Quote of the Day: The Architecture of Happiness

 

“In literature, too, we admire prose in which a small and astutely arranged set of words has been constructed to carry a large consignment of ideas. ‘We all have strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others,’ writes La Rochefoucauld in an aphorism which transports us with an energy and exactitude comparable to that of a Maillart bridge. The Swiss engineer reduces the number of supports just as the French writer compacts into a single line what lesser minds might have taken pages to express. We delight in complexity to which genius has lent an appearance of simplicity.”
– Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

I ran across this quote while developing a list of potential quotes for discussion. Since I’m in the middle of designing my third house, I appreciate the views of other architects and artists as to what is “good” vs. “bad” architecture. I’ve found the British author Alain de Botton’s book interesting, as he relates architecture to various other art forms, most notably common items such as bowls, plates, and water jugs. He properly criticizes architecture based on elitism and the self-congratulation of architects such as Le Corbusier, whose flat roofs leaked within one week of being occupied. Yet, de Botton properly related Le Corbusier’s 1931 interior staircase to a 1768 design in Versailles nearby. Even Modernist architects looked to architecture to support a way of life that appealed to them.

Most anyone would see the Robert Maillart designed 1930 Salginatobel Bridge above as beautiful. It was designated as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1991. Like many breakthrough designs, it lacked durability, such as bridge deck waterproofing, low concrete coverage, and poor drainage, which led to extensive repairs in 1975-1976. Unfortunately, de Botton compares this bridge to Isambard Brunel’s 1864 Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England. Yes, Brunel’s was crude, but it has stood the test of time, and led the way to the beautiful 1883 Brooklyn Bridge.

Nevertheless, de Botton’s book is a quick, thought-provoking read. Near the end of the book, de Botton summarizes his major themes:

The failure of architects to create congenial environments mirrors our inability to find happiness in other areas of our lives. Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendency which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us….

The places we call beautiful are, by contrast, the work of those rare architects with the humility to interrogate themselves adequately about their desires and the tenacity to translate their fleeting apprehensions of joy into logical plans – a combination that enables them to create environments that satisfy needs we never consciously knew we even had.

So how should we evaluate buildings and structures throughout the ages? Are there famous buildings (such as the Sydney Opera House, Fallingwater, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, etc.) whose value is diminished by roofs that leak? Does long-term practicality trump immediate notoriety? What “modern” buildings will be celebrated over 100 years from now?

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There are 38 comments.

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  1. Vectorman Thatcher
    Vectorman Post author

    Vectorman: What “modern” buildings will be celebrated over 100 years from now?

    Here’s one I hope will not make it:


    The Quote of the Day series is the easiest way to start a fun conversation on Ricochet. There are many open days on the September Signup Sheet. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    • #1
    • September 9, 2019, at 1:01 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    How interesting! I agree that the Maillart is a true work of art. Think of all the critics of Frank Lloyd Wright–

    Arthur Heurtley House

    or of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain–architecture is like art. Certain structures appeal to some, other structures appeal to others. Some are just plain fascinating–

    Bilbao - Guggenheim aurore.jpg

    and others are a pain-in-the-neck to maintain. I prefer simple lines, myself.

    • #2
    • September 9, 2019, at 1:28 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Vectorman Thatcher
    Vectorman Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    How interesting! I agree that the Maillart is a true work of art. Think of all the critics of Frank Lloyd Wright–

    Arthur Heurtley House

    Wright’s Prairie Style homes were functional and attractive, if sometimes a little too “wasteful” of materials.

    One interesting factoid of Wright was that his short stature caused his entry design to be “low and tight,” where it then expanded into a large room.

    • #3
    • September 9, 2019, at 1:52 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. GrannyDude Member

    General complaints from a philistine non-expert:

    When walking around in an old city (Paris, New York, Boston) I’m struck by the sense that old buildings were designed (expected?) to please and-no other word for it-entertain the passer-by. 

    Even palaces offered treats for the masses: a structure made of stone blocks carved to look like brain coral, or pretty corbels, dentils, friezes and atlantide columns not arranged merely for the delectation of the royalty within but for the masses without.

