Posts Tagged ‘Post Modern Architecture’


What’s in a name?

May 18, 2016

Name Dropping – Did you ever notice that real estate people like to insert the names of house styles into their conversations with potential buyers?  “…nice to meet you.  I have a move in ready Center Hall Colonial to show tomorrow.” or “…there is a Mid-Century Modern neighborhood that generates a lot of interest.”  The local historical committee, of course, has raised name dropping to an art form.  Here in Old Town they are the designated authority, champion and voice of all things Georgian and very present at all meetings of the local architectural review board.

Name Listing – There is a list of house styles on Wikipedia with which, truth be told, I have a lot of fun.  I can’t wait to tell some realtor that I would like to see a Dingbat house?  No kidding.  It really exists!  It is also possible to get creative and customize these terms.  I actually thought of this a few years ago when a potential client brought a fist full of photos to a meeting.  She repeatedly told me how much she like Regency style design.  The photos were of mirrored replicas made into furniture and finishes of what appeared to be every decorative cliche ever invented by Thomas Sheraton, all of it originating from some shop like Pier One.  What, I thought, would one call these?  We could say Meta Modern or Pseudo Modern ( I will let you look those up) which seem to be buzz words that include all things previous.  How about Post Modern Revival of Regency Revival?  That ought to cover it.  I think putting things into categories gives us a feeling of control.  Although not much in the way of actual control.

Name Cancelling – Does not even the lowest budget shopper have a vision or image relating to his or her expectations about where they hope to live?   Think cottage and white picket fence a là now deceased American Dream.  What guides this?  I don’t think it has anything to do with style, named or real, unless that style somehow fits into the larger world of the individual’s past residential experience, turned into a dream or not.  Anyone looking to define a future stylistic paradigm might do well to flush out what is common in places we have lived in the recent past.  No easy task in an increasingly small and populated world and further complicated by the manipulations of large scale planners defining a built environment according to their particular terms.

Name Hunting – I have a friend, raised in an urban apartment block, these days sporting a million plus house budget in a quaint suburban neighborhood and hard pressed to find an acceptable house.  She has been conditioned to think of  a house as a commodity, with stylistic taste leaning towards the McMansion, she will consider only new construction and is completely put off by a yard of any size.  Her ideas about security and building in general are still involved with her roots in the apartment block.  As a member of a larger similarly inclined shopping group, she is influencing the look of a neighborhood because developers do very good market research.  They understand and deliver the absolute minimum that must be provided in order to satisfy this customer.  Expanding a customer’s  horizons is only part of the program to the extent necessary to sell a newly built home.  More complex, better assimilated options are never offered and existing housing is mostly ignored.

Name Finding – The word “finding” may be a little misleading (it fit in the text).  It is more as if a new style, rather than directly resulting from the search, just appears, although the looking is still required, and I might add, is considered to be a high intellectual activity in the world of architectural scholars. It is the result of a dialectical process, where the tension between the dominant old style and the emerging newer style become so great that the whole conflict collapses into something else.  It is like the invisible whole, which is greater than the sum of the parts, suddenly becomes visible and Voila, a new style is there.  This line of thinking, of course, comes from the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a favorite of mine, distained by many, and begging the question, what is the emerging new style?  Is it already implemented?  Will it be defined by the spatial needs of an expanding population or the desire to be “green?”  Will it return to nature like a Hogan, or the earth like a Sod House.  Maybe it will look like my favorite Parkitecture!  Could we see a Modern Farmhouse, or how about a Star Wars version of the Rumah Gadang?  That might work.  Whatever the new name, I am pretty sure that some combination of its elements will be easy to locate in the afore mentioned list of house styles!

Images are used under Creative Commons from Flickr and Wikipedia or owned by the author.  Please contact us for the links.


Le Corbusier Fancy

January 4, 2014

2157559108_953bbcb4a0_oHouse of the Day #7: 409 W. 120th StreetThere is a type of chair often referred to in design school as a “Sheraton Fancy” and if one is inclined to look further into it, they would find that Thomas Sheraton was prone to pillage his predecessors to the extent that not a little of some history of architecture reference book shows up in his very elegant furniture designs, published in his book, The Cabinet Maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, and then not only copied but frivolously embellished forever after.    These houses somehow brought Sheraton to mind, as if they might first have been conceived in a chronology of 20th century architectural styles that were finally reassembled in a silly but nevertheless pleasing way.  I like these houses.  They are modest little jewels in a sea of…. well you know ..


Post Modern Wild West

December 17, 2013

vernacular post modern

I am often attracted to architectural projects that cross artlessly over the line between stylistic and strange, which they mostly do by crossing imaginary lines between style and style.  Strange is a holistic sort of term, like hot or big.  No one ever thinks to ask why a thing is big.  They just know that it is.  It is like that with strange, which the house in the photo most certainly is.

Once defined in such terms, a thing tends to acquire value based on the degree of bigness, hotness, strangeness, etc. that it demonstrates.  This house, for example, probably falls somewhere in the middle on the strangeness meter.  I expect that it could be a hard sell to an intellectual or sophisticated buyer, not so much to someone looking for features and even less so to an eccentric with a special agenda.

My interest is to discover whether analyzing the design has the ability to change our perception of it.  Without question the flat blue facade with the angled square window conjures up “postmodern” contraptions the likes of which Michael Graves may forever lament.  It collides with the not so subtle reference to rustic Western towns set in rugged terrain, consisting  of unpainted wooden buildings in rows made rigid by flat facades, and counterfeit by perfectly aligning parapets.  Not to be overlooked is the fact that what we really have is a two story colonial box with dated modern style windows.  Ok!  I take it back.  Analysis only makes it more strange!


From dated to stylized?

June 6, 2012

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


February 20, 2012

Since we blame Frank Lloyd Wright for the face of post war suburbia can we likewise blame Michael Graves for the post modern “Popitecture” that makes up most of American streetscapes?  Probably, although in the case of Wright the label may not be deserved.  Either way, to shopping center developers a building must function first and foremost as a billboard.  If they could manage it, they would convert all shopping centers into big TV sets to get better exposure.  This, by the way, is actually happening.  Consider TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.”

Interestingly, the strategy may no longer be working.  We see miles of vacant real estate that may be a result of more than just a bad economy.  Maybe shoppers are longing for an experience that can only be provided by the organic interaction of individual architects with a real world shopping experience.