Design (good or bad) is fun to find

Sometimes I like to go around and notice buildings, neighborhoods or random design elements that look interesting or noteworthy, so I thought I would use this column to talk about some of them.

I should mention I don't really have any architecture or design background, although I did play a whole lot of Sim City growing up (the basic version, not 3000).

I also took an art history class in college that I loved, and still remember things like the three types of Greco-Roman columns (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian). Very useful, I know.

Anyway, I'm just generally fascinated by architecture and development.

There are a lot of places around the county I think look really nice, and a lot that are more, umm, intriguing.

I'll skip the more obvious ones, like Bel Air's Main Street or Havre de Grace's Promenade, which I think already get a lot of recognition.

One of the nicest places I've seen is the entryway to Joppatowne on Route 40, which I think is a good example of how to make a fairly gritty, industrial road look better. There's a nice, stone-like sign announcing "Harford County," a more historic-looking sign for Joppatowne and an attractive, mixed-stone median with plantings in it.

On the other end of the spectrum is the entry to Abingdon from I-95, at the massive Route 24/924 junction, which leaves something to be desired.

The bottom of the new bridge going over Route 24, as seen from 924, looks pretty nice. But if you actually drive on Route 24, the view from that bridge is a big missed opportunity. The bridge could have had some nice-looking parapets to overlook the shopping centers and greenery, and pull the whole view together.

Instead, the bridge is lined with black chain-link fences that make the sprawled-out intersection look even more bland and unwelcoming.

I realize the state had to cut a lot of corners to save money on the huge project, and I'm sure having pretty railings wasn't a top priority, but maybe a more grassroots effort can help build something that actually looks good there.

One building that seems to get a lot of scorn is the "Black Box" at 212 S. Bond St. (Any time a property gets a nickname, it's probably not a good sign.)

Personally, though, I don't think the Black Box is that bad; it's not amazingly beautiful, but it's a pretty ordinary-looking office building.

The county building at 220 S. Main St., on the other hand, is kind of strange and awkward. I think it looks like something out of a Lego set or maybe a combination office building/fast-food restaurant.

It doesn't really match the rest of Main Street, and it doesn't look either like a serious office building or a pretty, historic building.

A better example of a government building and its surroundings is Aberdeen's City Hall.

I think the whole intersection with Festival Park, the library and city hall is one of the best-designed things in the county. I seriously like how that park looks.

I know you might be thinking Aberdeen's City Hall is much newer than the county building, but age has nothing to do with it.

The century-old buildings in the Main Street area, after all, look great. They have a sense of grandness and importance, but are still built on a human scale.

On a side note, have you ever seen the office doors in the Circuit Courthouse that go up to the (very tall) ceilings? Those are some of the tallest doors I have ever seen anywhere! It's like something out of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

I don't know the history or reason for building such huge doors, but they are really awesome.

One last item I'll mention is not a formal piece of architecture, but I have to bring it up: The Chicken on the Roof Grill, on Route 40 in Joppa. This is a restaurant that literally has a large, inflatable chicken on top of the building.

I can't speak for the quality of the food, but how can you go wrong with a giant chicken on your roof? You can't.

It makes me smile every time I drive by it, and architecture that makes you smile? Priceless.

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