Appreciating the Little Things

Words: Cass Stern

In my previous note, we discussed the principles of looking at and observing the world around us, and how this plays an important role in making design decisions. Originally I had planned on doing a second Editor’s Note exploring the different ways to notice the beautiful details hidden in the buildings we pass by every day, but since that publication, the world we’ve been examining has been changed so much it seems strange compared to the world the first note was written in. 

2020 feels like it has lasted a lifetime, and we are just over halfway through it. The way we examine the world around us may not feel the same, but the sentiment of looking intentionally is just as, if not more valid these days. The undercurrent of this way of thinking is appreciation- without it, it’s harder to find joy in the details. 

There’s a difference between admiring a building and appreciating it, for example. You can walk by, slow down, double back, snap a picture, and post it to social media without ever seeing the building itself. The building may have grabbed your attention, but you didn’t take the time to notice the details that caught your eye in the first place. 

Brick architecture can and does easily stand the test of time. This makes buildings, especially in major cities, like time capsules of a bygone era. In Chicago, we have beautiful examples of Chicago common brick, terra cotta, rusticated stonework, and more. Every neighborhood is a patchwork of history, and each building has its own story. 

When we’re driving, walking, riding our bikes, running, strolling, or whatever the case may be to our next destination, we’re usually so focused on the destination ahead and don’t take the time to appreciate the journey. We’re fiddling with music, answering text messages, reading news stories, browsing social media...we’re just not paying attention to our immediate surroundings. 

By taking the time to stop and notice these details, you begin to wonder how they came to be. When I took the Rogers Park brick tour recently, I looked at buildings I had never really seen before, despite walking past them for over a decade. By looking at these places with open eyes and a new perspective, I feel like I really saw them for the first time. 

We all get trapped in a rut sometimes, whether it’s work, chores, or anything else. My challenge to you is to try and steer yourself out of that rut by making an effort to notice and appreciate the small details in your day. Whether it’s taking a moment first thing in the morning to yourself, or walking the dog on a different route, there’s always an opportunity to see something in a new and different way. 

Masonry has been and will always be an art form and the mason an artist. The next time you see a brick or stone building on your way home, perhaps you’ll stop and take notice of those tiny details that caught your eye. Chances are, it took a lot of skill to make that corner or edge look just right, but by doing so, the world around you is a little more beautiful.  

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