Hidden Beauty

The modern concrete and glass skyscrapers which dot our city skylines may be impressive but they are oh so boring!

We no longer see the wonderful embellishments which were a part of the tradesman’s skill set in years gone by.

Unless we look above street level and ignore the plastic and glass frontages.

How does your city rate in hidden beauties?







7 responses to “Hidden Beauty

  1. This is a beautiful photo essay. Just as easel painters finally realized that people had missed the human form when modernism banished figurative painting, so, I think, are the top architects now hip to people feeling the bauhaus impoverishment of ornamentation.

    My sense is that not all the diehard Hippies went “back to nature”; some of them learned the vanishing skills of the old artisans to whom you refer. But the Hippies are getting their AARP cards now, and one wonders…

    So there’s my take on what high culture’s doing about ornamentation (too little) and what folk culture’s doing (less and less). There are still companies that mold the same architectural elements as they did in, say, 1907-15, but so much has been lost. (In architectural tile making alone, the cultural loss is enough to make my dog mourn, and mine’s a very happy dog.)

    One of the surprising things about the phenomenon of civic-minded architects and patrons bothering to make things beautiful from the start, is that so much of it happened in hard times, during the Great Depression! Not just NRA beautification projects, but grand civic gifts from public spirited benefactors, and even projects paid for by public subscription, e.g. bonding, in the depths of that aching poverty. It’s always really put me in my place—a place without placeness.

    Thanks, hughvic. I enjoy looking above the ground floor – often there are hidden treasures


  2. My great-great-grandfather was a painter. Not my sort of painter … the one who uses oils and canvas to do a picture like I do … but a painter of those glorious ceiling decorations used in the old days on the 10′ or 12′ high ceilings, especially around the light fittings in the middle of the rooms. Ceiling Roses, I think they called them. Anyway, much gilt and blues and pinks and mauves and reds were used to create a “picture” on the ceiling with underlying form provided by the plasterer creating the base for such art. This is one of the arts lost to modern homes, with the descent of ceilings to 8 feet and the minimalisation of any decorative features on the ceiling.

    Hughvic, I admire your take on this … I wish more people thought this way and we could bring beauty back into day to day life.

    Unfortunately we are stuck with the “Bottom Line”. If it costs a dollar more, scrap it!


  3. That’s lovely. A French friend told me that “La Ligne” means a great deal to all French folk. They want their surroundings, including the most mundane things—as it might be, a toothbrush, or a toilet handle—to please the eye with a graceful line. So as for a Shaker or a Hopi a prosaic object was an invitation to speak sacramentally with La Ligne, so for a French fabricator or artist might that object serve as muse for the aesthetic voice. Does that seem airy-fairy?

    After Nathalie explained this to me more than 25 years ago, I’ve spent a little less on things used only occasionally, and have put a bit more money and/or effort than before into making sure that my daily “physical culture”, my kit, is as filled with aesthetic and emotional and spiritual enchantment as possible. Something as simple as a good solid household object “just like they used to make”, or another everyday object in a color that brings joy, or another that triggers cherished olfactory memories.

    I’m deliberately freighting a duochromatic palette with important personal meaning, and then surrounding myself with judicious touches of that palette—in my pocket, on my clothing, in my bath and bedroom, my stationery and gift wrappings, etc. I truly think that this odd Bower Bird activity (I call it magpieing) is a response to the denuding of the natural and built landscapes in which I’ve spent my life. The clear-cutting of the land and the stripping of architectonic forms, etc. It makes us crave things that give us a sense of permanence, of durability—no, of endurance. Yes?

    Still, you just can’t beat a standard Ace Hard Rubber comb!


  4. Very nice, Archie.

    “How does your city rate in hidden beauties?”

    Well, since it would take way more than 1000 words…


    Oh yeah! That one is unfair 🙂

    A beautiful city!


  5. Azahar … you are spoilt! That is so beautiful… it is, as Hughvic suggests, a feast for the soul. It combines beauty and practicality with form and light and colour. It nourishes our soul … something which we all need in these bleak days.

    Yes, it is quite overwhelming, isn’t it 🙂


  6. lovely images archie. sydney abounds in beautiful old architecture, especially the universities. we also have some atrocious monstrosities and dreadful public art.

    Dunedin, where I grew up in nz, has a beautiful old castle called Larnach’s Castle, the only one in the southern hemisphere. celing roses in every room, buff.

    and have you seen tobymarx’s images?


    I loved some of the buildings in Sydney – the “Block” is wonderful and some of the buildings in Chinatown are really great. The Rocks is full of old buildings which fascinated me as well.

    Grrrrrr – I have just spent a couple of hours going through tobymarx’s site – what a huge effort he has put in! Now I shall spend the rest of the night being jealous of his art.


  7. Thanks for the compliment, Archie!

    Speaking of jealousy, every time I visit Azahar’s site, I envy her for living where she does (long sigh).

    I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side of the hill.

    Also, I’d like to point out that you have a much larger following than I do, Archie. My social networking skills leave much to be desired.

    Keep up the good work. It’s important to keep a light shining on our past, as it’s rather difficult to chart where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve come from.


    Oh yes, I try very hard NOT to think of where azahar lives 🙂

    As for the following, I use a theory first proposed by Kahlil Gibran, “Half of what I say is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you.”

    Another site you may find interesting is “neath’s blog”.


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