Coming soon to the discerning traveller: the ugly tour

Something to Declare

There are two types of beauty spot. Marilyn Monroe had a famous one. The other is the area or view approved by the creaking mechanisms of our culture as "beautiful". For example: Beachy Head, Long Mynd, Chesil Beach, Wharfedale. In France, maps use an icon suggesting pleasantly pulsating sightlines to indicate their points de vue.

Conventionally, the purpose of travel is to consume beauty, to enjoy pleasing points of view. So, indefatigably contrarian, I have been thinking about ugly spots. Here is a rich source for rumination. Identifying hideous cities is one of journalism's clichés. Every so often, folk make a list of the places people dislike most. There is rarely much debate. Luton, Corby, Thamesmead, Plymouth Civic Centre, the old Birmingham are routinely stigmatised.

But we have to be cautious about what is and is not beautiful and ugly. Evelyn Waugh wrote a hilarious corrective to sight-seeing consensus:

"I do not think I shall ever forget the sight of Etna at sunset; the mountains almost invisible in a blur of pastel grey, glowing on the top and then repeating its shape, as though reflected, in a wisp of grey smoke, with the whole horizon behind radiant in its pink light, fading gently into a grey pastel sky. Nothing I have ever seen in Art or Nature was quite so revolting."

The only certain thing in the history of art is that tastes change. What is admired in one generation is predictably reviled in the next. Michelangelo was once thought coarse, Shakespeare a rustic buffoon.

And every Paris intello was once against the Eiffel Tower. In 1887, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Garnier, Charles Gounod and Alexandre Dumas fils wrote to Le Temps calling it a "hateful column of bolted tin …. useless and monstrous". Who does not love it today?

It is only a matter of time before our hated Brutalist towns and cities are adopted by the conservation lobby as touching memorials to Sixties sensibilities, as quaint as Duck Island Cottage in St James's Park. If the wrecking ball does not get them first.

So just as we must be cautious about premature condemnation, it is worth reflecting on what pleasures might be had from considering the future of ugly travel and tourism. To make a case for ugliness, you could start with the idea that beauty is boring. If everything were beautiful, nothing would be. Landscapes of perfection would be intolerably dull. If we spent all our time staring at the picturesque lake at Blenheim, we would surely soon crave the contrast of landfill in the Lea Valley. Heaven needs its Hell.

Of course, there is ugliness already in travel. It's always a bad air day when flying: red eye, cramps, the penitential air of baggage recovery, the Ballardian bleakness of airports. Not to mention the vileness of French suburbs with their Conforama trading sheds, Baltimore, et al.

But wherever it occurs, ugliness is challenging, not soothing. And who does not want to be challenged? And ugliness has another claim. It is, according to Serge Gainsbourg, superior to beauty "because it lasts longer". Quite so.

Stephen Bayley's 'Ugly' is published by Goodman Fiell tomorrow, £25

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
football
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering