When I had a solitary day out through my first week in Brisbane, I always asked myself: “How can this city be so monochrome?” (Aside from my question about why they built enormous infrastructure for this little population). Actually I was amazed by the fact that building regulation can control the material and color use in the city. At the time, I expected that the building tone, form, and shape will be in ‘western style’ since Australia is a commonwealth country, so I didn’t expect it to be ultimately unique.
Now, enrolling in a studio titled “Brisbane Ugliness”, I am forced to read several readings related to Australian Ugliness. I have to agree that Brisbane can be considered as one of Featurist cities, with skin-deep unique-ness which shapes Brisbane identity in its urban planning and building design. (Which lead me to ask: how about Bandung? Luckily we are so rich with regional archipelago.) But I also think, why is it matter so much?
What is Ugliness?
The term ‘Ugly’ can be an opposite of ‘Beauty’, but not always. While beauty is something that we are truly familiar with, the definition of ugly is rarely spoken. Even the word ‘Ugly’ itself is rarely said in civilized society. It’s a mean word.
Referring to a book titled “On Ugliness”, ugly is: repellent, horrible, horrendous, disgusting, disagreeable, grotesque, abominable, repulsive, odious, indecent, foul, dirty, obscene, repugnant, frightening, abject, monstrous, horrid, horrifying, unpleasant, terrible, terrifying, frightful, nightmarish, revolting, sickening, foetid, fearsome, ignoble, ungainly, tiresome, offensive, deformed, and disfigured (Eco & McEwen, 2011). In some part of the book, term ‘ugly’ also related with meaningless, barbarous, nauseating, lacking of integrity, shameful, disharmony, and disproportioned. But there is also underlined point that the beauty and ugliness are relative to different times and cultures (Eco & McEwen, 2011).
Term ‘Ugly’ which discussed in Australian architectural context can be seen in this quotation:
“The Ugliness I mean is skin deep. For the things that make Australian people, society, and culture in some way different from others in the modern world are only skin deep. But skin is as important as its admirers like to make it, and Australians make much of it. This is a country of many colorful, patterned, plastic veneers, of brick-veneer villas, and the White Australia Policy.” (Boyd, 1968)
Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, Essential Identity
My reaction after reading all this ‘ugliness’ stuff is: I don’t care. I bet many people will think the same. I don’t understand why the ‘ugliness’ and ‘beauty’ really matters as long as people in the city are happy and the city is prosperous and livable, and they do have character and identity.
I have an argument which is based on a common idiom “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover”. So even if the cultural identity of Australian is so-called only skin-deep, that’s fine for me. When I walk through the long shady corridor between Queensland Museum and Queensland Art Gallery, for example, I feel safe because of the presence of Collector’s Café at the end of the journey. It is a similar situation with the happy feelings that I have when I hang out with people who makes me forget to check my android. It’s not about the skin. It doesn’t mean that I hate make up either. I enjoy every time people dressed up and be pretty. But I don’t consider this as an essential matter related to identity. What matters for me is the quality of spaces and how they percieved as places, but the question is (as in the studio) how will they take form then?
Boyd, R. (1968). The Australian ugliness (Rev. ed. ed.). [Ringwood, Vic.] :: Penguin books in association with Cheshire.