    I know we are (now) meant to interpret these as Rich People Showing Off, but there is generosity and even largesse in this that is largely absent in modern buildings. Also, old buildings boast lots of lovely, big windows which not only offer a peek at life within but make the street, even if otherwise deserted, feel less lonely. These even made the street marginally safer for the solitary, since big windows mean the potential for witnesses. The rich still build expensive showplaces (dwellings, opera houses, high-end office buildings). Sometimes these are architectural “hold-my-beer” stunts whose interesting features are only apprehensible from a distance. And/or they are smashing on the inside, but they turn their indifferent backs on anyone who can’t get through the door. 

    I know some of this has to do with the change in transportation: An architect in 19th Century Boston had to presume pedestrians rather than drivers. I suppose the occupants of cars zipping around a city on a ring-road derive some pleasure from an interesting skyline full of twisting shape and green-glass trapezoids, and if you’re sailing around Sydney Harbor, the opera house is quite a sight. 

    But yes, it matters if the roofs leak. Or if sheets of glass or marble fall from the facades. Craftsmanship counts. 

    Harrumph.

     

     

    • #4
    • September 10, 2019, at 5:50 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  5. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    I have on two occasions visited Wright’s Fallingwaters home. It is nicely situated and does real justice on how it is integrated into the environment.

    However like many Architects, Wright was a bit of an egotistical ass and not much of an engineer. The entire cantilevered portion of the house was getting a multi year repair because the guy did not believe in using a sufficient amount of rebar.

    Over a the time of my visits (about 2 years apart) they were carefully drilling 1” holes every 16” or so along the hanging concrete sections of the floors and installing high strength wire cable, then carefully tensioning the wire ropes to keep the whole section over the water from becoming one with the falls.

    This was a dumb move on Wright’s part, the civil engineering prescription for reinforced concrete has been well know for more than 100 years. I have no idea the motivation for his scrimping on that maneuver.

    • #5
    • September 10, 2019, at 8:13 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  6. SkipSul Moderator

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    I have on two occasions visited Wright’s Fallingwaters home. It is nicely situated and does real justice on how it is integrated into the environment.

    However like many Architects, Wright was a bit of an egotistical ass and not much of an engineer. The entire cantilevered portion of the house was getting a multi year repair because the guy did not believe in using a sufficient amount of rebar.

    Over a the time of my visits (about 2 years apart) they were carefully drilling 1” holes every 16” or so along the hanging concrete sections of the floors and installing high strength wire cable, then carefully tensioning the wire ropes to keep the whole section over the water from becoming one with the falls.

    This was a dumb move on Wright’s part, the civil engineering prescription for reinforced concrete has been well know for more than 100 years. I have no idea the motivation for his scrimping on that maneuver.

    The excuse they gave me when I visited it some 20 years ago was that Wright had specced it properly, but the contractors were the ones who scrimped while they pocketed the difference.

    • #6
    • September 10, 2019, at 2:02 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  7. SkipSul Moderator

    Vectorman: What “modern” buildings will be celebrated over 100 years from now? 

    Not that many, I should think. So very many are just concrete and glass slabs. The art-deco buildings will be treasured, but little from the 40s through the 80s will be. But it’s hard to say.

    • #7
    • September 10, 2019, at 2:05 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    I have on two occasions visited Wright’s Fallingwaters home. It is nicely situated and does real justice on how it is integrated into the environment.

    However like many Architects, Wright was a bit of an egotistical ass and not much of an engineer. The entire cantilevered portion of the house was getting a multi year repair because the guy did not believe in using a sufficient amount of rebar.

    Over a the time of my visits (about 2 years apart) they were carefully drilling 1” holes every 16” or so along the hanging concrete sections of the floors and installing high strength wire cable, then carefully tensioning the wire ropes to keep the whole section over the water from becoming one with the falls.

    This was a dumb move on Wright’s part, the civil engineering prescription for reinforced concrete has been well know for more than 100 years. I have no idea the motivation for his scrimping on that maneuver.

