My friends Randy and Debra run an investment firm in a medium-sized Midwestern city. A few years ago they outgrew their rented space in an office tower and started looking for new digs. The easy and obvious choice was to rent another floor in the same nondescript high-rise. But they had noticed a 140-year-old three-story building nearby. Plastered and patched, it didn’t look like much but the ceramic brick façade was intact and the original limestone walls were visible inside where the plaster was missing. The purchase price was reasonable. The cost of renovation was daunting. They bought it anyway. They stripped the limestone interior walls, put in skylights and sanded the hardwood floors. In the process, they exposed the architectural ambitions of seven generations. Then they hung art, mostly impressionistic paintings by local artists chosen to evoke the regional landscape. Their office is not only beautiful, it is a working reminder of the aesthetic ambitions of previous generations, and the natural beauty of the land where they live. Their office is beautiful, and it promotes beauty.
On every continent you can see beautiful art, buildings and landscapes preserved over the centuries by people who cared for them. In every city and town around the world people are creating beautiful new things today – buildings, gardens, paintings and sculpture. Beauty, as we define it, is often the product of human aspiration. In our offices, our homes, our farms or on the balconies of our apartments, we have opportunities to invest a little time and energy in beauty every day. That investment earns dividends today in the form of our own appreciation and preserves beauty for the future. Why be satisfied with any office, farm or factory that isn’t beautiful?
Our collective vision should incorporate the aspiration toward beauty in every human community around the world. Our cities can preserve their connection to nature while preserving beautiful historic buildings and creating exquisite new structures where they are needed. Why not plant gardens in our vacant lots and across our rooftops?
By planning for beauty we acknowledge the importance of the work of artists, and implicitly promise our support for the arts. New information technologies give human beings access to all the music, all the painting, all the sculpture and nearly every form of aesthetic ambition in the world. We enhance our ability to aspire together, plan together and build together. If our communities are not beautiful, then we need to talk.
What have you done to beautify your surroundings recently?