Saturday, March 8, 2014

A SUBURBAN TRAGEDY

The Dismal State of 
Domestic Architecture Today

An inimitable work of Art. Eminently impractical.

The Architectural Ethos of Today, if we may call it that, is downright SURREALISTIC. The standards we've adopted are neither realistic, nor unrealistic. They are simply PERVERSE. 
The McMansion phenomenon is most regrettable –– as was the influence of Frank Lloyd Wrong. The Flat Roof –– a Hallmark of the style now known as "Mid-Century Modern" became popular largely because of FLW's interesting-but-largely-pernicious influence. [Does anyone besides me remember the satirical cartoon in The New Yorker depicting a mythical new housing development where every dwelling was a standardized copy of Fallingwater?;-]

 Bauhaus knock off. A dwelling that looks like an office building.

Windowless schools and windowless office buildings using totally artificial systems of "Climate Control" have given us "Sick Building Syndrome," and may be at least partly responsible for the alarming increase in sullen, anti-social, self-absorbed behavior. The tendency to produce increasingly-huge, poorly-constructed, hideously ugly houses with "open floor plans" and no discernible style from materials designed to look "solid" and "important," but are in fact nothing but cheap, hollow, plastic, “engineered” imitations of wood, stone, marble and metal have made the concept of deliberately Planned Obsolescence acceptable on a scale unforeseen when it began sixty-odd years ago in the manufacture of automobiles and appliances. We now find "The Home and Garden Channel" zealously pushing the –– I-think-insane notion –– that anything that looks "out of date," even if still functioning well, absolutely MUST be DESTROYED and REPLACED with something far more expensive, and doubtless designed to fall apart in a few short years –– just in time to greet the next Trend conjured up by the increasingly rapacious Establishment.
Why else do you think I, personally, collect and cherish antiques, have been active for the past 40-odd years in Historic Preservation, and do everything possible to preserve and maintain what-I-regard-as the best aspects of the past?
What could be behind the movement for incessant "change," but the –– I-think-evil –– motive that "consumers" [When, incidentally, did we stop being "people," and become mere "consumers?"] must be encouraged –– even forced –– by ever stricter, more strangulating regulations and artificially-induced feelings of Guilt and Shame by the advertising industry for being "behind the times" to spend more and more on meretricious items with less and less intrinsic value, and new devices and "systems" of increasingly questionable worth.
Face it. The public and domestic architecture produced largely before The Great Depression, but up until the 1950's, had greater structural integrity, was far more pleasing –– or at least interesting –– aesthetically –– and far more pleasant to work in and live with –– than all that has come in it's wake. And those structures were built to LAST.

All of which is to say that in my considered opinion we have sold our proverbial birthright for a mess of proverbial pottage.
Wouldn't it be better for the Environment –– as well as our collective Mental Health –– if we returned to the building of smaller, cozier dwellings made of time-tested durable, easily repaired materials, with classic lines, finer architectural details, and less emphasis on technological innovations in kitchen and bathroom design?

Do watch H-G TV, and prepare to feel DISGUST and CONSTERNATION at the attitudes displayed by the Young Dupes who've been effectively brainwashed into enslaving themselves to the new version of "Keeping Up With The Joneses" fomented, then mandated by the thoroughly corrupt alliance between Big Business and Government.

The McMansion: pretentious, cheaply built, meretricious, regrettable.



15 comments:

  1. Some of the subdivisions in the D.C. area have houses so much alike that one couldn't find one's own home if one were drunk.

    A few years ago, I gave piano lessons in one such cookie-cutter subdivision. The house numbers were not clearly visible, and the only way I could identify the students' homes was by looking for basketball poles (the portable kind in the driveway) or the types of automobiles parked in the driveways. But the cars were problematic too! They were all big black SUV's!

    I'll say one thing for the block that I live on: even though the new homes are McMansions or fake Victorians, each house is substantially different in appearance. Our house is "the very different one" -- sometimes referred to as "that old cottage."

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  2. I'd take your house over anything built in the past fifty years, AOW. It may not be "up to date," but it has real character, charm and structural integrity.

    My personal "dream house" -- aside from an authentic eighteenth-century English Manor House surrounded by private, landscaped parkland -- would be one of the beautifully-built, well-appointed Colonial-Revival or Tudor-style houses built for successful business executives in the nineteen-twenties. Fine houses of that sort continued to be constructed during the Depression and into the forties. After the Second World War housing began its steep decline in quality and style.

    I do not "hate" Frank Lloyd Wright's houses, but, except for his early "Prairie-Style" places in Oak Park, Illinois and other parts of "Chicagoland," they don't work well in suburban settings. They need lots of wooded land with interesting, highly irregular topographical features.

