The Beauty Around Us

Many thanks to my readers for your grace and leniency regarding this newsletter’s absence in May.  Between back-to-back vacation and conference, I was only “working” about 2 weeks during May!  That’s the longest I’ve been away from work since beginning my career after college!

The conference was in Portland (Oregon) … my first time to visit there!  A fun city … VERY different from Birmingham, but alike in many ways also.  One way the people are similar: regardless of where construction is in progress, people are interested and inquisitive, wanting to know what new edifice is about to grace the skyline.

(One way the cities are different: the cranes dotting the Portland skyline are for 12-to-20 story buildings.  Cranes in Birmingham are typically for buildings half that height.  As a more densely developed city, Portland’s higher land values contribute to the development of taller buildings.)

Upon arrival, I explored Portland’s downtown.  Being an architect, I was looking “up” as much as I was looking “around”.  At one point I noticed an older couple ahead of me, perhaps in their seventies, stopped on sidewalk and looking up.  I don’t know if it was curiosity or mischief within me, but I slowed my gait to hear what they said about the obviously contemporary structural steel frame they were pointing at.  I passed them … and as if on cue the woman motioned to the top of the structure and said to the man:

“I think … I think it’s going to have some kind of design to it…!”

I’d like to say I couldn’t keep myself from doubling over with laughter!  I allowed a smile to creep to my lips, and pulled out my cell phone to record the quote before I forgot it.  It was, I’m certain, a once-in-a-lifetime quote!

There are SO many directions I can go with this …

For my friends in Portland … I could say that Portland is absolutely home to buildings with “design”!

For my friends at the American Institute of Architects, who authorized creation of a public awareness campaign called “Look Up!” … I could say “See what happens when people listen to your suggestion!”

For architecture/design critics … I could ask, “Are people so used to mundane or monotonous buildings, they are surprised by ‘design’?”

Ultimately, my thoughts land on something of a manifesto: that “design” is all around us … when we actually “look” at the buildings around us, we can be surprised at the order, or the beauty, or perhaps the challenge that it brings to our surroundings … we can benefit greatly by actually enjoying our surroundings!

Whether they were challenged by the starkness of the structural frame they saw, or enjoyed the prospect of seeing something “new” that sunny May afternoon, I hope the couple’s lives were a bit richer from “looking up” and actually seeing the beauty around them!

Wishing each of you all the best,
Bruce Herrington