Archive for June, 2012


Graphics Gone Wild

June 27, 2012

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Fielded panels are foundational architectural elements in American historical building.  They are one of a handful of architectural features that cross the line between purpose and decoration.  Like a Corinthian column installed to support a gallery above, or an arch and keystone between two rooms, they are intended to enclose a space, support a wall, hold up a ceiling.  All have in common an intrinsic sculptural quality that is accomplished by crafting a single material in a way that is decorative in its detail.  The strength of the material and the art of the decoration are expressed as a single element.  This sculptural tendency  carries over to the ornamentation as well.  Garland motifs maybe applied but appear to be cast into the plaster.

The fielded panels in this house are turned into flat high contrast graphic designs overwhelming the space and removing all hints of history.  The interior view along the stair, minus the graphic panels, suggests the possibility of a lovely Queen Ann ambiance.  Untrained designers, even those with natural ability, might try to correct a problem with more of the same problem.  An interior architect could have provided a sophisticated rendition of this historical style.

House photos courtesy of Weichert.


Barely conscious notions of trailers as high design.

June 18, 2012

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Somewhere around 2003, “Dwell” magazine published a critical comment about mobile homes.  The author, having stopped by a dealer’s lot for a look,  provided a concise description; covering the interior and exterior; not missing the vinyl siding, flooring, wall covering, bathroom fixtures, and synthetic carpeting;  noting the marriage line in the floor, in the event a double wide was chosen; and ending with a bit of drama, saying that his “throat froze up,” presumably from off-gassing.  I found this little article to be gut wrenchingly, guffawingly funny.  I was literally speechless with laughter.

Years later, I figured out that it was the absolute irony of the situation that made it so funny.  Here I was, an architect, harboring barely conscious notions of trailers as the stuff of high design, when along comes the unofficial arbiter of “green and cool” to reinforce the long standing stereotype recently resurrected by the “Trailer Park Boys.”  I start laughing all over again.  What is the mystique?  Why do I think there is design potential in these 16′ x 80′ x 10′ residential boxes.

The answer is easier to formulate than, and partially in, the  question.  It has to do with potential.  In my mind there are only two types of mobile homes on the market today.  The first type is the finished home;  complete with all the accoutrements large and small, tasteful or gauche, rich or not, and all visually  imitating  suburbia.  These are the stereotypical keepers of the cult.  Real people buying real mobile homes without which there would be no market, and no mobile homes.

The second type is the strip out;  usually the cheapest model on the lot, single wide, without shutters, or decoration;  it has vertical siding and just enough of a gable to shed water.  It looks more like the back of a semi parked in a truck stop than any image of suburbia, and that may be true of the interior as well.  Usually found in pristine rural environments, on construction sites, or industrial lots, these carry images aligned with the current elite stylistic vision.  Furthermore, they have all of the implicit design potential of “Modernism” packed into the perfect abstraction of a structural box that not only functions as a  house, but also moves.  What could be more liberating?  Suddenly the architect is free to  plan it, duplicate it, color it, extend it, decorate it, split it, open it, close it, raise it, lower it, “green” it, bridge it and even move and float it;  all with few functional confines.  It is not difficult to see how these simple basic mobile homes could become suggestive to the point of architectural fantasy.

Of course, this all leads directly to the questions of reconciling  the stereotype and the fantasy.  I tend to view the whole mobile home industry as a kind of natural resource to be preserved on the basis of its design potential.   In reality, economics and demographics might well be turning later into now.  Either way, architects would do well to prepare, because the “observation effect” is already in full shift.

Copywright © 2012 Bridget Gaddis

Photos used under creative commons here:
Basic Mobile Home
Extended Living Space
Quick and Easy Street

Escapee from the remodeler’s un-improvement.

June 14, 2012

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Is there such a thing as an “Endangered Species Act” for houses?  If so, this place should be put on it now.  How rare?  A 1950’s vintage retro house that has miraculously escaped the home remodeler’s un-improvement.  A family of 5 could move into this house “as is” and live comfortably by all of today’s standards.  Whoever buys the place might want to meet with an architect to see about returning some of the finishes to their original design.  Check out the ceiling light in the kitchen.  It has to be original.  Here are some ideas for furnishings.

House photos courtesy of Weichert.

Taming the Tower

June 13, 2012

Comment on “The Last Resort”

This post is a continuation of a discussion entitled “The Last Resort” started on another blog.  I am posting it here in order to show the sketch.  The discussion is about possible finishes for this house which is under construction.  The home owner was trying to  reduce the “rocket” affect of the turret.  I thought that the house design was all about an assembly of volumes, not the least being the turret, and that adding a fake chimney in the empty space on the end gable elevation would detract from the design intent.

The sketch was to help show what I was trying to point out.  When you take the gable end elevation by itself the empty space implies that something should be there.  I actually wrote a blog post on exactly this subject:  “Something is Missing“.  In this case, though, if the trim boards frame the elevation so that it appears to be an additional large volume, then not only do the angled window support the overall shape of the elevation, but also the size and prominence of the turret is reduced by dint of the fact that now there are two large volumes instead of one.  Even the little windows angled up the elevation above the porch now contribute to the overall composition.

Further, if the foundation is finished so that it matches the color of the ground and if the basement windows are trimmed to match, the house settles down.  Also, another visual trick is to use a light color trim where the house meets the foundation.  Since our eyes are always drawn to elements of high contrast, visually we tend to see the base of the house at the top rather than the bottom of the foundation.  Sorry for the bad sketch.  Also, if I was working with this home owner I would do a number of sketches in different configurations to help them see what they like.


From dated to stylized?

June 6, 2012

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Just take a look at the HGTV program “House Hunters” if you want some insight into the style sense of most people.  If a property is “dated” on the interior, the house hunter cannot exit fast enough.  Very few have the ability to look beyond the label.  White appliances, a standard and true classic,  are enough to send a potential buyer scurrying to the nearest new development in search of the current favorite, stainless steel.

Amazingly, many home owners do not apply the same logic to the exterior.  This home owner faced with a circa 1980 “Post Modern” style condo went happily off and bought a house full of “traditional” furnishing, without the least thought of the house’s architectural style.  Any architect with an interiors department would have directed this homeowner toward color blocked, modern furniture with a post modern flair.  It would have taken this condo from dated to stylized.

House photos courtesy of Weichert. 
Furniture store photo used under Creative Commons.