Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017

New Jersey in January. Grey skys stained brownish near the eastern horizon. The sound of cars driving on a wet road, the slow progression of headlights along a concrete highway at dusk.

Shades of tan, brown, and grey on weather-beaten condos. A warehouse, also of faded brown and tan, with white pine trees planted in front of it that also seem faded in color. Brick government and union buildings built in a mid-century modern style, now decaying and revealing the cheapness of their construction.

Some of us find this fadedness relaxing and comforting. It contrasts favorably with the shiny virile freshness of new developments. An older strip mall begins to take on a lyrical, contemplative quality. Even cheap whiskey improves as it ages.

The facelessness of our built surroundings changes character as time passes. Witness Route 22, precursor to the modern shopping highway, with its off-brand stores, buildings bearing witness to several cycles of boom and bust, and sketchy early highway engineering. While in new strip malls, warehouses, housing developments, we mostly see human intention - the utilitarian public works, the blunt, careless expressions of corporate power - in our more seasoned developments are revealed to us cosmic forces of inevitability and entropy. The human will power that birthed these buildings is softened. Now it is clear that their developers did not create on a blank slate, but rather put their forms out into a complex universe of mute power and incomprehensible forces. In the drabness, the unanticipated asymmetry, the buckling and cracking and streaks of rust, lies the beauty of NJ's sprawling development.

The image of the out-of-place, miserable, modern suburban office building rising above bare tree branches into the wet, grey winter sky, compels us. Here we can appreciate nature, our universe, our state.