecture can, not only be ugly aesthetically, but also morally. Moral ugliness has the potential to make a design ugly for everyone that comes across it. The absolute rule of ugliness would be one that doesn’t depend on aesthetics. I chose to explore this branch of ugliness through the example of hostile architecture, which aim is to exclude and dislocate certain groups of people from an area within the public realm. Hostile or defensive architecture is not only morally ugly for the targeted population that is being cast away but also for any individual capable of empathy. Identifying this is possible for everyone, it just requires people to try and see the world outside of their own perspective and open up to
other people’s’ narratives. Once we have identified that ugliness, present in our everyday life, what can we do to solve it? What would be the next step for architects and designers to create a world that is more empathic and more human centred? Pushing the ugliness away Humanity is used to closing its eyes on ugliness and trying to either ignore it or reject it. In his book On Ugliness (2011), Umberto Eco writes that people have a tendency to reject the ugly. We are trying to push away what we don’t want to see because we are afraid that the ugliness might contaminate us. There is an underlying belief in people’s mind that ugliness is like a disease that could spread. As it gets closer and closer to them, their safety and integrity would be threaten. One can also wonder if the reason people are trying to distance themselves from ugliness is because it is a reflection of the world we don’t want to see. People are trying to preserve an intact version of the world that suits them and thus are choosing to ignore the ugliness present in our society. Edwin Heathcote writes in Financial Time that, especially in our contemporary societies, the fear of terror is transforming the urban
fabric, pushing “architects and developers to build paranoid security into their structures”. (2015) One can wonder what it means for a city today to be a fortress, trying to protect itself from any threat. What protective measures are put in place in a time where it has become impossible to control the flux and movements of people? People from different socio-economical backgrounds are crossing paths and constantly mixing. However the development of an exclusionary design strategy is noticeable: hostile design. Cara Chellew describes hostile or defensive design as “a type of persuasive design used to guide behaviour in urban space by designing out specific uses of street furniture or the built environment as a form of crime preventing or protection of property.” (n.d) It comes from the design philosophy Crime prevention through environmental design, developed by Oscar Newman in 1973. This philosophy is based on the idea that the public space can be designed as a way to prevent crime and even avoid the perception of crimes in the public realm. (Chellew n.d) Exclusionary design has since become part of our daily lives, usually invisible to the common users and people that are not being targeted. We should note that hostile design is not to be confused with culturally hostile environments or places where soft policies or laws are preventing people from performing certain actions. (de Fine Licht 2017) Hostile architecture is a modification of the urban fabric aiming to dislocate certain targeted groups from a specific area. Examples include benches with armrests making it impossible to lie down, sheltered areas covered in spikes, bollards and fences preventing the access to certain places, or security technology keeping an eye on the city. To a passer-by these objects and structures are meant to seem innocuous, hiding amid the existing aesthetic of the building they defend. These defensive elements are often targeting the most vulnerable and people who rely on the free use of public space such as homeless or under-housed people, people with mental health issues, with disabilities, substance users, seniors, etc. By excluding groups of people from using certain part of the city, the decision makers behind this defensive design are implicitly deepening the societal differences within our society by excluding and pushing away marginalised populations. As an aggressive tactic, hostile architecture works to reinforce existing spatial and socio-economical boundaries in the public realm. (Hilmy & Rivera-Figueroa 2015) Kant warned
