Looking at Snow on City Buildings in Appleton

Reflections on Increasing Snow Appreciation through Urban Architecture and Design

During winter, when I walk around, or ride on the bus, I like to look for snow. I watch to see where snow shows up in urban and suburban landscapes.

I believe that positive associations with winter can be shaped in part by enabling people to view snow in pleasing fashion. Cities can provide parks; lawns can make use of evergreens; and buildings can use small design elements to allow snow a place to sit and… well, look cute. I will present a series of photos from downtown Appleton to demonstrate some of the locations there – large and small – where I found snow to appreciate. What can Winter Cities do to help people appreciate the beauty which winter brings?

dsc01468Landscaping with evergreens can make a significant difference. While both of these plants have their charms, evergreens can hold snow on and amidst their branches. This provides visual interest; spots of white appear above the horizontal. Even after the snow has fallen off of the branches of leaf-less plants, these evergreen bushes can keep presenting us with snow to appreciate. (Note: I definitely do also appreciate other trees on the landscape in winter as well! And native grasses provide very nice visual contrast.)

dsc01473dsc01474Public spaces can play a notable role in providing spaces where snow can remain. In these images, snow from earlier in the day remains on the sidewalks. But that will not stay for long. Soon, there will be little snow left on storefronts and sidewalks (likely excepting a set of piles along the road). Winter weather’s easiest-to-appreciate feature, snow, will have been removed. But in a plaza or park, snow can be left on the ground. (The ice sculptures framing the sidewalk are also a strong choice to help welcome people into a winterscape!)

As the image on the left shows, this gives people the chance to walk amidst snow-covered stretches of ground. It is a lot easier to feel that one is in a Winter City when there is some snow to see! If we are going to get hit by feet of snow over the course of winter, I think it appropriate that in some spots in our downtowns, we give that snow space to stay around. And to do so in places where we can appreciate it, access it! (Dingy snow piled up on the side of the road, or in vacant lots, is not something people want to appreciate.) We need snow that is easier to love.

dsc01476dsc01480On a smaller scale, I like to watch for little spots where snow sticks around after a storm, where it is not plowed away.

Many buildings have ledges were snow sits. But I like slightly larger ones, like this one, that allow more than just a thin line of snow.



I appreciated Rye’s effort here: decorations on the ledge. It becomes a little mini-model-landscape when the trees get snowed in 😉 I saw a group of people stop to check this out, with one member playing with the tinsel border on the bottom. This is a nice way to use a small space to allow nature and culture to combine.

dsc01477I suspect most of these buildings were not designed with an eye towards providing spaces for snow to sit. Whatever the case, I appreciate the ones that do provide multiple spots. The History Museum at the Castle provides a lot of such spaces, and a variety of them. Perhaps this earlier generation of architecture (and a style invoking much-earlier eras) allowed for more ledge spaces?

dsc01479It is a bit hard to tell in this photo, but when this sign is viewed at night, it really pops out with a frosting of snow. Note how snow sits on different letters; the light hitting the very reflective snow surface helps draw attention to the snow.

dsc01458Lights can be a means of helping draw attention to snow at night. This mixture of reflective surfaces, and shadows falling on snow, is quite striking. These lights provide a glow on snow, helping the whiteness pop out amidst a dimmer glow.dsc01459

Nearby, a business installed a light directed toward a tree. At some points during winter, like at this moment, this light ends up highlighting snow that lays on the tree. This picture turned out blurry, but you can see how the choice of a light in that location directs attention to a dramatic flash of white in the night.

dsc01464I regularly keep an eye out for patterns of shadows on snow. Allowing snow to stay in this alley/lane enabled these striking patterns as the light and fence combine.

dsc01463Unusual choices, which can set an establishment apart throughout the year, can play out differently during winter. This is just a tiny spot. But the red-light snow sticks out from a distance. There are plenty of white lights on snow. Outside of that, there’s not a lot of color (although I do watch to see how traffic lights can splay across nearby snow, particularly during a storm). So I appreciated this unusual choice.

dsc01453For the rest of this photo essay, I want to draw attention to some harmonious combinations I saw; spots which presented interesting mixtures of nature and culture. The evergreens here hold snow, as does the planter. A nearby light casts strong shadow patterns on the snow below. And this all plays out in front of the dimmer lights of the IL Angolo restaurant, including some holiday colors.


dsc01455On the weekend that a series of ice sculptures were created, I had the chance to check out how these sculptures fit into their surroundings. In this case, the year-round lights of this small public space provide an engaging backdrop. A kind of starry curtain behind angelic wings, perhaps?

Even if we look at this less fancifully… this spot provides a nice location from which to view a snow-dusted sculpture set out against a glowing snowy surface, with lights sparkily piercing the above darkness.


This planter again demonstrates Copper Leaf’s use of, and highlighting of, snow. Here’s another location where the mood lighting of the interior provides a contrast; dark walls, dim interior, bright decoration. They chose to rig up a kind of snaking garland of evergreen and lights upon a scaffold. So not only does the snow on top of the bush provide contrast and a little glow, but there’s a series of lights that at times will sit atop or alongside snow. And at other times, like this night, they more dramatically appear to illumine snow from behind or inside. I found this to be a delightful way to allow snow to provide a series of changing views of one’s landscaping.

dsc01452Finally, I like the combination of various factors at play here. The red blooms on trees inside, while little green remains outside. The library set a space set aside for snow to sit, just outside a greenhouse full of plant life. We see art in a public space, sculpture which sometimes matches the winding of the plants inside. And sculpture which sometimes holds onto drifting snow below, even as it wears snow as a crown above.

I hope this helped you develop an eye for winter, that it helps you locate little spots of beauty where you live!

About MilwaukeeSnow

Dr. Jeffrey Filipiak, Milwaukee's Ambassador of Snow, loves winter, Milwaukee, and environmental history! He has taught college courses on topics including history, writing, environmental ethics, food studies, the Great Lakes, and sustainability. You can contact him at ambassadorofsnow@gmail.com.
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