    Art Deco in my opinion was the last legitimate style. What passes for desirable development today is a hideous amalgam of unrelated stylistic elements that have no unity or integrity -- truly a bastardization of architectural elements from the past. Frank Lloyd Wright would be appalled at the McMansion phenomenon.

    Building primarily for "Bigness" is not only ugly it's vulgar and frankly nauseating. These modern interiors have all the warmth and charm of an aeroplane hangar.

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  3. Makes you almost yearn for the coming rob-olution, don't it? ;)

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  4. What??? Not Liebeskind or Gehry or Zaha Hadid???

    THAT's a shocker.

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  5. Ducky,

    That building has had the distinction of being called the most daring design when it was completed in the i960s,and also one of the ugliest ever designed.

    I go through Government Center almost every day, and my opinion is that City Hall and its plaza is Brutalism.

    The other building near by on Staniford Street that is "Brutalism" is the one that houses the state's mental health services and other state offices. And it would make anyone crazy to work there. It's a concrete monstrosity, and it's crumbling before our eyes.

    It looks like something the Soviets would have erected as a monument to modernity: A study in stairways going nowhere, high forbidding walls, and hideous concrete.

    Fortunately, we have such a treasure trove of beautiful building, and we don't have to suffer very long looking at the horrids.



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  6. I rather like the building, Shaw. I certainly prefer it to the JFK building which really lacks any character.

    I'm not too thrilled with the plaza. That big stone expanse does more to generate a cold feeling than the building itself.

    I was thrilled when they tore up the stone at Copley and replaced it with grass.

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  7. Thank you for your observations, Miss Shaw. I can't stand ANY of this stark "modern" crap. It's a blight on most cityscapes. That goes for Philip Johnson and I.M. Pei.

    I can well understand why a perverse revolutionary mentality like Ducky's would feel obliged to be enamored of this stuff. It very deliberately thumbs its nose at the beauty, dignity, grandeur and spirit of graciousness characteristic of the best we produced in the past.

    And no, I would NOT be one of Howard Roark's fans, although I am certainly not in Ellsworth Toohey's camp either. I despise Philistinism as much as I do Giving the Finger and Thumbing the Nose at "Tradition" and other boldly assertive gestures deliberately designed to shock, irritate and offend.

    The self-consciously "avant garde" is a pain-in-the-ass. I'll tell you why: Because it is rooted in obvious HATRED for established norms and HATRED for the status quo.

    TRUE Art is an expression of great LOVE -- for Humanity, for Nature and for the Cosmos. The criticisms it implies are SUBTLE. Fools very easily miss the significance of great achievement.

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  8. FT,
    Thank you for the compliment about my house (circa 1930).

    It is the last of the family homesteads and will, sooner or later, be demolished so as to build at least two hideous McMansions on this piece of property. If I can manage to live long enough, I should reap the consolation prize of decent capital gains. That said, I'd be sorry to see this old house torn down. So many memories here! This house has been in my mother's family since 1947.

    Truly, it is only since Mr. AOW's stroke that we haven't loved living here. This two-story house, without a second bathroom and central AC, really is a structure suitable for only one person; if I had to pick my one gripe with this structure, it would be the size and configuration of the master bedroom. If only we had room in there for a king or queen bed! I have room to expand the room, but the county won't allow it. Zoning Nazis!

    There is also the matter of maintaining the lawn and the wooded lot -- work that Mr. AOW used to do, but for which I have to shell out now (except for the recent help we got from Decorate A Vet.

    I suppose the best thing about this place is the location. So very convenient to everything! Public transportation included.

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  9. Is that second graphic supposed to be Frank Lloyd Wright's house Falling Water? Mr. AOW and I toured Falling Water some years ago. Yes, the house was stunning. But talk about damp! And mold had to be everywhere, too. Also, all those narrow staircases and narrow halls mean that it is a young person's house.

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  10. ... a perverse revolutionary mentality like Ducky's
    -----

    How gracious of you, FT.

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  11. FT, from your aesthetic theory I take it you're a big fan of Brecht.

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  12. from your aesthetic theory I take it you're a big fan of Brecht.

    Yes, I'm sure that FT is a HUGE fan of Verfremdungseffekt.

    *rolls eyes*

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  13. The Truth never flatters, often hurts, but always heals and ultimately liberates. The very last thing most want to confront, however, is the Truth.

    Perversity never fails to be persistent.

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  14. I'm sorry Farmer.

    Once again I forget the right is sarcasm challenged.

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