    The excuse they gave me when I visited it some 20 years ago was that Wright had specced it properly, but the contractors were the ones who scrimped while they pocketed the difference.

    Horse poop, from wiki and a few other sources:

    The construction was plagued by conflicts between Wright, Kaufmann, and the construction contractor. Uncomfortable with what he saw as Wright’s insufficient experience using reinforced concrete, Kaufmann had the architect’s daring cantilever design reviewed by a firm of consulting engineers. Upon receiving their report, Wright took offense, immediately requesting that Kaufmann return his drawings and indicating that he was withdrawing from the project. Kaufmann relented to Wright’s gambit, and the engineer’s report was subsequently buried within a stone wall of the house.[17]

    For the cantilevered floors, Wright and his team used upside-down T-shaped beams integrated into a monolithic concrete slab which formed both the ceiling of the space below and provided resistance against compression. The contractor, Walter Hall, also an engineer, produced independent computations and argued for increasing the reinforcing steel in the first floor’s slab. Wright refused the suggestion. While some sources state that the contractor quietly doubled the amount of reinforcement,[18]others say that Kaufmann’s consulting engineers – at Kaufmann’s request – redrew Wright’s reinforcing drawings and doubled the amount of steel specified by Wright.[17]

    • #8
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:50 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    I have on two occasions visited Wright’s Fallingwaters home. It is nicely situated and does real justice on how it is integrated into the environment.

    However like many Architects, Wright was a bit of an egotistical ass and not much of an engineer. The entire cantilevered portion of the house was getting a multi year repair because the guy did not believe in using a sufficient amount of rebar.

    Over a the time of my visits (about 2 years apart) they were carefully drilling 1” holes every 16” or so along the hanging concrete sections of the floors and installing high strength wire cable, then carefully tensioning the wire ropes to keep the whole section over the water from becoming one with the falls.

    This was a dumb move on Wright’s part, the civil engineering prescription for reinforced concrete has been well know for more than 100 years. I have no idea the motivation for his scrimping on that maneuver.

    The excuse they gave me when I visited it some 20 years ago was that Wright had specced it properly, but the contractors were the ones who scrimped while they pocketed the difference.

    Horse poop, from wiki and a few other sources:

    The construction was plagued by conflicts between Wright, Kaufmann, and the construction contractor. Uncomfortable with what he saw as Wright’s insufficient experience using reinforced concrete, Kaufmann had the architect’s daring cantilever design reviewed by a firm of consulting engineers. Upon receiving their report, Wright took offense, immediately requesting that Kaufmann return his drawings and indicating that he was withdrawing from the project. Kaufmann relented to Wright’s gambit, and the engineer’s report was subsequently buried within a stone wall of the house.[17]

    For the cantilevered floors, Wright and his team used upside-down T-shaped beams integrated into a monolithic concrete slab which formed both the ceiling of the space below and provided resistance against compression. The contractor, Walter Hall, also an engineer, produced independent computations and argued for increasing the reinforcing steel in the first floor’s slab. Wright refused the suggestion. While some sources state that the contractor quietly doubled the amount of reinforcement,[18]others say that Kaufmann’s consulting engineers – at Kaufmann’s request – redrew Wright’s reinforcing drawings and doubled the amount of steel specified by Wright.[17]

    The man (Wright) was an arrogant ass. There are similar stories from some his other project w.r.t his personally perceived “infallibility”*

    * see what I did there 😜 

    • #9
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:53 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Richard Finlay Member

    If any project is in need of additional steel, I propose getting it by recycling the nearest Frank Gehry building.

    • #10
    • September 10, 2019, at 7:59 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  11. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Vectorman: What “modern” buildings will be celebrated over 100 years from now?

    Here’s one I hope will not make it:


    That’s a real building and not a picture from some Claymation cartoon?

    • #11
    • September 11, 2019, at 1:14 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Vectorman Thatcher
    Vectorman Post author

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Vectorman: What “modern” buildings will be celebrated over 100 years from now?

    Here’s one I hope will not make it:


    That’s a real building and not a picture from some Claymation cartoon?

