Making the utilitarian an aesthetic asset

Drain covers. Do you ever notice them?

Me neither.

Until I went to Germany. At the first town, Koblenz, I noticed the design on the drain covers.


Was the boy vomiting? Spitting out the water because it is awful? Neither seemed appropriate for the local water board.

I found out the story of the Schlängel and have previously posted about the statue of the spitting boy.

Then I kept my eyes peeled at each town for their water covers.

Sure enough, I spotted different covers at the next town, Trier.


Then more:






I love the attention to detail. Decorating the utilitarian, and making it into art.

I love the branding of each town. Taking an image or symbol, and putting it, in a subtle and artist way, on things all around us. Things we normally ignore as we stride or dawdle around.

The symbols don’t have that appearance of being designed by marketing copywriters or designers that change with fashion. They are something that stand for more than marketing. Something that comes from the town’s history and has, and will, stand for centuries.

I get that symbols can be problematic – who has been overlooked, excluded, repressed; who does not feel a symbol represents them. Maybe it helps that Germany is largely a mono-culture? I couldn’t imagine what symbol could be placed on the drains of Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane and whether the symbol would be accepted by most, and be one that would be acceptable in years and decades hence.

All these little details add to the beauty of each town. There’s artwork everywhere.

7 thoughts on “Making the utilitarian an aesthetic asset

  1. I noticed them in France. The ones I saw didn’t have town symbols but were striking patterns and shapes. Your German ones are wonderful too. It pays to look down and look up. Treasures abound!

  2. I remember seeing a drain cover in MOMA or a simialr NYC gallery.’ And I was fascinated.

    I think the City of Sydney logo/symbol is good – it’s about being a nautical sort of city, around a harbour/anchor, and then something about centrepoint tower? It’s not historical, more modern, but might stand the test of time? Wikipedia shows it as part of a larger logo they redesigned in 1996. Interesting.

    You can bet this is something I notice when I travel too – so long with a utility, I notice the oddest things.

    • I just looked up the logo. I like it but not sure it will not be further modified/changed/messed with by advertising consultants. That’s the problem in Australia – we change the logos to make them more “modern”.

  3. Ah – I wish I’d thought to look at this in France! How beautiful. Bestowing care and attention to detail on something otherwise prosaic. Makes you think about the engineering marvel that is city drainage!

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