Category Archives: history

dMass via jetsongreen

this blew me away at 630 am.  Just AWESOME!  Mad kudos to Howard J. Brown, founder of dMass.


history and modernity

My thesis in college studied how modern and historic architecture could and should fit in the same neighborhood context.  But we so seldom see contemporary or modern architecture butted up beside a historic monument outside of cities like NYC or Chicago or Prague.

Why is that?  Is there a general fear within planning departments to blend the new with the old?  Is it a lack of vision or imagination that perpetuates the repetition of styles that have no real historical significance in our modern times?  Some might wonder why I’m asking these questions (even though they are questions I’ve asked before) and it’s because I’m seeing a good bit of talk lately on the issue of Urban Planning in cities around the country.  Most of these discussions center around land use planning and infrastructure, but along with that will go the types of buildings that are constructed and what they look like.  In other words, the style of our cities is as much important as how our cities are arranged.  Compare two cities like Atlanta and Savannah, both in Georgia.  Atlanta, being a modern metropolis with an expanding urban core and dedicated public transit has a very fast paced and modern quality of life that is reflected in the architecture.  On the other hand, Savannah, being steeped in it’s history and it’s historic identity has a much slower, easy quality of life and even new construction is forced into a “historical mold” that tells us nothing about the modern times we live in today.  Two cities directly impacted by not just planning and land use, but also impacted by the architectural styles present.

What would happen if we married the modern and the historic?  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Historic Preservation (in it’s true form of preservation not forced architectural copy), but I am also a modern architectural designer.  It’s important that our generations’ architectural record reflect modern technologies, modern styles and modern materials.  Otherwise we leave no clear architectural expression of our own for future generations.  Currently I see us in a “Architectural Dark Ages”, where the majority of the construction I see going up (in my own little corner of the world) is, for lack of a better phrase, CRAP.  It’s a copy of one or two or even 10 different architectural styles that hold some kind of significance in history, and these buildings try to use these styles to relate in some way to their surroundings when all they’re really doing is insulting every architect who came before them trying to leave a mark of their time and place in history.

Ok, that was a really long sentence, please forgive my rant.  But haven’t you ever driven/strolled/walked/run though a neighborhood or city and wondered “what in the hell were they thinking?”  It happens to me quite often (occupational hazard).  Like right now, I’m sitting in a starbucks (i know I know, I’m not shopping local….but hey, I like the coffee damn it), in a strip infill building in Riverside that has NO meaningful architectural expression….none, nada, zip, zero, zilch….and what’s worse is across the street is a residential development….oh please don’t make me describe it.  Let’s just say it ain’t winning any awards, and, like a good serial killer, is not terribly memorable in appearance.

But these are the types of developments that are railroaded through planning and development.  Why?  Because they don’t challenge any conventions, they are specifically non-descript, could fit in any neighborhood in any city in America and give absolutely no consideration to pedestrians or the greater betterment of their surroundings.  I’m thinking we can do better, don’t you?  As architects, developers, land owners and potential homeowners, we can do much better for our cities.  Demand a higher level of design, a higher quality of life and a higher quality of architecture and design will follow.

tomorrow’s home today

(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.

"The Fountainhead" 1943

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.

image courtesy of google

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.

Le Corbusier - Villa Savoye

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.

image courtesy of google

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).

the weekend warrior

To expand on my own personal ramblings from the other week about the new Riverside development that is forthcoming and my passionate disagreement with the opposition that has come out against it, I thought it would be nice to begin to chronicle some of my own preservation initiatives.

A little over two years ago my wife and I bought our first home, a 1918 Craftsman style bungalow in Riverside just outside 5 Points.

There was a bit of work needed when we moved in.  Least of which was painting.  The colors were horrid (sky blue walls and dark brown trim).  Not to mention there was no kitchen….and I mean NO kitchen.  There was a rusted out refrigerator and one counter with a sink.  No range and no additional cabinets.

living and dining rooms

original kitchen showing single countertop with sink

The floors as you can see above were…..well, there really are no words for how bad the floors were.  Now, nearly 2 1/2 years later we’ve done a considerable amount of work from painting, to refinishing most of the floors, adding new kitchen cabinets (all of which I’ll talk about in future posts).

