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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
October 22, 2001

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


The 2001 Award for Ugliest New Building

Architecture is one of the few arts that gets imposed on the public whether you want to see it or not.

You can choose not to visit a museum or read a book or watch a show or go to a movie.

But when you're walking or driving along a street, you can't choose not to see the buildings you're passing on either side.

And if, heaven forbid, you occupy an office or home with a window that looks out over some architectural monstrosity, you have no choice but to see it again and again and again.

Well, I suppose you could install heavy blinds. But it's a cruel thing, to have to choose between having a window and avoiding nausea.

Ugly buildings are built all the time, of course. Some of them are ugly because the builder doesn't have enough money to do anything else, and while that's annoying, it's forgivable.

Besides, buildings constructed on the cheap can never achieve truly spectacular, award-winning ugliness.

It takes money and, usually, a college degree in architecture to do that.

That's because the truly annoying buildings are not just in bad taste, misproportioned, and ill-suited to their site. They are also pretentious.

That's why my second choice didn't quite make it this year. I speak of the huge new building on Dolley Madison next to the almost-as-blocky building that houses Guilford Family Practice.

It has all the beauty of a spite fence.

The feeble attempt at interesting window work over the entrance only exacerbates the brutal plainness of the building's design, by showing that the designer knew what the building should have looked like.

In fact, I think what really happened is that they threw away the real building and kept the box it came in.

Still, its ugliness came from cheapness.

Whereas this year's winner was clearly willing to throw away money on completely useless features whose only purpose was to offend the eye.

I speak of the gloriously repulsive new building that was erected to house the Kayser-Roth Corporation.

It squats on a piece of ground on Corporate Center Blvd., just west of North Elm.

It's worth driving by, just so you can be glad you don't have an office in the Cone corporate building just across the street.

I seriously think Social Services should look into the possible deleterious effects of this building on the impressionable children who spend their days in the preschool just behind it. They may never recover.

The building looks like your standard office building, except that instead of using a brick facade, the designer chose to use painted cardboard. Or so it seems, for I have seen better-looking work on scenery at elementary school plays.

The cardboard, or whatever it is, was painted in garish shades of yellow and blue. Not one shade of each color, but three. The first impression is that the building was dyed like an Easter egg, by being dipped into yellow and blue food coloring, which then ran down to the bottom so that the lowest stripe is much darker than the highest one.

But if this was not an accident caused by a colorblind painting contractor, and the concept was for the color to be steadily darker from top to bottom, why is the middle stripe of the yellow only slightly darker than the top one, and way lighter than the bottom?

Apparently the architect was aware that the facade looked as flimsy as posterboard (one expects to see someone's science-fair project glued onto it), and so, to make the building look more "substantial," tapering stone turrets were added at the corners.

But not all the corners. Just the two front corners.

And they don't even go all the way to the top of the building. No, they stop two-thirds of the way up.

In later years, provided the building is not torn down in the middle of the night by a group of architectural vigilantes, it will look as though someone bought a couple of large kilns and then connect them with tagboard and smeared the whole thing with paint left over from a parade float.

If there were any justice, the architect and all the people responsible for approving their design would have to have their homes painted in those same awful yellow stripes, with stone buttresses rising two-thirds of the way up the front corners, until they repent of their folly and re-do the face of the Kayser-Roth building.

But since there is no justice, the Kayser-Roth building receives Uncle Orson's First Annual Award for the Ugliest New Building in Greensboro.

Now, I realize that some of you may think you know of an uglier building. And some of you may think it unfair that only new buildings were considered for the award. Therefore I call for nominations for the "Ugliest Buildings in Greensboro Hall of Fame."

No private residences may be nominated -- having to show one's face to the neighbors is sufficient punishment for building an ugly house.

And we're looking only for ugliness of design, not ugliness that results from the ravages of time and neglect.

Send your nominations, including a snapshot and complete directions for finding your favorite monstrosity, to "Ugly Building Hall of Fame," care of the Rhino Times. When we get enough entries, we'll proudly publish the winners.

*


Briefly noted:

I fear it's already on its way out of the theaters, so you'll probably only get a chance to see it on video, but "Hardball" is one of the best movies I've seen this year. Keanu Reeves -- the most underrated actor of his generation -- gives a powerful performance in a film that was promoted as a remake of "The Bad News Bears" but is, if anything, the exact opposite.

Sure, it has funny moments, but it's not a movie for children, it's a movie about how having responsibility for children can make a good man grow up.

And it might seem to be, at first glance, yet another "white guy comes in to save the poor helpless black people" movie, but again, it is the opposite. While dealing squarely with the harsh realities of tragic poverty in America, the white guy and the black kids save each other. Race is not an "issue" in the movie, merely a fact of life.

Brilliant writing, strong directing, and great performances by all the kids make it a contender for movie of the year. And if you've read reviews that said otherwise, ignore them. Jaded critics too often forget how to recognize a movie with real heart.


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