us that we are trying to exclude those who are creating sympathetic feelings in us. The fear of our sympathetic feelings is pushing us to avoid places where marginalised people are in need of help. He writes that instead of avoiding these places, we should seek them out. (1785) Indeed I believe that as citizens, we have certain responsibilities and duties to our fellow human beings. Right to the public space I believe that we have a duty to treat people with respect, and that duty cannot be fulfilled if we use hostile measures to exclude. Kant describes respect as perceiving people not as instruments or objects but people who can be reasoned with. (1785) Defensive architecture being put in place without discussing it with the concerned people first is like treating them as not worthy of an opinion on the situation. However, the counter argument to this would be that although we, as citizens, have a duty not to shun away the less fortunate, we do not have a duty to allow them to be everywhere. For example, very few people would agree to let homeless people into their homes. Karl de Fine Licht agrees that “we should be able to prioritise how we help people in need.” (2017) From Kant’s point of view, it is not problematic to put obstacles in front of one’s home or one’s shop to avoid unwanted people from interfering with their private life or business. But the strong arguments remains that everyone has a right to public space and thus, defensive measures are a violation of that right and are thus morally wrong. (de Fine Licht 2017) Indeed, defensive architecture denies that right of being part of the public, as certain group are not welcome, not part of the public life. A problem with the rights-based argument, that all individuals have an absolute right to use the public space, arises when the public space includes privately own areas. Libertarianism dictates that individuals have an absolute and natural right to their body and property, “as long as the people do not violate the rights of others, they are allowed to make their own choices, irrespective of the consequences.” (Narveson 2001) In that case, if defensive design occurs on a private property, if we assume the property was obtained in a just way, then defensive architecture does not violate any rights since we are allowed to do what we please with our private property. With the increase in privatisation of the public space, the argument that everyone has an equal right to all public space
becomes more and more controversial. Another complication with the argument is that one does not violate people’s natural and absolute rights by not helping everyone equally. If we have some right to the public space it is not absolute, it is prima facie and must be weighed against other people’s rights; such as the right for people to have control over the areas in which they live and feel safe. (de Fine Licht 2017) But just because individuals do not have absolute right over the public realm, does not mean that every limitation of access is just. Some limitations could be unfair if they are not reasonably sensitive to everyone’s needs. That is why when implementing hostile design features in the public space, they should be conceived with respect and the consequences on the targeted population as well as on the general community. Collective experience Indeed when degrading the quality of the public realm, it is lowering the targeted group’s quality of life but also has an impact on anyone’s civic life. Defensive design not only has a negative impact on the social groups it is trying to exclude but also doesn’t necessarily bring a positive outcome to anyone. The collective experience of the citizens as a whole should be considered and treated with equal respect. By denying access to public areas, defensive design questions who forms a part of the public. Isn’t a homeless person also part of the public? Hostile architecture is shining a light on the close relationship between design and the public life. Indeed as “design is a mirror to society”, (Long for Bevan 2014) defensive design is amplifying discriminative behaviours by increasing separation within communities. Public spaces are conceived as support for collective common life, however hostile design is promoting the fortification of our neighbourhoods and our cities. As it allows for isolation, hostile design doesn’t achieve its goal of making us feel safer but makes life a little bit uglier for all of us. The city landscape becomes less diverse which is a downside for everyone. The psychological effect of hostile design, in addition to being particularly bad for the worst-off, has a negative effect on most people’s well-being. (de Fine Licht 2017) The inhabitants of a city, as a whole, are being attacked as our environment and its qualities are intimately link with people’s welfare.
