A Certain Lack of Focus

Friday, November 02, 2007


There is something fascinating to me about industrial architecture. This won't be the last time I post on this but I thought I'd make an introduction today.

I don't think I'm alone in this attraction, it's strange, but there is beauty in the ugly, in the fallen or the half constructed. I was reminded of this while paging through photos of Scotland, when I came across some visually stunning scaffoldings on a failing section of Edinburgh Castle. They seem to stretch into eternity, a strange but fitting contrast to the nature surrounding them. You would think that they would look out of place, if not against the greenery than next to the aged walls of the Castle I have to admit that the six-year-old inside me was deeply tempted to sprint up the hill and climb them, but I resisted.

Industrial structures aren't the only ugly things that attract people, ruins are an excellent example of an ugly aesthetic that is so accepted as beauty that most people would argue that they are not in any way ugly. I would argue that ruins are ugly by nature, consider what ruins are. Symbols of deterioration and failure, ruins are nothing but broken remnants. There is not even certainty that what they once were was beautiful, we take this for granted because the ruins still stand as mementos. A sense of awe overcomes us when we look at the scraps of something that might have been great, it is this sense that lets us see them as beautiful.uglydolls

Then there's the funky, the truly ugly, a push that is rising in popularity. Decorating magazines are beginning to celebrate trash-picking, broken furniture rebuilt into something new. This may be a manifestation of the trendy green movement: don't throw it away, reuse it, the more obvious the better. The rise in DIY also contributes to this trend, it's all the more cool if it looks handmade, and that means ugly. Craftsters, no longer sweet and feminine, but rebellious, young, hip, embrace the ugly as well with large clumsy stitches that once would have been considered inelegant. Now they scream out, "I made this!" The perfect example of this is the Ugly Doll, cuddly and adorable exactly because it is so proudly hideous.

The beauty of the Cleveland Flats is entirely industrial, and I'm sure that there are those who would argue that there is no beauty. There are railroads that seem to go everywhere, with nothing behind them but the sky. Bridges to nowhere, graceful archways shadowing us as we walk beneath them. Most striking perhaps are the bridges that were once raised or swung aside to let through barges, and then one day they were brought up for the last time. There they stand, heavy and black against the clouds, reminding us of their past purpose. So strange to think how long they've sat in disuse, the materials not reclaimed, just left to take up space and glare down at us. The old and ugly sits next to the new, the fashionable until they blend unintentionally into one style. I think the hard edged metal, right on the river, touches something in us that we try not to think about. It's a monument to the past, a reminder not so different from the crumbling ruins people will line up to photograph.


Blackswamp_Girl said...

Great post, Meagan. I don't think that you can say that ruins are inherently ugly, however. That's like saying that people are inherently ugly just because they are old... which is not true. And aesthetics aside, there is some kind of beauty in the sense of having served a purpose, no?

By the way, I like the castle pictures. I think that part of what makes that scaffolding beautiful is the contrast between green stuff, natural stone, and the sleek modern lines of that scaffolding. Very nice.

Meagan said...

Thanks Kim,
Well my argument here is sort of that many things which are "ugly" are in fact beautiful. I think if you break down what you're looking at ruins would be considered ugly, so would a craggy cliff face, barren pictures of the moon, but these are things that people automatically accept as beautiful. And they ARE beautiful, for the reason you mention, and for simpler visual reasons. I'm arguing that they can be both at the same time, and I'm trying to shove industrial ruins into the same category. Ugly dolls and such don't exactly fit into the same category because the intent starts with ugly rather than degrading into ugly/beauty, but I thought they deserved a mention.