    Yes, it is a Frank Gehry design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    • #12
    • September 11, 2019, at 3:39 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    I know we are (now) meant to interpret these as Rich People Showing Off, but there is generosity and even largesse in this that is largely absent in modern buildings.

    Before the French Revolution architecture was often about the rich showing off, but after the French Revolution it was more about the rich trying to convince the common folk that they were making a positive contribution to the community. Hence, less emphasis on opulent country chateaus and more emphasis on accessible urban architecture.

    • #13
    • September 11, 2019, at 5:15 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. She Thatcher
    She

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    I have on two occasions visited Wright’s Fallingwaters home. It is nicely situated and does real justice on how it is integrated into the environment.

    However like many Architects, Wright was a bit of an egotistical ass and not much of an engineer. The entire cantilevered portion of the house was getting a multi year repair because the guy did not believe in using a sufficient amount of rebar.

    Over a the time of my visits (about 2 years apart) they were carefully drilling 1” holes every 16” or so along the hanging concrete sections of the floors and installing high strength wire cable, then carefully tensioning the wire ropes to keep the whole section over the water from becoming one with the falls.

    This was a dumb move on Wright’s part, the civil engineering prescription for reinforced concrete has been well know for more than 100 years. I have no idea the motivation for his scrimping on that maneuver.

    The excuse they gave me when I visited it some 20 years ago was that Wright had specced it properly, but the contractors were the ones who scrimped while they pocketed the difference.

    Heh. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I can believe this. Fallingwater is only about 70 miles down the road from us, and most folks in this part of the world consider it their personal local landmark.

    But anyone who’s driven a car for more than five minutes anywhere in Western Pennsylvania can understand the unrealized potential of “beautiful roads in theory,” versus “what actually gets built.”

    Would not surprise me if some of Fallingwater’s concrete contractors went on to build the Turnpike and the the early PA interstate highways. Hands down, the worst roads in the country. But I’m sure they were lovely on paper.

     

    • #14
    • September 11, 2019, at 5:32 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Aaron Miller Member

    Roger Scruton has argued that there is a practicality to beauty in architecture. Supposedly, people work more productively in beautiful environments. 

    There is certainly crossover between an architect’s philosophical inclinations and his designs of both aesthetics and engineering. Like the kid says in The Sixth Sense, “I see hippies.” 

    • #15
    • September 11, 2019, at 7:17 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Aaron Miller Member

    She (View Comment):
    But anyone who’s driven a car for more than five minutes anywhere in Western Pennsylvania can understand the unrealized potential of “beautiful roads in theory,” versus “what actually gets built.”

    A friend of mine has worked as an architect, a construction manager, and an insurance analyst. He has seen the industry from all sides. He still holds to something he told me way back in architecture college: “Nothing is built as designed.” 

    Even people who work on their own houses sometimes discover reasons to fudge it a little. 

     

    • #16
    • September 11, 2019, at 7:24 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. Aaron Miller Member

    I’m no architectural aficionado. But down on the Gulf Coast I’m aware of only two bridges that attract comments of admiration.

    One is the I-10 bridge in Baton Rouge. It’s probably an eye-sore to many. But more than one person has told me they enjoy the climb beneath its steel arches.

    The other is the long I-10 bridge over Henderson Swamp in the Atchafalaya Basin. It’s nothing to look at. But 18 miles is an impressive feat. And the swamp sure is pretty at times.

    • #17
    • September 11, 2019, at 7:38 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. cirby Member

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    One interesting factoid of Wright was that his short stature caused his entry design to be “low and tight,” where it then expanded into a large room.

    The library at Florida Southern College is like that – when I walked in through the main entrance, I could easily put the flat of my hand on the ceiling – and I’m not that tall.

    While I love the look of Wright’s buildings, I’d be damned if I’d want to live in one that he had a hand in constructing. One of my dreams is to become very wealthy, find some nice young architect who knows how to really engineer things, and make a NewWright house in the Prairie style.

    With ceilings that don’t leak and rooms I can walk around in without wanting to duck, of course.

     

    • #18
    • September 11, 2019, at 8:35 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  19. She Thatcher
    She

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Even people who work on their own houses sometimes discover reasons to fudge it a little. 

