Thursday, 7 March 2013

The old, the random and the ugly

I walked to work on one of those those beautiful spring days where it's summer in the sun and winter in the shade. It's four kilometres each way, which gives me plenty of opportunity to look at walls and fences. We need one for the boundary along one side of our house with the new neighbours and their new house.

The words "wall" and "fence" have slightly different meanings between Englsih and Japanese, being defined more by material in the former and function in the latter. Kabe is a wall of a house or building, while hei is a standalone fence or wall. The English words seem to be distinguished depending on whether they are made of wood or stone, although of course you can have a wooden wall. The Great Wall of China is called the ten-thousand-mile castle in Japanese, and probably Chinese too, but I digress.

I live to the West of the city centre, and work to the North, and walked two different routes through residential areas. The whole time I was looking out for inspiration and fences or walls that would look good for us.

I found none. 

The walls I saw break down into three groups: traditional, random and ugly. A lot of the traditional walls and fences looked really good, but would not suit our house. There were walls of beautiful stone, and fences of dark wood with tiled roofs running along the top. 

Actually most of the traditional walls didn't look that great. They would better fit into the random or ugly categories. A lot of them were all three. There seems to be a tendency to throw up anything without worrying about those details like function or appearance, or even cost. Some of them looked really expensive, but they would stop short of whole perimeters or even sensible spans. Walls with posts at the end but no gates between making you wonder whether they are there to actually do anything, or just look like a large receipt for materials and building services.

Many of the old wooden fences were rotting or splintering and in need of repair. Even when they were new, you could see that in a few years they are going to look terrible. Short-term cosmetic additions to a short-term and cosmetic building.

In many cases walls and fences had been patched together, not matching the building behind or anything on either side whether on the same plot or next door. Where a low wall had a fence fitted on top of it, the fence had often been replaced by something entirely incongruous with the surroundings. I guessed that a wooden fence had been neglected for years, then replaced with aluminium.

There was a lot of aluminium. Maybe it's a sensible thing to make fences from, as it's relatively cheap, strong and light, and allows gaps where wind could blow through rather than adding pressure to the wall. In several places I saw louvred aluminium, which I'm sure must have some useful function, but I can't really imagine it. Perhaps it lets in light and heat in the winter but not the summer. At least it would do that if aligned in the right direction, but it didn't seem to be very often.

And there was even more wire mesh. I suppose there's nothing wrong with wire mesh, if you have a car park or a tennis court, or if you keep fierce dogs. 

Once I saw a wall made of concrete blocks that had been painted in a thick red paint that was peeling off in several places. 

The most annoying materials for me were imitation brick walls, obviously imitation because the bricks are cut off at the edge of each block so the natural pattern of overlapping bricks is broken. 

The most pleasing boundaries were hedges and a few had tasteful herbaceous borders.

I suppose, following Edison's philosophy, it was worthwhile as I now know a couple of thousand things that I don't want.