Care and sense of place This research is allowing us to explore how people relate to space in the built environment, and understanding the potential for an emphasis on the user and the occupation of space in a context specific manner. The exhibition Ways to be public, held at the V&A in 2015 curated by Rory Hyde, started from the assumption that the public space is in crisis and that our “traditional attachment to the public square, the community green, or common land has been eroded.” (Taylor-Foster 2015) Hyde proposed the theory that modern technology has shifted our priority from specific places or communities to the different networks that we build independent of that. Meaning that nowadays more attention is given to flux and exchanges happening in our living areas, rather than the qualities of the physical places themselves. People care less about the appropriation of space and the capacity of relating and connecting to a geographical context. In this argument, hostile design would not be as malicious as it appears, as people would feel attachment to their public space.On the contrary, James Kunstler stated in his TED talk in 2004 that creating places that are worth caring for and being careful and mindful of the public users space is a priority for contemporary practices. He affirms that in order to design places that people care about, architects should focus on creating a sense of place, that is to say, creating meaningful spatial experiences of quality and character. He incites designers to promote a sense of belonging, for everyone, independent of socio-economic background, or race, or gender, etc. He thinks that a good public space should inform us not only where we are geographically, but where we are in our culture, and who we are as communities. Spaces should inform us on what we were before, where we come from, allowing us to build a hopeful present based on the layers of the past. They should also give us a glimpse of what needs to be and where humanity is going. (2004) I also believe that architects should strive to shape the public realm to be integral and meaningful. Limits of the argument However, some difficulties stand in the way of achieving the creation of a truly inclusive public realm. The socio-economical hierarchy in our communities is reflected in the hierarchy of our built environment. The people who can use their space how they see fit, landlords or developers
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for example, are the ones who were able to mould them, or had them moulded, imposing their image on those who can only afford spaces that have not been produced exclusively for them by people assuming their needs and criteria and values. (Ripoll & Veschambre 2005) Space is used as a weapon in the power struggle characteristic of different societal challenges, whether political, economical or cultural. Our living spaces are inevitably markers of our positions within the hierarchy of our society. So because of the land ownership distribution, the power over our spaces isn’t equal as it depends on one’s socioeconomic position, in this case the shape of the public space, as well as its access will always be controlled by the decision makers. Others might also argue that entire minorities are not being targeted by the simple modification of a particular area. One can argue that some defensive measures aim to prevent specific behaviours in specific locations, not discriminate against entire groups. Even though certain actions are visibly targeting specific groups. Following this line of thought de Fine Licht is proposing that defensive architecture may not always be malicious, “it may be intended that all groups are treated with respect.” (2017) He also argues that the influence of defensive design is limited to small areas in the city, and thus the potential harm is limited. As hostile design makes certain behaviours impossible in certain places, people can still practice those behaviours elsewhere in the city even if they are prohibited from doing it on that particular spot. (de Fine Licht 2017) Also, the safety aspect is to be considered. One of the aims of hostile architecture is to render the public realm safer. However I believe that trying to control people’s behaviours is not going to result in more safety. We cannot completely prohibit someone to do something in the public space. The forbidden activity will only be pursued elsewhere. And sometimes the elsewhere is a place in worst conditions, presenting more risks for the concerned individuals resulting in an increase in risky behaviours and unsafe environments. Finally one last difficulty is that it is impossible for anyone to control entire cities’ aesthetics, as the city and development of a city depends on so many different actors and social interactions that can’t be planned. But I still believe that there is a way to design context specific human spaces to improve situations, even on a small scale.
Meaningful and inclusive spaces I believe that architects should strive to build more conscious, inclusive and human centred architecture. Instead of creating designs that try to push away, forget or separate us from what we don’t want to see, we should try to accommodate and respond to the specific needs of communities. As every individual is different, decision makers shouldn’t see all citizens has a monolithic element but try to be more precise and accommodating towards everyone. Chellew agrees that the priority is in enabling social gathering in active public spaces by allowing a dialogue with people underrepresented in our current public consultation processes. (2018) The aim is to ensure that everyone, including the most marginalised community members have a voice in the design process. Indeed, in order to design and plan a truly inclusive and diverse city, we must not shy away from the ugliness in our streets, as we are just displacing the problem instead of confronting and solving it. I believe that turning to a more empathic design could help us focus on real everyday life experiences and on individual desires, moods and emotions. Empathic design would allow designers to turn the human experiences and emotions into inspiration. The empathic design approach was first founded on talking to people and interacting with them, “it was part of a larger movement toward context-sensitive design.” (Mattelmäki, Vaajakallio, Koskinen 2014) I think that sensitivity is key in this approach. Designers should not only be sensitive toward humans by listening to their experiences and stories, but also sensitive toward collaboration as the decision process should be a group effort bringing communities, organisations, designers and decision makers together. Hostile architecture is the perfect example to illustrate a kind of ugliness that goes beyond aesthetics and touch on moral values and ethics. I think that exclusionary design in the public realm is deepening the gap between communities and increasing isolation. I strongly believe that contextual understanding and personal engagement will allow architects to design inclusive spaces that make sense in specific socio-economical, political and geographical contexts, thanks to dialogue and exchanges with the communities.
