Each state’s “ne plus ugly”

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The Apex Building, in Pawtucket, R.I. (YouTube)

Architecture is a form of art. When a city constructs a new building, it should add beauty to its streetscape.

The above quote, unattributed, introduces an article in MSN.com’s Business Insider entitled “The Ugliest Building in Every US State, According to Those Who Live There,” by Leanna Garfield. She asked readers to “name the one architectural eyesore they loathe within their state.”

As is typical in such surveys, and more typical the more scientific they are, all but a handful of readers turned thumbs down on modern architecture. If this were a scientific survey, taking the most disliked buildings from a significant sample of each state’s population, all of the most loathed buildings would be modernist. That was not the case here, where merely 48, arguably 49, of the 52 were modernist. (D.C. was included, and New York was given two ogres, both in New York City.)

The photo atop the online article pegging each state’s ne plus ugly shows the Apex Building, in Pawtucket, R.I. It has not been an Apex cut-rate retailer for at least a couple of decades – for a while it was a state DMV – and is expected to be torn down to make way for a minor-league baseball stadium, though taxpayers are resisting.

Who knows which way that will go. The 52 images offer some predictable eyesores, such as Boston City Hall, with its Brutalist design, and a couple of buildings by Frank Gehry. Michael Graves’s most famous building, in Portland, Ore., was caught in Oregonians’ gimlet eye. Readers were bold enough to acknowledge that even a building by Frank Lloyd Wright (in suburban Louisville, Ky.) can be worthy of brickbats. Nor were they automatically enchanted by round buildings, not even a round state house, arguably traditional, in Santa Fe. But curiously three inarguably trad buildings catch hell – two of the three seem dilapidated; the other is a perfectly lovely water tower that, one might guess, is locally disdained (as a similar structure in Chicago is globally revered) because it is infrastructure, which, as modernism has taught us, doesn’t have to be attractive – as if the modernists believe anything should be attractive.

Well, let that small masochist mini-me in your inner self out of his or her cage for a bit of fresh air, so you can enjoy this exercise in self-flagellation.

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About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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8 Responses to Each state’s “ne plus ugly”

  1. David Andreozzi AIA says:

    I was in the Denver International Airport yesterday, I always love returning. It is a wonderful modern building placed miles and miles from anything. Half of the modern architecture I hate is not because of the design itself, but because of the individual design solution’s disrespect of local culture and the scale of the immediate existing fabric. The Denver International Airport did not have to be based on the Parthenon. It’s beautiful as you approach the structure set alone on the Denver landscape, and it is equally beautiful from within, in my humble opinion.

    When we cite examples of this as bad, we discredit our own argument… sorry,

    Peace

    Like

    • I agree, Dave. The best modern architeccture is that which ruins no existing streetscape. My equivalant to your Denver airport is Dulles, outside of D.C., by Saarinen. But I disagree that criticizing that architecture in any way undermines the case for a classical revival and new traditional architecture.

      Saarinen’s airport may be harmless, but and its goodness is relative. Except for its location, it indulges all the flawed logic that enables other modernist projects, most of which is not out in the middle of nowhere, to trash our world.

      Like

      • David Andreozzi AIA says:

        I think we are saying the same thing. That airport could have been traditional or modern, that is my larger point. We need to pivot our criticisms on modernity that does not compliment its cultural and historical environment.

        To be honest, as an aside, I cant think of many traditional airports or terminals. Most are trying to connect their design ethos to technology and flight. Can you think of one?

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        • Yes, Dave, I think we are on the same page. But I agree with Steven Semes who in his book makes the case, much more diplomatically than I ever could, that placing trad architecture with purposeful lack of sympathy in a mod setting is a valuable concept, because in winning the style war we eventually have to start (to use Andres’s term) taking back territory. But no, to answer your question, I don’t think I can dredge up any examples of a traditional airport.

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  2. Clayton Fulkerson says:

    I always expected to see a human sacrifice being performed atop the Apex building.

    Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    Interesting to see that Hesburgh Library has made it to the list.

    Like

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