Driving around any American city you’ll see one gated neighborhood after another. Enter one of those neighborhoods and you’ll see row after row of the most antiseptic, bland, unimaginative homes ever conceived. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of construction and/or architecture could drive from street to street and count the number of floor plans available (If you count more than 3 available floor plan types in a single neighborhood I’ll eat my hat). There is a big difference however when you travel to a historic neighborhood. Obviously housing design will change with the times in order to accommodate changes in the way people live, but in older neighborhoods there was more of a varied interest in how homes were designed/built. Where is this varied interest today? Why, instead of designing 250 homes in a single neighborhood for a fictitious client that you’ll never actually sell a house to, do we not offer an alternative?
I spend a lot of time shouting at the wind about how architecture is a noble profession and we need to step up for the betterment of our societies, etc etc blah blah blah. Well, driving to and from Home Depot today (got a gift card as an early Christmas present – SCORE!) I heard two adverts for the same big box crap homes that I’ve been railing against for what seems like years now….I’m really tired of hearing about these large tract developments that seem to surround and strangle our cities all across America. Architects are helping to perpetuate these crap developments too. It’s not all on the shoulders of the developers and their greedy tendencies. Architects, having accepted their fate as nothing more than mere service providers doing the clients bidding, are just as culpable for the sorry state of our built environments.
Where are the architects hungry for design, technology, sustainability and design (yes, I said design twice because it needs repeating seeing as a vast majority of architects have no intimacy with the term)? Where are the architects willing to step up to clients who try and beat them out of every red nickle at the expense of what could have been a good work of architecture? Where are the architects willing to take the necessary steps in order to EDUCATE their clients and help them realize that they can still have modern, contemporary QUALITY design and construction at an affordable price that won’t greatly affect their bottom line? Where are the master builders?
Lots of other designers and even a few architects are talking about this very subject today. Ironically, it’s the ones that are talking about it that are the answer. That’s right. WE are the answer. We are the next generation of trend setters, envelope pushers, daredevils and malcontents. No longer will we allow clients to muscle us into designing the next greatest strip mall with the lowest cost and lowest quality materials when higher quality, more energy efficient materials can be had at affordable prices. No longer will we stand by and let a client tell us that the Spanish/Mediterranean/Colonial/Neo-Classical style is “in”. We will educate our clients, we will guide them and help them grow to appreciate something more than the last line item on a spreadsheet. It’s time for all of us who are shouting at the wind to realize that we’re the answer we’re looking for and take our places at the head of the line – put ourselves out there and get this shit done man!
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Great points, Jeremiah, but of course, it’s always a complicated issue. This is one that we’ve been struggling with for years, since the rise to dominance of big-box retail (one of which you drove to yourself in your story) and housing marketed as a product. It’s not one we’re likely to solve soon, but we have to keep working toward solutions.
Personally, I have a slim hope that one of the few good things to come out of this terrible recession might be a generation of Americans who reassess their priorities and seek out homes that are smaller and more economical, trading wasted space for higher quality in both design and materials, as well as a desire to return to strong communal ties with walkable neighborhoods. Maybe that’s a pipe dream, but maybe not; only time will tell.
Bryant, thanks for your comments. It is a complicated issue, but it’s also a simple issue. In these “tough” times, architects are even less likely to step out and try to educate their clients, but it seems they are even less likely to do so in good times. Is it just a catch 22, or are architects just completely apathetic to the whole situation?
In working towards solutions, I think there is more than a slim hope for the upcoming generations (us included). There is not only a new generation of homeowner/homebuyer but also a new generation of architect and designer that is working to pursue this new market of more economical, ecological and self-sufficient living. People are moving OUT of the suburbs and INTO the urban cores in favor of mass transit, independence from the automobile, a more walkable and compact lifestyle. This naturally lends itself to more “compact” living. I am hopeful right along with you, but that hope is far from slim in my opinion. We, as architects and designers, simply need to push forward in education, publication and excitement.