Real 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?