I feel pretty

December 4th 2012 Comments: 28 Topics: , ,

Ask most contemporary architects what they think of decoration in architecture and you’re apt to elicit a diatribe of snobbery.
As a matter of fact, the ornate branches of architecture are sometimes treated like a flamboyant uncle at the family reunion: fun to look at it for a bit but not to claim or take seriously. I think, however, that decoration and ornament have a distinct place in the building arts. After all, Architecture’s inspired roots have always been planted in the soils of the natural world. Even the staid classical orders and designs of the Greek and Romans were hymns mused of nature. One need only look around the garden, forest or ocean and know that Mother Nature is hardly a Shaker – she seems to shamelessly revel in the Baroque.

A true piece of Architecture that lacks some type of whimsical beauty is like a room without accessories: coldly bare and lacking something for the eye to caress;  these rooms look unused. Similarly, buildings void of even the smallest decorative gesture lack a generous and habitable sensibility. Rooms without accessories look uninhabited and buildings without some sense of decoration look uninhabitable. I dare to mention the word “pretty” in terms of discussing architecture because “pretty” is seen as the F-word of architecture. But I’m complimented when one (of our houses or rooms) is pronounced as pretty; that means the eye of the describer has found something within which pleases the heart.


  1. David Braly says:

    A fine reminder on decoration and ornament. My own “sparse” thinking was challenged and revised in a graduate school discussion on the word decoration–meaning to signify and honor. Whimsical or not, the last point is truly appropriate in how you honor the buildings you design.

  2. Tyler Murphy says:

    There has to be some sort of ornamentation. If your only goal is function, then you ignoring at least half of what is great about being human. Namely, a love affair with emotional beauty and an innate interest in exploring. A purely functional building or room appears static and uninteresting. Why agree to live or work or vacation in something so boring?

    With rooms especially, I hate walking through someone’s house to see every room save for a couple in perfect order with various kinds of bad art and accessories attempting to gussy up their exteriors. As my mother would say, those rooms ‘don’t look lived in’. Which is true, because why go to all of that trouble of throw pillows, landscapes, and absolute order to mess up with every day use?

    I am in no way familiar with the field or study of architecture, but I have to imagine that, pretty or not, there is a need to appeal to others. A need to have your work validated as something that isn’t static, that does look useful and interesting and mysterious. In that regard, you seem absolutely right to me.

  3. Excellent point.

    I’m currently building a large modern residence which will have flush doors, cabinet fronts, and ninety degree angles everywhere. All the public spaces will have no family photos and be only a showcase for art. There will be no baseboard, door casements, nor crown moulding. The plumbing fixture will be all hard angles, and all materials will by synthetic to maintain uniformity.
    In the end they are building a museum to themselves.

    Personally I love contemporary architecture when it is juxtaposed with natural and as well as personal elements.

  4. I work in real estate. What I love and find continually surprising is the basic need people have to make a building, be it a dwelling or an office, unique. Somehow their own. While I do believe that function does determine form, I also feel that the most successful structures are those with some sort of expression, whimsey, style. They are far more tractable and desireable than sterile boxes. Long live deoration and ornament!

  5. Really relevant post. All this talk about sustainable architecture leaves no room for details – ornamental or otherwise.

  6. segmation says:

    Isn’t beauty in the beholders eyes! I think there is beauty in everything. What interesting digital pictures to match your awesome blog, very interesting choice of colors!

  7. Practically everything I see that is architecturally interesting is also old. Modern architecture seems more concerned with making statements than it does in fulfilling the human need to beautify their surroundings. Bland is not a particularly profound architectural statement, it’s merely unimaginative, self-conscious, and (drum roll) cheap. Long Live Pretty!!

  8. Redterrain says:

    As a female, I think it is quite common for us to “make it just so”. I’m also sure there are men whom also enjoy decorating and accentuating their homes. I love functional, minimal, design. There is a love of labour in finding just the right details that appeal to the owner (or potential owners). Beauty is inspiring, to have beauty in our homes keeps our individual desires alive. Though at the end of the day it really is a bit frivalous.

  9. My husband definitely has the artistic eye. He has a blacksmith shop and my kitchen sports a one of a kind hanging from the ceiling pot holder. The switch plate covers in the dining room are hand forged with leaf decorations. He built an accent table of iron work and elm. My children had “hobbit” doors to their rooms and the upstairs hall is a mural of horses and hunting dogs. It is not frivolous – there is nothing carefree about it- hours of work from a special hand and mind.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Your post has added to my internal debate as to what is beautiful in architecture and design having come from a place of castle ruins, forts,sand dunes intermingled with small thatched dwellings dwarfed by the odd great georgian manor that the Lords of the past decided to impose on the landscape. I find that over time as my knowledge and experience grows the stories of the place i grew up in and the places I now see changes and my affections towards them change and develop also.

  11. Red Toenails says:

    I like some whimsy here and there too. I dress like that. You take something rather nice but plain and stick something in that makes it pop.

  12. Mr. Wapojif says:

    “you’re apt to elicit a diatribe of snobbery” – what was that about snobbery? Hah, just joking. Some lovely architecture here. Very appealing. I feel pretty, oh so pretty, and witty and BRIIIGHT!!

  13. Very well said! Thanks!

  14. Wonderful images! I miss work like this, it made the world so much more beautiful. Great post, thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  15. Beautiful pics! I particularly like the last two. Congrats on being FP! 🙂

  16. Thank You! It is such a validation of craft to see an architect speak up for the grace notes in buildings. Love your photos.

  17. I love and trust each single nice things

  18. Wonderful images, thanks for sharing

  19. Vistirna says:

    Reblogged this on Vistirna! and commented:
    Never thought I’d want to reblog… So why this?
    I am sold on the lock…
    But also figured this is about moving. I agree with @douglascdavis: “I always say designers need to move regularly or our arteries get clogged.”
    Also, right on the money about snobbery, diatribe, and every true piece containing a whimsical beauty… (Did I already count three things? Well there’s one more thing: Frenzied Auto CAD drawings or renderings quickly converted in full scale 3D objects parade as buildings too often these days, and to tell you the truth, LACK BEAUTY TOO OFTEN)

  20. jennyyu822 says:

    Reblogged this on jennyxiaoyu and commented:
    2012 is around the corner, but I still can’t find nowhere to place my longliness. Where my home is?

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