Lab | Log

What Is Beautiful? Q&A with Thomas Bratzke

Thomas Bratzke

Among the many intriguing issues that were raised during the Berlin Lab, a few in particular became the subject of intense discussion here on the Lab | Log. Christine McLaren, responding in part to talks given at the Lab by Jürgen Krusche and Wolfgang Welsch, wrote a post that explored what makes urban space beautiful, what makes it ugly, and who gets to decide on those definitions. Our readers responded with a host of thoughtful comments expounding their definitions of beauty and ugliness in cities. We found the issue so interesting that we thought we’d ask a few of our Berlin Lab collaborators for their take. This week, artist Thomas Bratzke, answers our one pressing question:

In your eyes, what qualities make a city beautiful?

I like a city to be like this:

In front of my house, I like to see a street full of people—gathering, talking, kids playing around them—a street where you know your neighbors and can also meet strangers. I can be sure that everybody who lives on the street cares about it.

The street should be a place where you can see non-commissioned art. Visually, it can change, and it becomes beautiful through the years. The street’s appearance is not permanent. Its “text” changes due to a mix of public and private actions by the people who live there.

Facades facing the street are public. On all the accessible roofs we can sit quietly, breathing fresh air and looking into the distance. On another roof-level area we can plant vegetables and build a small structure—a hut or a shed.

Public accessibility incorporated into privately owned buildings can be beautiful. I like it if I can walk around buildings or through them, if ownership and its spatial limits are not represented in a hostile way. I think protected privacy is important, but more so in places where you gather and spend time with your family—housing and so on.

A city also becomes interesting if there are silent, empty spaces around which I can explore and which give me space for a rest—or just a quiet minute to recover from the madness.

You know the public chess players? When I see them, I always feel a bit more comfortable. They sit there and play the game, thinking, taking their time to make their move. They are all very quiet, but they are familiar with each other. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their fellow players. All this is presented publicly for viewers: the chess players are constantly presenting their way to solve a spatial problem through their playing skills.

For me, this activity takes public space to its highest level.

Check back in the coming weeks for another installment of “What is Beautiful?”

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Artwork: Thomas Bratzke