What is beauty and what is ugliness?

How daring and audacious are most buildings to stand tall and define their environments for decades to come?

If a bad melody was imposed upon my ears, for instance, I could easily dismiss it by leaving it in its temporary short-lived form. However, when an ugly building rises in my neighborhood, I will have to endure its sight every morning as I walk past it. It becomes like a frozen melody that continuously pokes, and causes eyesores, stealing my senses and emotions just by existing in my everyday presence.

People who build ugly structures are comparable to those who are motivated to eat fast foods rather than vegetables, and that is because they live in a rapid universal culture that values short-term efficiency over long-term effectiveness. In that way, our modern architecture ought to be called “fast buildings” as well.

But what is beauty and what is ugliness anyways?

Ugliness is a negative stimulus that provokes subjective responses that, if ugly enough, can also be communal and shared by the majority. Whereas beauty, also subjective, is a positive inducement that inspires, uplifts, and grants energy, an attribute that people repetitively and sometimes subconsciously seek every day.

There are no means of accurate measurement for ugly matter and beautiful matter. Though, there are social constructs or cultural bubbles that influence personal perception, causing something to be collectively appreciated or despised.

The weight of both beautiful and ugly matter comes from the notion that external energy has a big influence on people, and never fails to capture their moods and amend their attitudes.

In the past, nature used to dominate people. But people slowly began to learn how to take control over nature by grabbing the leash and containing the unfortunate parts that they were able to regulate (extreme weather, hostile animals, etc.). Though, in our modern age, civilization seems to exceedingly dominate its natural surroundings in its architecture.

Architecture used to be much more mindful, slowly interlaced, and meticulously sculpted; incredible monuments of urban figures that posed as pride for the city, its rulers, and its people. Think baroque, renaissance, or classical architecture. Though, slowly with time, more and more glass has been replacing the intricacies that once defined culture. In fact, when mentioning a nice house, many people may visualize a traditional or a pre-second-world-war house.

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St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City (It took 120 years or more to build) - Image by Matthias Mullie

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A “modern” Tower in Calgary, Canada - Image: No attribution required

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The multifaceted interior of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain (It began construction 140 years ago, and is still ongoing) - Image by Ian kelsall

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A “modern” building in Amsterdam, the Netherlands - Image: No attribution required

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The sophistication in the design of Hiroshima Castle (Replica) in Japan - Image: No attribution required

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A “modern” building in Tokyo’s Ginza, Japan - Image: No attribution required

Developers often place a big sum of their money on generic buildings with punched holes in them. After all, the space unit, the product, is their priority. Enter the faceless malls, office boxes with ominous colors, dull hotels with trivial facades, and endless stretches of parking lots, all producing the jungle that we call; the city.

Those kinds of buildings are akin to a person rushing straight to work without passing by a mirror.

Despite having architects and designers graduating more than ever, one turns into reality to find an apparent absence of talent and creativity, dull architecture, and a lack of a consistent identity that is almost offending to the public.

Why are most buildings ugly? Have we become oblivious to the desensitization that is occurring toward meaningful architecture?

Much of today’s architecture business is a business! The person who pays for the built product, unfortunately, is its driving force, and the one who asserts its final conception. It doesn’t matter, for example, if the architect thinks that a protruding terrace should discontinue in the master bedroom for the sake of a more appealing volumetric form. Owners often acquire their ways.

But an architect can also unquestionably be the cause of a bad design. Architectural design can be a selfish act when it is manufactured as an individual piece of art, a personal declaration to the world, or an affirmation to the self. Rarely will one encounter an architect who admits his own faults. Many times, that is disguised by an unconscious expression of the designer’s own character.

Architects and interior designers may also produce designs that are led by bad proportions, or other poor choices regarding particular architectural features, or other misconceptions of the laws of creativity.

Other main reasons for ugly architecture, in addition to the economy and bad design, are government regulations, political agendas, engineering guidelines, and safety codes (fire, earthquakes, and emergency escapes).

The architect’s “mind-blowing” ideas may be gently curtailed by the client’s personal lens (or his wife’s) who may have a different perspective regarding how beauty should be represented. That is something that sort of snatches away the romance that architects frequently feel at a drawing board. The architect, nevertheless, can lend his ears and try to accommodate their client’s desires while adding their own input.

A beautiful item is what nature creates. Natural elements unanimously offer feelings of peace, balance, belonging, and harmony with oneself. An architect’s job, after all, is to produce more objective testimonials of beauty, which resemble nature; visually appealing to most, functioning well, and standing steady.