It’s not insightful to say that American house construction and design is in the doldrums. We are in a period of deep recession, with houses being both the creator of the financial crisis that pushed the economy into its four-year crater, but also its most pitiful victim.
Until the last few months, the American homebuilding industry was often at a level which represents perhaps 20% of its maximum capacity, but is still at 80% reduction in volume. The American home is not seen as the great investment it once was.
One of the reasons for that loss of faith is because over the last 50 years the world of homes has split into two extreme camps. First, architects who design for themselves and their patrons – a tiny percentage of the houses built mostly in an idiom real estate brokers call “contemporary.” These are the homes that lose their value the fastest, and have the least popular appeal, and in fact have the most technical and functional problems because their goal is to innovate rather than to comfort or serve their occupants.
Architecture as a profession has always been intended to be at the cutting edge of our culture’s values, but these homes often embody the antithesis of what the vast majority of American families (even the families of architects) value.
The second world embodies what the vast majority of people value in the home: a sense of safety, comfort and the embodiment of personal values and use patterns. The plurality of American homes are built by a small number of national builders who do not value those things, but do value making a profit and therefore pander to the desire for comfort and familiarity over experimentation.
The result is a twin simultaneous antithetic absurdity presented to housing consumers: either homes that reflect the architect’s self indulgence or houses designed more to sell than to serve. It’s a world of parallel realities where irrelevant designs for the elite are lauded by the 1%, and non-historic “traditional” homes to make money for developers on the backs are presented as the only option for the rest of us.
Publications promote only one of these twin worlds at a time. Whether it’s House Beautiful or Architectural Record, there is virtually an architectural apartheid, one where architects, educators and journalists laud and glorify the Modern and the other world where the popular press, the real estate industry and the Builder Industrial Complex almost exclusively promote “traditional” homes.
In an effort to clarify where these two completely discordant and inherently disingenuous worlds deal with common issues, I created the following “Canons.” These are the rules of the parallel worlds of Modern and Traditional, of Architect and Developer, what they live by, touch and what they reject.
Each week, a new one of these Canons will be added from first to most recent. I invite you to come back every week to see them, and to comment on each and every one, or at the end when all twelve have been presented for your review.