Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Visual Inspiration: The Back of Your Head

When you do your hair in the morning, you spend a lot of time making the bangs fluff just right and the sides fan and curl just so. Even the top gets a little fluffing, doesn't it? But what about the back? Very few people remember that everyone sees that back of their head as well as the front, and what happens when that's a mess? (That very notion was the source of a little humor in one of the Harry Potter movies when a time-traveling Hermione sees herself from the back and is horrified to see what her hair looks like.)

Buildings are no different. We design them to be seen from a certain place or on a certain side--usually the front--and pay less attention to working out the sides and back, unless there's actually room to stand back and see what the building looks like from another side. This happens a lot more in contemporary architecture as buildings get built closer and closer together and there's less room on the sides and back for doing cool stuff and spending money. Nevertheless, it's interesting to see the Back of Your Head phenomenon with buildings, especially houses.

First off, a lovely little bungalow in Cherry Creek North. Even the side has some awnings and pitched roofs and some flair, though the house on this side is gone and a store has taken its place.

The house on the other side of this little bungalow has been removed too, and turned into an empty scraped site, awaiting development. What I found interesting was the house behind our bungalow in question. The newer light-colored house has some interesting stuff happening on its side--an extended chunk of the first floor and a chimney--but the back is pretty plain. That makes sense, given that no one's really looking at the back of this house from far away...until now, when the adjacent house is gone.

This little shop in Cherry Creek North took advantage of a projecting side wall by painting it with petroglyph shapes, which echo the theme of the store itself and provides a little passive advertising. But behind the awning and the decorative wall, you can see slivers of the green-shingled roof and the brick building beyond that makes up the rest of this store. I took this photo from the middle of the street in order to get just this glimpse. I'm pretty sure most people don't look at this building this way, so they miss the view I have above. The store gave some thought to the Back of Its Head, or at the very least, the Side of Its Head Behind the Nice Bangs.

This is a really nice house on a corner lot in a really nice neighborhood in Denver. Corner lots are fun yet challenging for architects, because now the building has two "fronts." This house seems to have provided two good fronts for itself...

...oh snap! This is the other face of that house above. It feels like the side of one face--which now has become the Back of Its Head--got chopped off by the property line and adjacent residence. The problem is, there's no avoiding seeing this if you're walking or driving. It can star in its own movie with Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder, called House, Interrupted.

This Cherry Creek restaurant also has a corner condition, and it does a good job of presenting a good face to both cross streets. The tan/brown brick condo building beyond it is not so successful--a wide, flat side with a couple of forlorn windows thrown in for good measure. I've always wondered why condo buildings treat the outside side walls so crappily. If you made those units look good and have really awesome windows and sides, couldn't you charge more for those end units?

Uh-oh, looks like the restaurant forgot about the Back of Its Head. Overall, it's a nice elevation that faces its own parking lot, to be sure, but see how that light wall turns into a dark wall as you go along the driveway? That's some really nice light-colored stone facing the major street, and then it all-of-a-sudden turns into dark concrete block. Really? So you'll show pedestrians a nice face, but the people actually parking in your lot and coming to eat at your establishment aren't worth a few more nice stones on the low wall? Oh, and towards the back of your building: I can see your garage door.

The house we saw in the second picture with the flat back? I can forgive it, because it was built with other things around it to provide context. But the restaurant above was built brand new this year with aaaaaaaalllllll that space open. Is it hoping that someone will build on its parking lot and hide some of the back for them? If so, that's a pretty odd business plan.


Anonymous said...

This is pretty interesting stuff, particularly with regard to residential architecture. New developments cater almost entirely to the look of the front facade of the house, leaving the rear a total blahfest, usually with no trim at all. The worst part, though, is that standard design for a residential neighborhood tends to group the houses in such an inward-looking way with a single entrance to the development, that the main roads that surround developments are edged with the rears of these houses. I've always thought that the outcry against over-development and bad residential architecture would be much much less if the rears were designed as carefully as the fronts, as the rears actually trend to be seen by many more people than the fronts.

Wilderness Gina said...

Honey, I'm-a-gonna take some photos of s**t around here and THEN we can discuss the crappy look of the restruant. There's a house in Wide-Place-In-The Road just a few miles from here that will make you wince... break out in hives... put 90% Bailey's in your coffee. Trust me. I'm fastinated with this fatal-car-accident of a house. Every time they add on it's another head-on-with-fatalities. Gods help me AND them! It WAS such a cute house too!