Monday, 16 May 2016

Lion around

Sometimes, cities and towns want to stop cars driving along certain roads. They can do this in several ways, such as by erecting fences, bollards, signs and barriers, but in Stockholm, Sweden, a decision appears to have been taken that the best way to do this is to use beautiful, smiley, concrete lions. From what I can tell, they are almost purely functional, but the fact that they have been endowed with such pleasing countenances, entirely fits with my impression of the Swedes as having a tendency towards almost casual beauty, when it comes to design.

You notice it even on the motorway from the airport to the City, where bridges and fly-overs are artfully lit or architecturally elegant, and a little extra care seems to have been taken to make something fundamentally necessary into something that is pleasing, too. Even a massive advertising sign is crafted so that, from behind, it resembles the stylised silhouette of a tree.

Quite why more places do not seem to follow this principle, I don't know. Clearly, some civil engineering adornments come with significant added cost, and one could be forgiven for arguing that they may not be essential. The problem is that we have to live with these things - bridges, and barriers and streetlights and advertising hoardings - and making them the most basic versions of the things they have to be is not always the most pleasing.

I think that we should be careful not always to opt for the purely functional. That is not to say that the purely decorative is necessarily the only desirable outcome (although, naturally, great art is uplifting, too). I suppose what I am saying is that, where we need to have, for example, a street light, the outcome could be achieved with, essentially, a lightbulb on a stick. That should not, however, mean that that is all we get. Some effort should be expended, and we should encourage that it is expended, to make the mundane and the functionally necessary beautiful as well. This is something the Swedes and the Danish appear to believe, and it is an attitude that other could learn from.

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