References Agerman Ross, Johanna. “Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A”, [online] Disegno, 2014. Available at: https://www.disegnodaily. com/article/rapid-response-collecting-at-the-v-a [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018]. Bevan, Robert. “Disobedient Objects, V&A - exhibition review”, [online] Evening Standard, 2014. Available at: https://www.standard. co.uk/go/london/exhibitions/disobedient-objects-vaexhibitionreview-9624815.html [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018]. Castle, Helen. “Empathic Space: The Computation of Human-Centric Architecture”, AD - Architecture Design, no. 231, p. 5, 2014. Chellew, Cara. “Design Paranoia”, York University, 2016. Chellew, Cara. “Documenting the use of defensive urban design in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.”, [online] #defensiveTO, n.d. Available at: https://www.defensiveto.com/about [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018]. Cousins, Mark. “The Ugly”, AA Files, Vol. 28 pp. 61-64 (Autumn 1994), Vol. 28 pp. 3-6 (Summer 1995), Vol. 30 pp. 65-68 (Autumn 1995). de Fine Licht, Karl. “Hostile urban architecture: A critical discussion of the seemingly offensive art of keeping people away”, Uppsala University, 2017. Eco, Umberto. On Ugliness, (London: MacLehose Press), 2011. Heathcote, Edwin. “All of This Belongs to You, V&A, London - review”, [online] Financial Times, 2015. Available at: https://www.ft.com/ content/1691c77e-d88a-11e4-ba53-00144feab7de [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018]. Hilmy, Yousef and Rivera-Figueroa, Marcelo. “Studs, Spikes, and Sprinklers”, [online] The College Hill Independent, 2015. Available at: https://www.theindy.org/708 [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018]. Kant, Immanuel. The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, (T. & T. Clark), 1785. Kunstler, James. “The ghastly tragedy of the suburbs” [video], TED, 2004. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_suburbia/transcript?language=en#t-6906 [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018]. Mattelmäki, Tuuli and Vaajakallio, Kirsikka and Koskinen, Ilpo. “What Happened to Empathic Design?”, Design Issues, no. 30, pp. 67-77, 2014. Narveson, Jan. The Libertarian idea, (Broadview Press), 2001. Ripoll, Fabrice and Veschambre, Vincent. “L’appropriation de l’espace comme problématique”, 2005. Taylor-Foster, James. “Review: ‘All Of This Belongs To You’ - Civic Urbanism At London’s Victoria & Albert Museum”, [online] ArchDaily, 2015. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/615010/all-of-thisbelongs-to-you [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018].
