Wicked Ugly…….

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?

George Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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16 Responses to Wicked Ugly…….

  1. Christopher Schwarz says:

    Wow. Where to begin? Wow.

    I like the orange door.

  2. Jason Young says:

    Well, first off as a structural engineer, I really don’t like how the shallow roof cantilevers way out to the left and has no support post underneath.

  3. Old Baleine says:

    Leave it to The Schwarz to see an orange door where others see a sheet of plywood…

    OK, I’ll bite (pun intended), but my view may be contrarian.

    As a composition, the photo of this structure achieves an element of balance through asymmetry. The dark, recessed wall to the left plays off of the projecting roof form on the right, and the flare of the roof hips and the verticals of that…tower thing… form a chevron that points your eye back towards the middle and the plumbing vents. The vents and the electric service mast almost continue the top edge of the diagonal shadow that begins on the right side. This diagonal accentuates the hip/tower angle. Across the bottom of the photo, you have the dark form on the left, the white paint blotch in the middle, and the orange/two grey stripes on the right. The shape of the open space on the left (green field) balances the right side with its strong diagonal shadow. Even if the structure is as ugly as a toad with hair, I see more dynamism in this photo of it than in the static crackerbox colonial tract house behind it, its form echoed in miniature by the wagon parked in front.

    As for the structure itself, the low pitch of the roof seems squashed by the soaring cathedral tower. Plus, it’s hard to make this much corrugated siding look good.

  4. David Barbee says:

    I would have to say I think it is the painful absence of symmetry. I think if you moved the doorway to the center and removed some of the distracting elements (electrical risers, vents, etc.), it wouldn’t be so bad. I can almost hear someone (probably a realtor) describing it as a building with Aztec influences with a bold front entrance.


  5. John says:

    Looks like A&W drive-in.

    • walkerg says:


      I remember for a long time it was a pizza shop, now it’s slowly being buried by the county road department which is using the parking lot to dump gravel they sweep off the roads in spring.


  6. Jerry says:

    That vertical structure popping out of the roof doesn’t do it for me.

    On another note, I really have gotten a new look on design from your DVD “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design”. The ratios, using the dividers, the column proportions. Good stuff.

  7. Mike Holden says:

    I wish the right side under the cantilevered roof was not filled in – should match the left. And remove the roof of the extension facing the viewer.
    Otherwise it reminds me of a Japanese temple design, quite lovely.

    This was a trick question, now wasn’t it, George.


    • walkerg says:


      Yes, a trick question but I was serious about the part about being aware of the present moment and taking time to really see.


  8. tico vogt says:

    James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Geography of Nowhere”, features eye sores of the month on his website http://www.kunstler.com.

  9. Fred L says:

    I am imagining hack saw to trim the vents flush, then a cushioned barraicade around the perimeter of the roof, with ladder to the top. Then add lots of slick sealent of to the roof, plus a ladder to the top.

    Lastly, add a line of kids with burlap bags.

    Other than that, this building is all roof and ugly as a stump fence.

  10. Al Navas says:

    Top-heavy, ratios – where to begin? I also looked at it in monochrome and upside down, to eliminate the distraction from the door. The tapers, the flat top, and the ratios jumped out.

  11. El says:

    What’s wrong with me? I don’t think it’s ugly!
    I must have something in common with your friend Rudy, I’d rather look at this than the local IGA. . .

    The corrugated siding is awesome. It unhooks it from the pizza place in the next town.
    My eye goes right up into the sky.

    I may need help!

    • Derek L says:

      I was thinking something along those lines, it may be uninspired and bland… But I’m not at all certain that it is ugly.

  12. Bob Strawn says:

    What a great example. The lines draw your attention, and then goes nowhere.

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