Nick Viera

Ugly Building Syndrome
- Informative Essay, 2006/05/05 -

It's all around us, everywhere we go. It threatens our senses and aesthetic well- being every day of our lives. Of course, the problem I'm talking about is Ugly Building Syndrome, better known by its opponents as UBS. UBS is everywhere; but to-date is probably most prevalent in the United States. UBS may not be apparent to everyone, but make no mistake of it: UBS is lurking in the shadows, constantly presenting a silent and ugly threat to America and all Americans. It is worth noting that UBS is a disease that not only plagues the exteriors of buildings, but the interiors as well. In this way UBS can and does negatively effect the lives of people who occupy the spaces inside, outside, and around buildings.

There are several factors that have led to the rampant outbreak of UBS in the United States, and indeed many of them are not new, but things that have been perpetuating UBS for more than a century in our country. The first such factor to consider is that the United States was founded in a geographical area which presented us with seemingly "endless land." Historically, we've been able to sprawl and spread out as much as we like, and finding space to build our buildings hasn't been much of a problem. This has downplayed the need to innovate and really think out building design.

So it is no real surprise that we have buildings all over the place, many of which are large ugly monstrosities. These buildings have no respect for their surroundings, and this is very apparent by their shape and size. A good example would be when a new, shiny-metal building with a post-modern design is built in the middle of a city's historical district, amongst many buildings of Greek/Roman or other ancient styling. The building would be completely out of place. Such buildings are the result of architects and engineers exploiting the freely available land and lax zoning rules and regulations in our country; as compared to European countries, for example.

A second big factor that creates and perpetuates UBS is simple: money. Most Americans like to do things as inexpensively as possible. This tendency towards "cheapness", where people expect to have big, elaborate things for as little money as possible, is a prime cause of UBS. For a building to be well designed, thought-out, built, and maintained, one needs to be willing to spend money. The problem occurs when building owners, especially those of large commercial buildings, don't want to spend the money necessary to have the building designed and built by good architects/engineers. Thus we end up with cheap, half-baked buildings which, for obvious reasons, are usually as UBS as you can get.

The last issue perpetuating UBS is the fact that many times people decide to tear down old buildings in favor of building new buildings from the ground up instead of renovating them. Older buildings, which were historically better built then most modern buildings, cost a lot of time and money to update, renovate, maintain, and operate. Because of the cheapness mentioned above, many Americans end up tearing down the old to build a new, cheaper building it its place. Thus we loose the historical architecture and replace it with more ugly buildings resembling every other ugly building in America. The even deeper problem is that the newer buildings will not last as long as the older, well-built buildings of years ago, ultimately leading to more UBS as they quickly degrade instead of providing centuries of good use.

The solutions to UBS are fairly straightforward; Americans need to be willing to spend the money to build better buildings like the days of old. We need to learn to once again appreciate and take pride in good architecture and craftsmanship, rather than cheap price tags. We need to treat our buildings as extensions of our lives and cultures, and not simply as just a space that we use from time to time. Also, schools and colleges that teach architecture and engineering need to stress the merits of good building design and real innovation. We need to teach new architects that it isn't okay to design a building quickly and be satisfied because it is just "good enough." Same for engineers who are responsible for the safety and integrity of the buildings they oversee. Doing these things will help the United States escape the doldrums of UBS, and allow us to once again have interesting, unique, and beautiful cityscapes across out country. But more importantly, they will allow us to build buildings that we are proud of and that will last for many generations to come.