Pretty Ugly Frithiof Engzell Waldén
Western aesthetic theory tends to think of ugliness as the inversion or absence of beauty. And beauty, in turn, is defined in terms of perfection and harmony. It often draws from the theory of Forms (attributed to, but arguably not proponed by, Plato) according to which every category of thing has a perfect immaterial form of which all the actual things are more or less flawed approximations. The classical Greek noun for beauty is kallos, which also refers to goodness in a more general sense. Aristotle, in distinguishing aesthetic beauty from moral good, claims that ”The Chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness”.1 When later Vitruvius posits beauty as one of the three fundamental properties of good architecture, he defines it in terms of symmetry and proportion2 in an explicitly mathematical sense. The first systematic definition of ugliness as an aesthetic category of its own (i.e. not merely as an implicit anti-definition in discussions of beauty) was probably Karl Rosenkranz’ Aesthetic of Ugliness, in which he defines ugly as amorphousness, asymmetry, and disharmony.3 A more contemporary text on the subject – Jela Krecic’s and Slavoj Zizek’s Ugly, Creepy, Disgusting, and Other Modes of Abjection – defines ugliness
in terms of disrupted bodily integrity. The essence of disgusting ugliness, they claim, is that which ”threatens the stability of our corporeity”. ”Disgust arises when the border that separates the inside of our body from its outside is violated”.4 The running theme is clear. Beautiful is that which is perfect and whole. Ugly is that which is flawed and disfigured. I glance over from the philosophical treatise to the open sketchbook on the table beside me. There’s a drawing of a body. It could be described as mutilated, though the shading of the ”flesh” suggests something like driftwood rather than actual gore. Still, it’s asymmetrical, disharmonious, amorphous, disproportional, and its inside-outside border has been most decisively violated. But the drawing is not intended to shock or disgust. It isn’t even meant to reevaluate, to cast something seemingly abject in a new light. It is nothing but an earnest attempt to make beauty. I put the pen to paper and created those shapes simply because I found them to be beautiful. How to explain this discrepancy? Maybe It’s just that I’m nuts. That my personal taste is deviant and therefore irrelevant to any general notions of beauty and ugliness. But the visual impressions I’ve attempted to evoke are
not too dissimilar from others commonly accepted as beautiful. The aestheticized decay of industrial and shabby chic design, the decadent curves of art nouveau, the castle ruins and contorted trees that classical romanticists admired. And in the philosophical treatises, the lines are blurred by concepts such as the sublime, the interesting, and the beautiful artistic portrayal of ugly objects. And shifting attention away for a moment from the western tradition, there is the Japanese notion of beauty – wabi-sabi – which is based around embracing transience and imperfection. Really, one of the main things this semester of ugly has taught me is how fluid our aesthetic judgments really are. They’re an interplay of elusive properties on different levels recognized with varying emphasis by our similarly murky human minds. Our perception of an object can radically shift when we stop to observe it, when we think about it, when we view it in context, or out of it. What initially registered as ugly might turn cute, funny, humble, honest, or poignant. What we at first perceive as beautiful we may moments later consider indulgent, kitsch, or pathetic. I don’t mean to imply that it’s arbitrary and meaningless. It’s not. I believe these are worthwhile and interesting notions to discuss, and there are genuine insights to be had. I just think it’s too complex for any single model to tell the whole truth. We can, and should, talk about our notions of beauty and ugliness. But we should also be aware that we’re probably always at least partially wrong.What, then, does this mean in practice? As architects (or in a broader sense, as designers of aesthetic experiences), it might inspire us to reevaluate some of our instincts. The qualities we construe as bold and novel might be perceived as oppressive. What we design to be slick, other might see as soulless. What we assume to be timeless and harmonious could just as well be experienced as regressive, exclusionary, or false. We can’t please everyone (and perhaps we shouldn’t strive to), but we ought to recognize that as creators and as members of the subculture of architects, we view our work through a different lens than most, and we ought to humbly reflection how that affects our judgment. Conversely, as inhabitants of the (built) environment, we might use this insight to broaden our personal enjoyment of the world. To make ourselves susceptible to other modes of beauty. I’ve found that almost anything can offer something of aesthetic value as long as you put yourself in the state to perceive it. Waiting
for the bus on a rainy day, you might find that the red of an advertisement contrasts elegantly with the ashen sky. Staring at the misaligned plastic sockets in a waiting room, you might discover in their relative positions a poetic tension like that of a traditional japanese painting. Walking through a dilapidated industrial district, you might recognize in the buckled metal sheets the same elegant folds you’d admire in a dress by Coco Chanel. Notes 1. Aristotle. Metaphysics, book XIII. Translator: W. D. Ross. Internet Classics Archive eBook 2. Vitruvius. On Architecture. Translator: B. Thayer. LacusCurtius eBook 3. Karl Rosenkranz. Aesthetic of Ugliness. Translator: S. Haubner. As published in Log, no.22, pp.101-111 (2011) 4. Critical Inquiry 43, no.1, p.64 (2016)
Ugly Is Not Always Bad Simone Collinetti
