How to Save Ugly Buildings

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How to Save Ugly Buildings

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How do you persuade people to fall in love with a place that doesn’t fit the traditional mold of “beautiful?” This toolkit starts the conversation about ways to inspire love, passion, or at least understanding for the homelier places in our midst.

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Join the debate of what defines beauty. Even when others disagree with you about beauty’s exact definition and application, at least you’re all talking about the place you care about and keeping it top of mind for them -- maybe even long enough to change said mind.

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Explain the architectural merit. Sometimes a style, even though it might be unpopular, represents a daring innovation or new technique in the field of architecture that should be preserved. Looking at such places again when you know their intent lends a depth and interest that perhaps you missed before.

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Make an emotional connection. When the time came for a crucial vote in November 2013 regarding the Houston Astrodome’s future, the National Trust asked people to share their personal memories about this National Treasure. The result: an outpouring of love, support, and affection that met the more negative comments head on.

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Share the place’s unique history. John Coltrane recorded, rehearsed, and wrote some of his most well-known pieces, including “A Love Supreme,” in a modest brick ranch house. Sharing this everyday home’s extraordinary past teaches those who encounter it how history crops up in unexpected places.

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Go inside the place. Letting people experience places from the inside out not only gives them a new perspective (literally), but also encourages them to connect personally with the space. When Instagram aficionados had the opportunity to tour Miami Marine Stadium, their enthusiasm helped others see the unexpected beauty of a neglected place.

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Consider the alternative. The real question here is, “What else would we lose if this place disappeared?” Don’t be afraid to ask detractors, “Imagine if this place were gone. Then what?”

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If nothing else, remember that perceptions can -- and will -- change over time. Places reflect the ideas, passions, tastes, and technologies of their time. Victorian, Art Deco, Modernism … all these styles were derided at one point or another, and all have found greater love as generations pass.

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The history of preservation demonstrates a remarkable march of the ugly transforming into the beautiful.”

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Photos courtesy: Litlesam, Flickr; Aude, Wikimedia Commons; David Grant, Flickr; Jeffrey Prehn; @tsherm387, Instagram; Polivision Productions; Ines Garcia; David Sawyer, Flickr; Steven Martin, Flickr; The UC San Diego Library, Flickr Quote: Tom Mayes