Ideas + Inspiration, Tours

Denver’s Fight Against Ugly Architecture

Have you ever walked by a new building in your neighborhood or a historic area of town and thought to yourself, “Wow, that is one ugly building?” While design is subjective, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sometimes you can’t deny that a building is just a plain eyesore.

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As urban centers explode with new buildings intended to house an influx of people, one or two unattractive ones may go unnoticed. However, in a city like Denver, Colorado, the exponential growth means that ugly architecture does not vanish into the background.

Frustration and disgust around these eyesores has given birth to the popular Facebook page, Denver FUGLY. Moderated by Brad Evans, a Denver real estate broker, Denver FUGLY documents and discusses the quickly sprouting aesthetic disasters that seem to be an inseparable part of all new construction within the city.

The influx of this utilitarian architecture has caused many historic areas and charming neighborhoods to lose the character and appeal they had been known for. The Green Rush (the label placed on the current boon due to the legalization of marijuana) is largely credited with creating a great need for new housing. But it is just one reason why 10,000 new homes are to be constructed in Denver this year and the next.

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While exploring the concept of “fugly” as it relates to badly designed developments and poorly executed ideas, the group isn’t just about criticizing these new buildings. Part of Denver FUGLY’s goal is to create an open dialogue around how such construction could have avoided earning the dreaded “fugly” designation.

William Logan, publisher and editor-in-chief of Modern In Denver magazine, said it’s exciting that a group of this size exists to focus on the critical role design plays in our environment, and to facilitate critical and constructive discussion about architecture and design.

“The intent of the group is not to just complain and be rude,” Logan said in an e-mail. “But rather show that people do care about the architecture and design of our city.”

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Observing more than 50 new buildings from townhomes to multi-family homes, Evans of Denver FUGLY, notes that they are all painted tan, brown, red or burnt red. And all have the same boxy facade. That, along with the consideration for the location and context of these types of buildings are a large part of the discussions taking place among the Facebook page.

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“Where am I putting this building?” “How does it look?” “What is the shape?” “How does it take advantage of the climate?” These are all questions that should be asked when designing these new buildings. But they have somehow have been completely left out of the design process in this case.

Logan said there is a growing consciousness that has been gaining more vocal presence over the last several years, especially as the number of buildings has mushroomed out of control. That, and the lack of thoughtful and purposeful design, are so apparent it’s hard to ignore.

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“People are becoming more conscious to the role that good design plays in the quality of their lives,” Logan said. “And as they become more educated and aware of how good design is an elevating force–and conversely how bad design is draining and uninspired–they don’t want to play a passive role. Platforms like Denver FUGLY are providing them with a voice.”

What started out as a local phenomenon is actually pertinent in many cities across the US experiencing robust growth. Similar groups are springing up in areas like Seattle, Aspen and Kansas City. This wave of backlash against one-size-fits-all developments speaks to the growing desire for dwellings that fit the climate, neighborhoods and aesthetic preferences of the areas in which they are built.

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Denver FUGLY is a wake up call for design lovers, architects and developers everywhere. It reminds us that just because something needs to serve a basic function doesn’t mean it can’t meet those needs with stellar design that complements its surroundings.

Nicole Tatem

Nicole Tatem

Nicole is the Sr. Site Merchandiser for Accessories, Kids, and Textiles at YLiving. She is obsessed with great design in all forms with a special love for jewelry, wine bottle labels, and tableware. When she’s not exploring the many museums and art galleries of the Bay Area, Nicole spends time looking for and visiting obscure and unusual destinations (locally and abroad) while practicing her photography skills.

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