Ugly is bad, isn’t it? We are usually shyly afraid to give our opinion on something we consider to be ugly. To judge or to be judged: that is the shy fear. Dealing with this argument day by day helps you losing this fear and getting used to the subject. A subject that cannot be avoided, especially in this globalised world where everyone has a possible access to the entire knowledge (is it the Internet’s good face or evil face? who knows...) A shy fear can easily fade into an angry discussion, the whole world goes on because actions are motivated by debates, either positive or negative. But is the discussion on ugly a positive way of acting? Does it lead to something better? Are we ready to change our mind and smother our instincts? What ugly is, maybe just stands on the surface, perhaps it is just lying down on a very thin layer that covers everything. Maybe this layer is just a fake mask, what if we go straight to the inner meaning of things? What if we remove a fake facade and we just look at the structure? Does it turn into something true? Then, is truth stronger than aesthetic judgements? Can you turn “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” into “ugly is in the eye of the beholder”? I believe in objective beauty, I want to believe
that no-one dislikes the sunset, or the heart’s icon: they are beautiful because they are what they are. Whereas I would accept if anyone would classify the Trump Tower in Las Vegas as beautiful because of its shiny surface, and the Pantheon as ugly because of its undecorated dome. We have been given the Ten Commandments, you are not allowed to “break the law” otherwise you become an outlaw. But, what happens with ugliness? Do we have a list of objective aesthetically ugly things? Depending on your eyes, depending on your story, your background, your culture, you can have different positions on aesthetics. And here comes the turning point. With different opinion comes different discussion; discussion can be translated into confrontation; confrontation is like two sticks rubbed together. And hopefully we get a friction. Fire comes. I think the turning point stands in talking and listening. If we are willing to hear and understand the other, the different, then we can move from critical to sympathetic. This can sound like, in a way, a ‘functionalist’ position. But of course it would help avoiding useless fights. Discussion is good, fight is not. Meeting is the answer. Just because one thing is ugly, it doesn’t make it a bad thing.
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Ugly Layers Jennifer Kananke Hewage
I have always thought of ugliness and beauty as simply something defined by taste,and since taste varies so much from person to person, what is considered to be ugly or beautiful is highly individual and therefore something that is very subjective.It is not that I have recently discovered that this is not true, it is just that I feel as if I have reached a deeper understanding of what can impact a person defining something as ugly or beautiful. Besides taste there seems to be many different other things that can play an important role of shaping youropinion and making you value something as ugly or beautiful. This means that there can be many reasons why something is ugly and it is this why that is so interesting. You could see it this way, that everyone looks at something through their own filter and that the filter has been created through different processes and are a consequence of different things. So in order to understand why something is defined ugly you have to break down the ugliness into fragments and look at these fragments individually. You could call these fragments layers. Layers that have been stacked onto each other and together result in something being defined ugly by a person. So why something
is ugly has to do with what layers are applied to the specific situation, which creates your personal filter. So the filter is a result of different layers being put together, unconsciously, and the definition ugly or beautiful you could say is the result of this process. There are different types of ugliness. Ugliness can be a feeling that strikes you the moment you see something. It has nothing to do with logics or knowledge, it cannot be controlled, it just hits you. This type of ugliness can have very much to do with the aesthetics: for instance shape, colour, material, asymmetry and the totality. It is your first impression, the instant feeling that hits you before there is any time to analyse or intellectualize anything. It is your layer of association and expectations that makeup the filter in this situation. For instance, if you walk in a neighbourhood with a special kind of typology and suddenly you see a building very different in colour, shape and material, this building might strike you as ugly the second you see it because it stands out and does not fit into the context, it is not what you expected. The colour, material and shape it has may be something you think is ugly because you associate it with a building somewhere else that you did not really like.There is also the kind of ugliness
that grows, that appears after a while. It can start with you thinking what you see is beautiful and after a more careful look you change your opinion. Maybe the totality looks beautiful but the detailing is ugly. Sometimes it can even be the other way around, something can appear to be ugly because of the totality but then when you look at it closer and pay attention to the details you realise it is not that ugly after all, you might even change your mind and think it is beautiful. This type of ugliness
is more connected to the intellectual and analytical part of you and in some situations connected to knowledge. For instance, just because you know the building is made out of cheap materials, that it had had many technical problems and that those who use the building hate is, you might think it is ugly even though it looks good. So here it is the layer of the equality and someone elseâ€™s experience that influence your opinion.
