Pretty Ugly

While going through stacks of papers in a friend’s room, I found an article from Architecture Boston entitled Pretty Ugly, a roundtable discussion between architects, art curators and educators on the concept of ugliness, included in AB’s 2006 “Ugly” issue. Two quotes about the variable roles of dissonance & ugliness in Architecture and other art stood out: for one, Architecture is both restrained in how confrontational it can be (due to the time, money and publicity involved), and also the need to utilize a space regardless of its appearance can push concerns of ugliness out of the forefront of people’s minds:

The artist as renegade, especially as renegade genius, is an enduring image in Western art. […] But renegade architecture is somewhat different; for one thing, a building quickly outlives the moment when it’s so confrontational. ~ Robert Campbell, Architecture Critic, Boston Globe

Second, the deliberate pursuit of ugliness can be used to “fast fail” out of unproductive design decisions: Once you have defined a territory which you consider to be unproductive, it is easier to identify whether an idea extends into that territory, and to subsequently abort that train of thought:

I’ve heard that Lebbeus Woods … asked his Harvard students to design something ugly, something undesirable, the idea being that through examining what you wouldn’t want, you eliminate a series of bad decisions and arrive at something more desirable. I don’t think students today aim for ugliness. They aim for the grotesque, meaning exaggeration or distortion of form. ~ Hansy Better, principal of Studio Luz Architects, and member of RISD, BAC and MIT architecture faculty

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