    Truer words were never spoken. As we say around here, “done is best.”

    • #19
    • September 11, 2019, at 11:28 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Vectorman Thatcher
    Vectorman Post author

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    I’m no architectural aficionado. But down on the Gulf Coast I’m aware of only two bridges that attract comments of admiration.

    One is the I-10 bridge in Baton Rouge. It’s probably an eye-sore to many. But more than one person has told me they enjoy the climb beneath its steel arches.

     

    The other is the long I-10 bridge over Henderson Swamp in the Atchafalaya Basin. It’s nothing to look at. But 18 miles is an impressive feat. And the swamp sure is pretty at times.

     

    I’ve been on both. The Henderson Swamp bridge is impressive, but the deck bows between the expansion joints, causing a very rough ride. It does keep you awake, however.

    • #20
    • September 12, 2019, at 3:09 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Vectorman Thatcher
    Vectorman Post author

    cirby (View Comment):
    While I love the look of Wright’s buildings, I’d be damned if I’d want to live in one that he had a hand in constructing. One of my dreams is to become very wealthy, find some nice young architect who knows how to really engineer things, and make a NewWright house in the Prairie style.

    You don’t have to be wealthy to build a Wright Usonian house. Most are about 1700 square feet or less, and have the “modern” open plan of combining the kitchen, dining area, and family room in one expansive space. Some bedrooms were very small (10′ x 7′) to allow for the large main space.

     

    • #21
    • September 12, 2019, at 3:26 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Kephalithos Member

    I spend a decent amount of time around architects, many of whom openly scorn traditional design. In defending their work, they talk incessantly about space, form, and scale, but never do they mention surface or texture. This, I think, is one of modernism’s greatest failures. (I’m in the middle of writing a post about it, actually.)

    I have the sense that most modern architects find aesthetic satisfaction in large-scale geometry — and that’s it. Meanwhile, the small-scale languishes in neglect.

    • #22
    • September 12, 2019, at 3:51 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. Vectorman Thatcher
    Vectorman Post author

    Kephalithos (View Comment):

    I spend a decent amount of time around architects, many of whom openly scorn traditional design. In defending their work, they talk incessantly about space, form, and scale, but never do they mention surface or texture. This, I think, is one of modernism’s greatest failures. (I’m in the middle of writing a post about it, actually.)

    I have the sense that most modern architects find aesthetic satisfaction in large-scale geometry — and that’s it. Meanwhile, the small-scale languishes in neglect.

    Architects also diminish other basic needs, such as HVAC, windows on two sides of the room, appliances, Americans with Disability Act (ADA), interior noise levels, etc.

    • #23
    • September 12, 2019, at 4:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Mendel Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Vectorman: What “modern” buildings will be celebrated over 100 years from now?

    Not that many, I should think. So very many are just concrete and glass slabs. The art-deco buildings will be treasured, but little from the 40s through the 80s will be. But it’s hard to say.

    Which is precisely what people were saying during the art deco period.

    Having said that, I think one architect whose work is both currently in favor and may well stand the test of time is Norman Foster. His style is distinct enough to be fairly described as having its own unique contemporary aesthetic without going too far down the Frank Gehry route of being overly distinctive merely for its own sake. And from what I’ve heard, his designs also seem to (usually) be practical and well-planned enough that the tenants aren’t looking for new office space within a few weeks of moving in.

    • #24
    • September 12, 2019, at 4:16 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Mendel Member

    In any case, I certainly admire Foster. Which is why I recently took a trip to a building he has listed as one of his favorites and one of the most influential buildings of the 20th century: the Tempelhof airport in Berlin.

    It was a tough visit, oddly enough because Foster is right: it really is one of the few breakthrough (at the time) buildings that successfully combines aesthetics with practical utility and robust design. And it was commissioned, planned, and (mostly) built by the Nazis.

