(note: I am featured as a guest blogger on the life and times of renaissance ronin with this post.)
I was once told that the two greatest professions to be in are Architect and Bartender (I’ve already got you wondering where the heck I’m going with this don’t I?). And the reason is that in both cases people come to you, mostly, when they are in a good mood, when they are at their happiest. This isn’t always true for bartenders, as I can attest to first hand, but I think the statement has merit for Architects, especially residential Architects.
When a client comes to you they are coming to you with a vision for their new home. And at the beginning the client and Architect both view the project like watching a small child grow and become a proud and productive member of society (all the while not thinking about the bitchy teenager they’ll be for most of that “growing up” time).
This brings us to “what does the home look like today?” Do the traditional ideas about “home” still apply in today’s technologically advanced world of iPhones, laptops, microwaves and flat screen tv’s? If the traditional home is no more, what replaces it?
What does tomorrow’s home look like today?
Since World War II, the mainstream residential market has been dominated by the suburban “cookie-cutter” tract home. These being your typical 3/2 on a 1/4 acre site stacked in neat rows creating the most antiseptic and sterile living environments I’ve ever seen. Not to mention forcing an increasing dependence on the automobile for transportation, which in turn muscled out mass transit in the cities for commuters….but I digress.
The “home” for many years followed predictable models of a segregation of the various functions of the home. Public/private, utility/leisure, inside/outside, etc. This lends itself very well to the “form follows function” argument that I’ve talked about here. Now, many will argue that the home has gone through many iterations over the last century or so at the hands of Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and others in the Prairie School or Le Corbusier and his “machine for living” and the International Style…the list goes on and on. But, these Architects and these architectural styles do not represent the mainstream body of work. They are exceptional and limited in their sphere of influence at their time.
Fast forward to today and things are starting to change. You still have the big box retailers (as I like to call them) like Ryland or Lamar or KB Home. These are the large tract developers that continue the tradition of the 3/2 on a 1/4 acre lot….antiseptic, sterile, no personality. But any cursory search on the internet will show you hundreds of Architects and Designers showcasing and building “modern” homes, or maybe better described as “alternative” homes. These include the gleaming and screaming, sexy, hyper (I hate the word “uber”) modern homes you see in movies (see Iron Man) or on the cover of magazines or in car commercials (see every luxury car commercial ever made) which makes for great publicity but does little to elicit a reaction from the average homeowner who may be interested in something more interesting than the latest Neo-Mediterranean/Spanish/Colonial Revival option out in the suburbs.
Once you get through the glitz and glamor of popular modern architecture, you’ll come to find that there truly are “affordable” options, other than the crap being built in the suburbs, that doesn’t include volunteer labor or donated materials and equipment. With the advances in construction technology and materials homes are being built cheaper and more efficient than they were ten years ago. These technologies are also allowing for smaller and more space efficient homes thanks to Architects and Designers willing to rethink how each function relates to another.
As the baby boomers and empty nesters are easing themselves out of the work force and into retirement they are faced, most often, with living in a home that is much larger than they need. At the same time my generation (the Gen x,y,z,1,2,3-ers) are seeking something more. We’re thinking about the environment, we’re thinking about our energy bills, our water bills; we’re thinking about what happens when we no longer own our home: can it be adapted to a new family, can it be recycled or upcycled and repurposed into something new?
These issues more than any others are what is driving the change in residential architecture today. So where does this leave us? Now more than ever, would-be homeowners are seeking out the advice and services of Architects and Designers (like myself and many others) that can offer low cost, high value, high efficiency designs that can be built quickly, cheaply and use less energy/resources in the daily operation of the home. We have reached a time in architecture where the home truly is the machine for living (Corbusier be proud).