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February 6, 2013

Explanatory Note:

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 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.

Canon 3 History

Canon 4 MeaningCanon 5 ZeitgeistCanon 6 Fitting In

Canon 7 More or Less

Canon 8 Size

Canon 9 Iconography

Canon 10 $

Canon 11 Laughing

Canon 12 Density

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Allen E Neyman permalink
    April 27, 2013 10:59 pm

    Very interesting, andt is this a secular or non secular set of canon and do architects even allow a secular debate since according to canon 2,the design schism really doesn’t matter to the inhabitant? They end up with what they get. OK, I still like the analogies. Even if the professional community has dug in to suit themselves on one stylistic track or the other, the secular side relies on someone and will move in a direction of comfort with the concept.

  2. July 29, 2014 7:34 am

    i love this because it so clearly delineates the chasm between what most of us normal people see when we think we might want to build or remodel.

    That the two sides of this dichotomy are so far apart is really quite tragic for those of us seeking to “get help to make a better space” of us and our families.

    It is also intimidating to the home owner and does a disservice to architects who are themselves “real people.”

    On our own side, we know from working with Duo on several projects (too small for many of the bigger guns in the field) that the relationship you build together is the key to good design created to serve a person’s or family’s needs and purpose.

    Keep at it, Duo. Truth to power. Janice Gruendel, Branford


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