Yesterday I started a big project – scraping, sealing and repainting the exterior.  I expect this latest project will take the better part of a year or more.  Luckily, in Florida, I can pretty much work outside year round (minus those two days a year where the temperature drops below 30 during the day).

rear of house at base

closeup of wood siding showing some of the damaged wood.

The paint is in a pretty sad state currently.  There are areas where spot painting has been done over the years as a repair.  Though it was done poorly and improperly, so now most of the paint has completely delaminated from the wood and needs to be completely scraped off (which isn’t much trouble since it basically just peels away without any tooling).

One of the coolest things about this project is seeing the changes in color choice over the years as I’m scraping, sanding and peeling through each layer to get to the wood underneath.

closeup of layers of color

As you can see above, there have been at least 3 separate color choices over the last 90+ years.  The oldest of which, as far as I can tell, was a grey-green color which is quite nice.  The blue was a little surprising.  There is a home behind me painted almost the exact same color, and on a larger home, it looks nice.  I have a hard time imagining my home (only around 1200 sf) being painted such a loud color like this.

We haven’t chosen a color as of yet, and don’t really need to until I’ve sanded, sealed and primed at least a 10′ square section of wall.  I’m thinking of going with the original color, but who knows how the wife will feel about that.  Stay tuned as I’ll post more progress photos as this little project continues.

The moral of this little story is that, as I’ve continued my renovations, I’ve come to have a deep respect and love for the old homes of Riverside.  The history and craftsmanship that they represent is irreplaceable and truly beautiful.  Respecting the original historical fabric of these homes is of the utmost importance.  These homes should stand out in stark contrast to any new developments that come to the area (even right next door).  And just as these homes represent the best of their time and place, so too should new homes and developments.  Otherwise you diminish and cheapen the history that these old homes represent.

residential architecture and good design

in this months’ edition of residential design & build magazine, the question is posed, “where is good design? is it coming?” in the same titled article by Luis Jauregui, and in which he says: “For some reason, the residential architectural industry continues to struggle. We’re lacking the kind of yesteryear heroes such as the prolific architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In today’s search for higher levels of design performance, many architects and publishers are choosing to pursue the much overused “edgy design,” searching for the next shock or new trend. But holistic good residential design continues to be elusive.”

this struck me as odd, because Wright designed and built houses not for the average homeowner or the average client.  he designed for signature clients that were looking for signature design in their homes and isn’t this the definition of “edgy design” today? Wright’s homes were not spec’d out and built in large development tracts, they were individual, custom designs for individual clients seeking to make a statement.

while Wright certainly designed functional homes, the proverbial envelope was still pushed in his day (see Falling Water as the prime example).  so it begs the question, if Wright is a yesteryear hero in the architectural community, how can we “overuse edgy design” as clearly Wright was “edgy” for his day?

Jauregui concludes his article by saying: “A revolution is underway among residential architects and it’s up to each of us to capitalize on the movement. It all starts with good design. Residential architects as a professional community must commit to producing high-quality custom home design and construction drawings. We must take the leap of faith and believe that we can create a more positive reality for our industry. If God is truly in the details then good architecture lies in design development.”

I wonder why Jauregui thinks this isn’t already underway.  he does mention that there is a “new leadership” emerging in the residential design community, but it’s my view that these leaders are emerging as direct descendants of an older guard that was much more focused on the details and construct-ability of architecture.  if we truly want to further good design in all forms of architecture, first we need to work on the state of education that puts a premium on flashy design and loose architectural philosophy instead of on the practicality of how something will be put together. it isn’t until one gets into practice that they truly learn “what makes building stand up”.

in order to further good design, the architect must retake his/her place as the master builder. by doing so, good design will naturally follow as function and form flow together rather than being one dependent upon the other.

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