DESIGNER COLUMNS & BLOGS / Design & Architecture

Posted in Design & Architecture on May 12, 2014 11:27 pm EDT

Unlovely Buildings

An architect and blogger ponders the true cost of compromising with a building's imperfections.









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TAGS: building envelope, community space, design,


By Ron Geyer

Ugly buildings aren't necessarily unsightly. And buildings that are simply beautiful aren't automatically good architecture. Over two thousand years ago, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, a military engineer and architect whose career flourished during the reign of Augustus, articulated the essential characteristics of good architecture. In "De Architectura," his still highly regarded manifesto, "firmitas" (firmness or materiality) and "utilitas" (commodity or utility) held footing equal to “venustas” (delight or beauty). Bad architecture may be unlovely, but it may just as well be fragile, in disrepair, or ineffective.

If by stopping to ask a friend how his hospitalized wife is doing I cause a traffic jam, then I've exposed the hallway's hypocrisy.


I was once called to a church that had neglected its facilities so long that an overnight, frog-clogging, gully-washing rainstorm had pushed over a basement wall. Mud washed into the lower level next to a space used by the church's children’s ministry. A portion of the structure above the wall was suspended in mid-air. Clearly, this was a bad building.

But structural problems don’t simply include buildings at risk of collapse. A lack of "firmness" or "strength" may exist in any number of the physical systems that make a building work -- structural, mechanical, electrical, lighting, plumbing, enclosure, entrances, elevators, etc. They’re the skeleton, muscles, organs and circulation of any but the crudest facility.

Such a weakness doesn't directly condemn a ministry building any more than an illness necessarily sidelines a minister. A temporary affliction, no matter how dire, may simply slow things down. But if the condition -- a leaky roof, troublesome air conditioning system, or insufficient lighting -- is chronic, it can become a drain on resources. The requirement for regular maintenance of buildings is a fact of life on a fallen planet, but deteriorating structures and systems shackle ministry just as certainly as removing critical square footage. The resource vanishes. From use if not from sight.  continued >>