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Name Calling

March 29, 2013

10612976_10154448997785363_5797814107470945154_nReal Estate agents need to sell. Homeowners want to define who they are, sometimes with their home. Architects and designers often feel compelled to justify their built products with a larger legacy. We are not talking about proper names, like Cape, Center Hall, or even Wrightian – those are accurate definitions of historic prototypes – and the vast majority of stock plan homes, and thus most homes in America, live in those names.

But when a home is designed or evolved to create a place for a specific site and family, in a time and culture, with a budget and a climate, these easy answers are simply reductionist drivel.

As the cover of the architecture magazine above attests, the fine arts community is desperate to avoid the accusation that anything they celebrate deviates from the aesthetic correctness of Modernism. The subtitle verifies for the reader (and other editors) that yes, they know the building’s shape is symmetrical, has a gable roof flanked with shed sides, but its notnotnot a Barn, no, its really not: they are not selling out to forces of allusion, context or vernacular -nonono!

Just like high school cliques we name-call – Goth, Freak, Jock, Artsy, or Queer, become – Contemporary, Green, Classical or Colonial.

We feel compelled to bend the reality of personalized design into definitions that end thoughtful understanding at the drop of a cliché. For homes that are not stock-plan or truly historic prototypes we stereotype, pigeon-hole and ridiculously simplify subtleties into our conceptual comfort zone.

It is the same kind of snap-judgment, two dimensional thinking that creates cultural prejudice on every level, no matter what the subject of that prejudice is. It’s easier to name-call than think. The “whys” are always harder to understand than the “whats”.

Like restaurants, homes get flavor options: Traditional, Modernist, Mid Century Modern, Classical, Arts and Crafts, Colonial. Just like Asian cuisine can have Chinese, Thai and Japanese. For houses “Traditional” can be segregated into Federal, Garrison Colonial, Saltbox, etc.

For those homes who live outside those definitions it is an absurd herd into conformity. It is literally a convenient way of lowering expectations, removing choice and justifying judgmentalism.

The dominant demographic of our culture used to find solace in sexism, racism and homophobia. We still find solace in categorizing those things that take time to understand, evaluate and form personal judgments about. These here Internets are full of instantaneous flaming of any subjective reality. If you voted for Obama you are a communist. if you voted for Romney you are an idiot.

I do not believe the flamers of the Internet have any greater subtlety than those who sweep houses in a set of set prefab generifications. The best homes simultaneously embody their designers, owners, sites, builders and cultures  – all stewed into a product that has definable qualities but should not be insulted with presumptions and demeaned by name-calling.

This naming of names works to commoditize design, to dumb it down to a prefab product. It narrows expectations, creates distorting preconceptions, rationalizes stupidity or misjudgment. This dumbing down takes the most personal of public possessions, your home and stereotypes it (and perhaps you by association).

Would you call your child “Pudgy Caucasian” or a name that is uniquely personal to you (and hopefully the child)?

So, in an effort to display this knee jerk folly, this introduction will accompany a series of photo’s of houses I have designed. A new project will be offered up weekly, followed by a simple yes/no style definition, that I beg you to respond to, thoughtfully, beyond the yes/no.

So each home depicted has one designer (me), and each has different owners, sites, budgets and ephemeral inspirations. One author, but infinite distinctions in creation.

As noted in several pieces such as Tweeners and The Canons, I know that the style sieve really begs questions, excuses easy answers, rationalizes bad design and pretends that each client/site/culture can be made absurdly reductionist.

We berate name-calling on the playground as bullying, why isn’t the judgmental stereotyping of design the same thing?

Well, every home should be unique, this one, designed a few years ago is, and I ask you:


 Is this contemporary?


16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2013 12:19 pm

    Duo.. For me I would call it a custom home.. Designed by an outstanding Architect…. Architect that specializes in a signature house that will carry forth his/her designs..This is obviously not a spec ..cookie cutter house..Just by observing the valleys on the roof line…My hope soooon!!! will be to commission you to design a home with my personality..Keep on that have got it right!!

  2. vyts permalink
    March 22, 2013 5:20 pm

    Colonial? I would call this style Duonial… which is a style i like very much, in all its manifestations.

  3. karenkumor permalink
    March 23, 2013 12:19 pm

    Stylized colonial? Custmized colonial? (I do like the Duonial idea).

  4. Binnie Klein permalink
    March 29, 2013 2:31 pm

    exploded bungalow

  5. Scott P. permalink
    March 29, 2013 2:41 pm

    Definitely a Bung-ala-Duo, which in some shore cultures is shortened to Bungaduo, not to be confused with Bungadoo, Dunkadoo, or Didgeridoo.

  6. March 29, 2013 2:47 pm

    This home clearly has more elements of a true Indian Bungla house than most American Bungalows. Generous around porch, high roof to ventilate heat out of the living areas, well ventilated under floor area….Perhaps its not a “Bungalow” according to some style book, but in the aspects of the essence of a bungalow, it is.

  7. Dog lover permalink
    March 29, 2013 3:32 pm

    It’s a rocket with a foundation.

  8. Debbie permalink
    April 13, 2013 9:45 am

    Organic shingle modern. I do like Duonial.

  9. mirabilis1 permalink
    April 13, 2013 12:26 pm

    If ever a house could smile, it would be this one. What a great place to throw a party!

  10. Dave Clark permalink
    August 14, 2014 12:04 pm

    I love it especially the monitor roof. Is it great traditional way to let in light without the intense solar effect of a skylight and lowers the risk of water penetration. To the question, is it contemporary? I would not call it that… At least not as contemporary as that nice home in Raleigh NC that’s getting so much attention. If you had designed that one we could call it a Duo-ver.

    Besides what is contemporary about that antenna?

  11. Dean Bennett permalink
    August 20, 2014 10:22 am

    I’d say it’s more Dickinsonian.

  12. August 20, 2014 1:33 pm

    I came across this today and thought of this post the salient quotation occurs around the 8:30 mark. The whole interview reminded me of National Lampoon’s Gold Turkey of course. Jimmy Dugan would have loved it. R.I.P.


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