Building beautiful cities

Architecture critic Edwin Heathcote suggests the beauty in cities is to be found in its ordinary moments.

My first thought is that standards of what is beautiful in cities changes quite a bit over time. Architecture changes. Material conditions change. Culture changes. Buildings go through cycles of acceptance and what might be charming or notable in one city is not so revered elsewhere.

My second thought is that this may be an exercise in gatekeeping: who exactly gets to declare cities or designs as beautiful? Architecture critics, of course, get to do this.

My third thought is that Heathcote may just be right. Much of the attention cities receive tends to come down to particular neighborhoods, like the business core or trendy locations, or particular buildings (like the tallest and/or newest skyscrapers). For example, visitors in Chicago tend to get to see the “greatest hits” including Michigan Avenue, the Loop, the museums, Millennium Park, and other glitzy and well-maintained places meant to project an image. The problem is that most of Chicago doesn’t look like this and the majority of residents are operating in other parts of the city.

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