Judging by Appearances

We’ve always loved thinking about architecture. Eons ago when we were dating, we would walk through neighborhoods, admiring and critiquing the houses as we passed. We still award the “Green Weenie” to the most disastrous house that we see.  

Rome is an unending source of fascination and comparisons for those of us who like architecture and who derive from the provinces. First, there’s the sheer age of the buildings. As you stand and contemplate the Pantheon, originally built before the birth of Christ, it is nearly beyond imagining to think about how it was constructed, or what it’s context must have been when it was new. And are we even capable of building with the same materials or techniques?

As veterans of many bus rides now, we’ve had opportunity to mentally explore other comparisons as well. One that is striking, especially for us Midwesterners from a blue-collar town, is the attention that earlier builders paid to aesthetics. Note, we’re not even talking churches here, which need to be set aside as a class all by themselves. It is clear that the Romans love their arches and use them continually and creatively in doorways and walls and windows and roofs. This older technology is inherently more appealing, don’t you think, than the squared off joints we are accustomed to. Or is it just the hobbit in me?

But beyond the structural elements, there is the addition of sculpure and those value-added touches, the extra flourishes and garnishes, the non-practical visual interest that is at a level beyond anything we see at home. Our buildings are typically much simpler, more functional and pragmatic. And also newer and built in a time of different cultural values, which probably explains most of this variance and which is maybe my point. Our oldest buildings, such as the State Capitol, were built in the Victorian era and display more of these older sensibilities. And in defense of Lansing/East Lansing, Rome has its own version of modern ugly, particularly obvious in the newer areas of the city. Rory awarded a “Green Weenie” (appropriately) to an apartment building that we saw on our way to Caritas on Monday. 

So here’s a gross generality:  judging by the appearances, economy and efficiency have over time become our governing values, albeit at the cost of longevity and beauty. To be sure, this observation may be a statement of the obvious, nearly a cliché, and not all that intriguing. Beauty and permanence are definitely losing ground, and everybody realizes it at some level. So why bring it up? Because it is not a given. It doesn’t have to be this way. These buildings are all messages that someone actually chose to present to the world. We can choose to express different values.

Another aspect of public appearances that we have noticed are various floors, sidewalks, and lanes that we have encountered in recent days. Ranging from the ancient floors of the oldest churches to the VOICA house lane, they are clearly works of practical art and deserve recognition. Check out the examples below.  [posted by David] 

VOICA lane

floor of S. Maria of Trastevere

Canossian House drive

floor of S. Chrysogonous

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One Response to Judging by Appearances

  1. Janet says:

    Love reading these. Have such thoughts is precisely one of the values of overseas travel. Being there makes the thoughts grow organically in us and leads us in some small way to being able to appreciate other values besides efficiency. Thanky you for your postings.

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