Ornamental facades were an important part of communities’ aesthetics in the past. A look at Ottawa’s downtown buildings from the 1890s are proof of that affinity for stately architecture. Today’s standards aren’t as aesthetic and lean more toward practical and utilitarian. But that doesn’t mean design can’t be attractive too.

Several recent projects in Ottawa demonstrate that utility, safety and beauty can coexist. The newly renovated walking bridge at Ottawa’s City Park, Fifth and Main streets, sprung from a need to replace rotting wooden planks on the bridge that had eroded from years of salting the structure during winters. The bridge also didn’t meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. City staff added a new metal deck to the bridge, which won’t require treatment in the winter since the snow will melt and fall from the surface. Mesh steel was added to the railings of the bridge to meet building code standards and try to keep kids and others from falling from the bridge. Though the mesh was purely functional, its shiny black powder coating distinguishes the bridge, along with dressing it up.

A nearby guard rail along Main Street above the Skunk Run drainage area — though functional and utilitarian — matches the bridge’s black paint and looks intentional from a design perspective. Fortunately, today’s building codes that require functionality can be accomplished least expensively in a manner that looks good. Another example of that combination of design and function is a guard rail over a stormwater runoff area along Ottawa’s 15th Street between Olive Street and Pin Oak Circle. The guard rail is intended to avoid possible injuries from someone falling off the new sidewalk and down into the runoff area. Fortunately, it also looks nice.

Similarly, a guard rail put in by private enterprise — this one at Neosho County Community College on East K-68 — meets the same building standards and looks just as nice. Though the wrought-iron railings are there for safety, they benefit us all because they appeal to our aesthetics too. The unintentional unification by building standards offers a seemingly well-designed, appealing cohesion for the community. It can only get better as others are constructed in the future.


— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher