Beauty is Always a Byproduct of Hard Work

 In Culture, Design, Lifestyle / Light, Sustainable Design


My friend Steve Smith reminded me the other day of a short story… There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, of a woman one day spotting Picasso in the market and, pulling out a piece of paper, asking him to “do a little drawing” to which he happily complies. Then, handing the paper back to her, he says “That would be a million dollars.” “But, Mr. Picasso, that only took you thirty seconds to do this little masterpiece,” she responds, to which he relies, “My good woman it took me thirty years to do that masterpiece in thirty seconds.”

Quite often, when our firm is working on an architectural project, we hear the supplication: “We know how we want it to work, we know what we want, but could you please, as the architect, make it pretty, cool, beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, harmonious…” That demand for “beauty” makes us cringe every time. Why? After all, aren’t we supposed, as architects, to at least make the built environment “beautiful?”

My experience, as an observer and potential producer of “beauty,” is that no one can say: ‘Okay, I am going to make it beautiful.” Beauty is not something that can simply be willed — it is the synthesis of strong intent, extensive know-how, finely-tuned subtle techniques, and a focused mind. Then, and only then, might a clear design emerge to evoke an emotional response in the observer. Such is the pleasure of beauty.

I see this holding true in architecture, of course, but also in all the arts, or for that matter, in all human productions. A long time ago I had the revealing experience of being a spectator at a one-man show performed by the French singer and actor Yves Montand. For two straight hours, it was so entertaining, so fluid; it looked so easy, so natural… it was beautiful! The artistry brought shivers to everyone in the audience; it was palpable. Montand was well known for his relentless rehearsing, unforgiving perfectionism and… hard, hard work. The result was beautiful performances that looked easy, and yet gripped the audience.

The same is true of the deep, hard work that went on behind the scene to produce the stained-glass rose windows of Chartres or Notre Dame, the paintings of John Pollack, Chagall, Picasso, Van Gogh or Monet, the sculptures of Donald Judd, Michelangelo or Rodin, the poetry of Pablo Neruda, Rumi or Shakespeare, the music of Mozart or Chopin, the dancing of Nureyev, the architecture of IM Pei, Renzo Piano or Palladio…

I believe that “natural beauty” is also the result of “hard work” done by God, particularly since She had to also create the eye (and brain!) of the beholder!

Gettliffe Architecture is a Boulder, Colorado architecture firm with a sister studio in Managua, Nicaragua offering green design services from straw-bale homes to eco lodges around the globe. We believe that beautiful modern architectural design begins with careful consideration of earth, culture and community. Working with your ideas and vision, our team of green architects brings inspiring spaces to life that are kind to the planet and a pleasure to be in.

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