Years ago we worked on a house in a neighborhood full of homes designed in multiple styles; there were craftsman homes, Tudors, Victorians, Cape Cods, colonials, Queen Anne homes, the list goes on. Each of these is a respectable style in its own geographical origin, its own time and in its own method of construction. But here’s the deal-breaker, all of the homes in this neighborhood were built in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Not a single one of them was authentic.
We were hounded on our design which employed materials and methods of our current time. We dodged some tomatoes and caught others squarely in the face. Throughout all the presentations, discussions, negotiations, and scathing criticism, very few people in the community seemed to grasp the idea that, like it or not, modernism is authentic. Modernism is true to the way in which most people live their lives.
Individuals trained in architecture realize that not everyone will approve of a design; it simply comes with the territory. Praise, approval, or mere acceptance is not the point here. Rather, the concern is the alarming inconsistencies of how people make choices in the physically designed world. Like most communities, the neighbor’s homes were filled with modern amenities. Stainless steel six-burner gas ranges in their kitchens were supported by engineered framing (not cast iron coal burning stoves supported by old growth Doug-fir). 48” flat-screens hung on walls made of gypsum wall board (not phonographs sitting next to walls of lathe and plaster). Garages were filled with beautiful, modern automobiles (not carriages); one neighbor even had a Porsche Carrera – the pinnacle of sophisticated modern design.
When these individuals go to acquire the objects that surround them in life they seek up-to-date technology and modern design, be it audio/visual equipment, appliances, vehicles or sporting goods. Even the most mundane of household objects are incredibly advanced, from 800 thread count sheets to the lazy boy recliner. And yet, when it comes to architecture, all that logic is thrown out the double-hung window and a person’s preference harkens to times past. Architecture has become the black hole of the design world.
Can you imagine if other professions allowed such carelessness? Perhaps your doctor has a preference for tools and techniques from the late 1800’s? Maybe your accountant fancies using an abacus for your year end taxes? How about if the local fire department thought it was more fashionable to arrive at the scene in a horse and buggy? Such latitude would be reckless, and yet when it comes to architecture this charade is being played everyday. At a disturbing frequency, architects and homeowners alike are guilty of designing funny little stage sets.
We’re not suggesting that the cross section of society immediately become modern architecture fans. We admire and enjoy the pluralism and diversity in the world – when it’s authentic. However we didn’t do all this ranting for nothing. What we are proposing is that people become more conscious of their design decisions and recognize the patterns and blind spots in their lives. We’re proposing that smart thinking people who drive Porsches and watch the super bowl on flat screen televisions be able to distinguish between authentic design and a stage set. And with any luck, at the very least develop a respect for authentic architecture.