John Fleming
H
OWEVER SIMPLE A STREET OBJECT in an urban setting may be in form and function, it carries through its material presence an innate aesthetic content, within the concrete manifestation of services provided in a public space. From a plain, apparently unadorned lamp standard (pure function perhaps) to an Art Nouveau subway entrance in an identifiable style (direct aesthetic reference), the decorative effect may escape unnoticed by the passive observer or register an aesthetic response through the pleasures of recognition and a feeling of visual rapport with one’s surroundings.

This issue looks at just a few of the public utilities recorded historically through intermediary means such as postcards and engravings, or available in situ to the inhabitants of a town or city in which shared spaces supply basic public amenities to a community. The decorative elaboration of such conveniences—lampposts, street signs, water and sewage installations, comfort, and disposal services—ranges from the austerity of straight-line poles and pipes to surface embellishment of flowers and figural shapes, geometric alignments, architectural oddities, and the construction of gates and arches, as recorded through the artifacts proposed here by our contributors.