Believe it or not I learned a lot about design from someone who loved all things ugly. Rudy had a soft spot for ugly dogs, ugly cars, ugly shotguns, and especially ugly buildings. We’d be cruising along in his marvelously ugly Chrysler late sixties station wagon, one of those old aircraft carriers, dark bluish-green with simulated wood door panels. Suddenly Rudy would yank the car to the side of the road to take in the magnificence of a truly ugly building. He’d light up a cigarette and take a moment to relish the view before explaining the finer points in true ugliness. Rudy noticed stuff I didn’t, like how the exhaust fan over the deep fry cooker caught the last rays of sunset. Or how the roofline succeeded in producing a train wreck of epic proportions. He could go on and on only pausing if he noticed I stopped breathing from laughing too hard. An exceptional building would bring out the melancholy in him and he might talk sadly about the state of the country and how hardly anyone appreciated ugly buildings any more. “Every time you turn around someone is knocking down a palace of ugliness to put in a parking lot.” Rudy had little patience for boring buildings or mere slipshod mediocre structures; he only got excited when someone built a truly inspired work of ugliness.
Something else about Rudy. Although he enjoyed a good moment relishing ugly stuff he actually knew a lot about good design. He could make you see things in a new way and discover hidden details. I’m not sure why, but I think it was a gift that came from an unexpected place – suffering. Rudy had a life sentence with physical suffering due to a debilitating disease. Somehow, instead of it turning him inward, angry, or bitter, the suffering caused him to be more awake and alive than the rest of us. He took the time to watch a bee loaded down with pollen stumbling across a mint blossom and instilled in me a desire to relish the present moment. He finally slipped free of his earthly prison the same summer comet Hale-Bopp sailed across our night sky.
Here’s a building I think Rudy would enjoy. It sits on a triangle of land so it can be viewed from three sides. Note – it doesn’t have a good side. This might sound a bit odd but I actually do stop and look at ugly stuff. They have stories to tell just like the really good and wonderful designs. Care to take a stab at what makes this stand out as fine example of ugly?