Ugliness and Communication Mattias Månsson
Beauty and ugliness arenotions we use every day. However, do we really know why we consider something ugly? That is the question I’ve been asking myself during this semester. I’ve aimed to dig deeper to the mechanisms that makes me consider something ugly. It is clear to me that ugliness is a symptom of the relationship between the object and the viewer. At the start of this project we began by choosing and analyzing a room that we thought was ugly. When writing about why I choose the room as well as trying to pin down what I consider ugly in general I focused on the communicative aspects of a design; what is the idea being communicated through the design and how well it is being communicated. The communicative aspect relies on the relationship between the subject (the viewer/user) and the object (the design/architecture). I think this communication could be experienced with all the senses not only visually. The communicative aspect could also be experienced through using the object functionally. When I described ugliness, I tended to use phrases as “too much”, “confused”, “inconsistent” and “sloppy”. These phrases could all be translated into meaning something being unclear, messy and hard to understand. When the final
form/representation of the idea can be described by any of these words it makes it hard to understand the actual idea or message behind the design. In other words, it is a matter of bad communication. When the link between the underlying idea and the result is broken, the design becomes ugly.This is a matter of failed expectations you could say.Architecture that follows the idea of that an idea or concept should be clearly manifested in its final representation is described in the book “Learning from Las Vegas” (Denise Scott-Brown and Robert Venturi) as “the duck”. It could be described as the building itself being the symbol instead of attaching symbols to a building to explain it. Venturi and Scott-Brown means that “the duck” is depending on its physiognomic qualities rather than the symbolic values of the building. I think a design that can speak for itself without having to be explained through additional mediums have a way of communicating to something deep within us. I think you lose this dimension when you must explain the work through another medium. When the design doesn’t speak for itself it is also easier to misunderstand and misinterpret. With this said, a design must not be super practical and attend to the saying “form follows function”
into the extreme to be considered beautiful. The idea behind the design can be that I should be open to interpretation or to different meanings. In these cases, however that should be communicated through the final representation.A bad executed, badly communicating, design can also suggest a doubt and disrespect towards the idea itself, as if the idea and concept was not worth more effort. This, I think, can be caused by the creatorâ€™s own disbelief in their capability of implementing the idea rather than a lack of actual competence. It could also be external factors, such as a tight budget, that make the creator compromise, alter or stress about the idea, which in turn can result in ugliness. Maybe the result could have been something fantastic if the idea got enough time to mature.
