Esthetics Vs Cheap: What We Are Missing

One of the things I’ve noticed since since I became a sketcher is that most man-made objects have short lifespans, and getting shorter in our disposable economy.  We really need to do something about that.

But architecture is the big exception, largely because buildings built before the 50s and 60s were built to last a loooooong time.  Construction was brick, with thick walls and roofs covered with metal.  And oh do they last…and last.  There are hundreds of buildings in Quebec City that were built in the late 19th Century and hundreds more built during the first quarter of the 20th.  Many remain have not been torn down to make room for the square box buildings we build today for one simple reason.  These old buildings were built to be as attractive as they were functional.  As I compare the beauty of these old buildings and compare them to the more modern parts of our city, it’s not hard to conclude that we’re sacrificing a lot in the name of build it cheap.

The Fire House Example

As in every city, in Quebec City things occasionally catch on fire.  And like other cities, we have a fire department and their facilities scattered around the city.  And if you look at the fire engines that arrived at fires in the early part of the 20th Century they looked like this.  Very cool and people now visit museums to see them.

But today modern fire equipment are marvels of engineering, far more capable at quenching the flames.  Far more expensive too but we spend the money because they do a better job.  As a fire hydrant sketcher, I know there are some fire engine sketches in my future but it’s the fire houses that have caught my eye.  I’ve seen several here that can only be described with a single word – KEWL!

And so this past weekend I sat on the sidewalk across the street from this majestic building and sketched it.  It was done in a Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha sketchbook, using a Pilot Prera (fine) pen filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  Aren’t I right?  Isn’t it KEWL!  Why don’t we build buildings like this anymore?



6 thoughts on “Esthetics Vs Cheap: What We Are Missing

  1. I’m completely with on this topic, Larry. Great sketch. Kewl, or as we say in Portugal, fixe (pronounced feeeesh).

  2. Larry, this thing of esthetics vs cheap has proliferated everything today!

    I was visiting a 1000 year old mammoth of a temple last week, in Southern India, known as the Big Temple , built in 1010 AD (,standing tall and filled with stunningly beautiful architectural artifacts.. I cannot recollect any thing close to it being built today. Of course they were different times, Today we build impossible things such as the Space station, that zip around the earth at thousands of miles an hour. Who could have even dreamed of such a thing.

    Nice lively sketches from you, capturing the rare beauty! The building has a solid feel to it, with very nice colors. You seem to be evolving into that fine Ligne Claire style propounded by the Franco Belgian masters.

  3. It is true that we build many amazing things. But we’ve lost sight of the fact that we LIVE among and with the things we’re building/buying on the cheap, and all in the name of short term decision-making. We put asphalt shingle roofs on our houses and feel good that these roofs cost half, maybe even a third the price of a metal roof. We’re thrilled that it’ll last 15-20 years. But around here there are metal roofed buildings that are 100 years old, with the original metal sheathing in place. The stuff is gorgeous, and are we really saving money with our ‘economy’? I think not.

    I take your ‘ligne claire’ comparison to my sketches as a high compliment as I’m a big fan of Hergé and Tin Tin. Mostly it’s a clean way for me to keep my sketches simple, and I need simple as I’m still learning the basics of drawing. But I like that clean, illustrative style for my building sketches. It’s less useful, in my opinion, for things that are not man-made, though Hergé has certainly gotten lots of accolades for his backgrounds. I think some of that, though, comes from his attention to historical/locational detail.

    Cheers — Larry

  4. I LOVE it, and you’re quite right…I’ve lived here long enough to know three iterations of firehouses in my town. The first was KEWL. The second, well, not so much. The third? Meh. Not only that, but it’s already needed major repair, because it was CHEAP, and quickly built.

    No wonder you were drawn to this one, great job!

  5. We’ve all seen a perfectly good, old and beautiful building being bulldozed to put up a modern box. Makes no sense. For reasons unclear to me, people in Quebec City take a different approach. Many of the buildings I’ve sketched have been repurposed, retaining their gorgeous exteriors while renovating the insides to suit their new use. The fire house is a case in point. I peaked in a window and it’s very modern inside.

    Cheers — Larry

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