The Fine Art of Looking at Ugly Walls

Southwesterly winds bring rain that hits both sides of this corner house. The southern sun dries the right side. The left side (west-facing) stays damp for longer and lets the algae grow.

Walls that start life looking the same do not stay that way for long.

The sun hits exposed south-facing walls hard in the middle of the day. North-facing walls rarely see the sun. This creates two different habitats.

The prevailing wind brings in rain that hits one side of buildings, soaking them but sparing the sheltered sides. In coastal areas this wind also carries salt in the air and in the rain. This creates another two habitats.

None of these habitats are exclusive, they overlap. There are places where rain and salt reach. And others where the sun and rain does.

Mosses and algae do better on damp shaded walls. Some lichens like these spots too.

Most lichens prefer direct sunlight and dislike salt. Some specialist lichens only thrive with a sprinkling of coastal salt in the air.

Paint blisters, cracks and peels in direct sunlight.


A few days ago the sun was out and I had two hours to kill in Brighton. It is a coastal town. The elements force their way in and leave their mark on the walls of the city.

There is a practicality to these signs, we can use them to find direction and navigate. There is also a beauty.

A ‘clean’ south-facing wall
This is a north-facing wall from the same building, it is only a few metres from the wall in the picture above. Green algae is doing OK.
On first glance, this wall might appear to be north-facing, but the colours give it away. The gold colour is Xanthoria, a sunlight-loving lichen. This is a south-facing wall.
A north-facing buttress. Note the ‘dirty’ look, which is actually made up of the green tinge of algae and some darker lichens.
Paint peeling and a ‘clean’ wall, no visible growth. Together a classic sign of a south-facing wall.
Some dark growth, but the painted letters look fresh. This is north-facing side of the street.
The paint has faded and fallen off the sign and the lettering. This is the opposite, south-facing side of the same street. This sign has been battered by both sun and salt-laden winds.
Another building that might make us think it is north-facing, but look closer. There is very little algal growth.
Paint is peeling in some places, especially the top left of the picture where both sun and salt are doing damage. This is the south face of a building near the seafront.

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