An Uglier Reading List
— Atwood, Andrew, Not Interesting: On the Limits of Criticism ovn Architecture (Oro ; ar+d, 2018) — Bayley, Stephen, Ugly: the Aesthetics of Everything, (New York: Overlook Press), 2013 — Beech, Dave (ed), Beauty, (London: Whitechapel Art Gallery: 2009) — Beech, Dave, On the Counter Promise of Ugliness, Art Monthly (vol 344, March 2011), pp 5–8 — Bourdieu, Pierre, A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984) — Botton, Alain de, Ideals in The architecture of happiness, (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2006) — Colomina, Beatriz, Brutalism and War, in Brutalism, contributions to the international symposium in Berlin 2012, ed. Wüstenrot Foundation, (Zürich: Park Books, 2017), pp 19–29 — Coudenys, Hannes, Outrage: Ugly or Boring?, Architectural Review (September 2018) — Cousins, Mark, Ugly: Part 1, AA Files, No. 28 (1994), pp 61–64 — Cousins, Mark, Ugly: Part 2, AA Files, No. 29 (1995), pp 3–6 — Cousins, Mark, Ugly: Part 3, AA Files, No. 30 (1995), pp 65–68 — Eco, Umberto, On Ugliness, (New York: Rizzoli), 2011 — Eileraas, Karina, Witches, Bitches & Fluids: Girl Bands Performing Ugliness as Resistance, (TDR, Vol 41, No. 3, The MIT Press, 1997), pp 122–139 — Gigante Denise, Facing the Ugly: The Case of “Frankenstein”, (ELH, Vol. 67 No. 2 , The John Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp 565–587 — Henderson, Gretchen E., Ugliness: a Cultural History, (London: Reaktion Books), 2015 — Hyde, Timothy, Piles, Puddles, and Other Architectural Irritants (Log, No. 27, 2013), pp 67–79 — Krecic, Jela and Žižek, Slavoj, Ugly, Creepy, Disgusting, and Other Modes of Abjection, Critical Inquiry 43, no. 1 ( 2016), 60–83 — Lorand, Ruth, Beauty and Its Opposites, (The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, No. 4, 1994), pp 399-406 — Lorand, Ruth, Aesthetic Order: A Philosophy of Order, Beauty and Art, (Routledge), 2000 — Macarthur, John, The Butcher’s shop: Disgust in Picturesque Aesthetics and Architecture, (Assemblage, No. 30, MIT Press, 1996), pp 32–43 — Meades, Jonathan, Impure Substance, Architectural Review, (September 2018) — Muelder Eaton, Marcia, Beauty and Ugliness In and Out of Context in Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art, ed. Matthew Kieran (Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2006), pp 39–50 — Nesbitt, Kate, The Sublime and Modern Architecture: Unmasking (An Aesthetic of) Abstraction, New Literary History Vol. 26, No. 1, (Winter, 1995), pp 95–110 — Nickas, Robert, Lily van der Stokke. We Have Gotten Through Difﬁcult Times, or Female Trouble: Brightening the Corners Since 1990. (Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, Issue 4, 2001 MIT Press), pp 6-11 — O’Donnell, Caroline, Fugly, Log, No. 22, The Absurd (2011), 90–100 — Pop, Andrei, and Widrich, Mechtild (eds), Ugliness: The Non-Beautiful in Art and Theory, (New York: I.B.Tauris, 2015) — Rosenkranz, Karl, Aesthetic of Ugliness Log, No. 22, The Absurd (2011), 101–111 — Scott Brown, Denise, and Venturi, Robert, Learning From Las Vegas, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press: 1972, repr. 2017) — Scruton, Roger, Beauty, (Oxford ; Oxford University Press, 2009) — Till, Jeremy, Architecture Depends, (London: The MIT Press, 2013) — Zumthor, Peter, Does Beauty Have a Form in Thinking architecture (Basel: Birkhäuser 2005)
About this Publication
This is a the result of 14 weeks in the autumn of 2018, at the School of architecture, KTH, Stockholm.
Teachers: Claes Sörstedt, Malin Åberg-Wennerholm, Christina Pech Students: Axel Burvall Terán Borjan Aleksov Ella Peterson-Berger Francisco Leão de Campos Andrade Frithiof Engzell Waldén Jennifer Kananke-Hewage Marie Le Rouzic Mattias Månsson Oliver Cassidy Simone Collinetti
[ABT] [BA] [EPB] [FL] [FEW] [JKH] [MLR] [MM] [CC] [SC]
This is Mk 1, printed in 50 copies in December, Stockholm, 2018.
This is the third publication in a series from Studio 11 at the School of Architecture, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. December 2018.
An investigation of architecture considered as ugly. Studio 11, year 4-5, 2018. Teachers: Malin Åberg-Wennerholm and Claes Sörstedt.