    Aesthetically, it’s impressive both by its monumental entrance hall (which felt to me like an updated Grand Central Station terminal, a space I immensely enjoy) and by the mind-boggling 1-mile-long, 120-foot overhanging, curved outdoor roof that’s only supported on one side. The airport’s then-innovative separation of passengers, luggage, and freight into different levels became the template for nearly all terminals built after the war. And the robustness of its design is demonstrated by the fact that it survived the war (and a direct bomb hit) and only required minor improvements by the USAF when they moved in after the fall of Berlin.

    • #25
    • September 12, 2019, at 4:16 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Gromrus Member

    Instead of this, 

    I’d rather look at this (both at University of Leeds, UK). But I was born old I suppose. 

    Image result for university of Leeds Great Hall

    • #26
    • September 12, 2019, at 6:14 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  27. WillowSpring Member

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    How interesting! I agree that the Maillart is a true work of art. Think of all the critics of Frank Lloyd Wright–

    Arthur Heurtley House

    Wright’s Prairie Style homes were functional and attractive, if sometimes a little too “wasteful” of materials.

    One interesting factoid of Wright was that his short stature caused his entry design to be “low and tight,” where it then expanded into a large room.

    you would probably get a lot out of the books by Christopher Alexander – “A Pattern Language” and ”A Timeless Way of Building”. One of his “patterns” is having a low entrance that opens up into a larger space.

    The pattern language book has many short items addressing a particular issue and then describing the “patterns” which have been used successfully in the past.

    Although I read the original books first, the software field spent about a decade trying to define similar patterns in software design.

    • #27
    • September 12, 2019, at 7:15 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Mendel Member

    I think it’s easy to take pot shots at architects, but they’re in something of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

    We want them to be artists. But inspiring art is rarely practical, and artists with true genius are not typically known for being well-integrated among normal people. Yet since architecture is one of the only “art forms” that needs to be practical, the traits that make for inspiring architecture rarely make for a good sense of practicability.

    On the flip side, when developers do choose to go with what’s practical, we deride them for “yet another tract of cookie-cutter houses” or “yet another slab-and-glass building”. 

    So which do we want: useful spaces or inspiring spaces? Of course we want both – but that logically costs more than almost anyone is willing to pay.

    • #28
    • September 12, 2019, at 7:24 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  29. Vectorman Thatcher
    Vectorman Post author

    WillowSpring (View Comment):
    you would probably get a lot out of the books by Christopher Alexander – “A Pattern Language” and ”A Timeless Way of Building”. One of his “patterns” is having a low entrance that opens up into a larger space.

    I agree with the lower entrance, but not one where you duck your head. In a previous post, I discussed 2 (of the many books) that I found helpful:

    A Pattern Language “The wonderful places of the world were not made by architects, but by the people.”

    The Not so Big House by Sarah Susanka

    • #29
    • September 12, 2019, at 8:33 AM PDT
    • Like
  30. Kephalithos Member

    Mendel (View Comment):

    I think it’s easy to take pot shots at architects, but they’re in something of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

    We want them to be artists. But inspiring art is rarely practical, and artists with true genius are not typically known for being well-integrated among normal people. Yet since architecture is one of the only “art forms” that needs to be practical, the traits that make for inspiring architecture rarely make for a good sense of practicability.

    On the flip side, when developers do choose to go with what’s practical, we deride them for “yet another tract of cookie-cutter houses” or “yet another slab-and-glass building”.

    So which do we want: useful spaces or inspiring spaces? Of course we want both – but that logically costs more than almost anyone is willing to pay.

    All this is true, but it’s not inevitably true. Yes, it’s prohibitively expensive to build something beautiful nowadays, but that’s partly because we’ve resigned ourselves to the bland and “practical.” If enough people demanded beauty, the market could supply it.

    There’s no reason — especially in this burgeoning era of CAD and 3D printing — why an artistically minded hobbyist couldn’t start a side business designing and selling, say, ornamental trim. (In the nineteenth century, architectural-supply companies specialized in just this sort of thing.)

    For much of our civilization’s history, ordinary people in ordinary places across the globe somehow managed to create “inspiring spaces.” What’s stopping us from doing the same? Self-doubt and changing expectations, mostly.

    • #30
    • September 12, 2019, at 8:37 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
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