Home > Uncategorized > A Lone Voice in the Wilderness

A Lone Voice in the Wilderness

December 7th, 2009

clip_image0022See this photo of a dormer? It looks okay: it’s not a great dormer, but it’s a passable reproduction dormer as these things go.

So what the hell is it doing on the side of a Walmart in Hadley, MA? This Walmart is located, as are so many of them, in a sprawling new mall, far, far away from anything resembling residential construction or even anything historic.

I’m not going after Wal-Mart in this column. There are enough folks beating that horse, and I typically write about residential construction. My bone of contention is about the appropriate use of historical detail. No one expects that from Wal-Mart, but we do expect it of our architects who claim to be qualified to create historically influenced buildings.

Unfortunately, my travels have forced me to see a lot of crap.

So, this is an indictment of those who claim to build in the historic manner but are no better than the person who hung the dormer on a Walmart. The folks I’ve profiled in Period Homes are exempt from this, and they’re known for their outstanding residences. Some of them create dead-on reproductions, while others are interpretive, but there’s an artfulness and obvious reference to the forms with which they work. When they deviate from the past, we know why, just as we understand what Robert Adam was up to when he reinvented Classicism.

I’m not necessarily knocking the lower end of the residential market (although Torti Gallas proves that you can be artful and inexpensive), but I’m annoyed with the folks who obviously have the money to do it right and still don’t have a clue. If it was two or three decades ago, when historicism hadn’t emerged, there might be an excuse, but the architects working today have come up through the ranks fully cognizant of the proportions of a Neoclassical gable or the fact that when you design a cobblestone foundation, you don’t then just cobble the faux-bay window and HardiePlank the rest of the façade.

Oh yeah, and when you half-timber something, at least try to reflect on the original structural properties of this building technique. I know the Victorians went at it willy-nilly, but at least they paid lip service to the concept of posts and beams and what they actually accomplished. The stuff I’ve seen should have been rendered in orange crayon, not CAD.

To say nothing of the appropriate symmetry and layout of windows and doors. As an architect friend just said of an addition near me, “It looks like they selected the window locations by throwing water balloons at the side of the house!”

It’s not rocket science: successful historic design is simply plagiarism. There’s so much right in front of you to copy, you don’t even have to go on the Grand Tour anymore. What’s depressing is that the readership of this blog is a captive choir to whom I preach; somebody has to tell the McMansion guys.

editorial Uncategorized

  1. Alice Moulton-Ely
    January 26th, 2010 at 18:47 | #1

    From what I read and hear over and over again, most architects today do not receive the proper training in proportion and design. Not like they used to.

  2. Hey Norm
    January 26th, 2010 at 19:51 | #2

    I’ll bet you one of those cool blue vests that the local zoning commision had as much to do with this as any architect. They probably have some reg about looking historical, or whatever the catch-phrase is these days, and Wal-mart did the absolute minimum they had to in order to get their big box built.

  3. January 29th, 2010 at 22:32 | #3

    The decorated shed one-upped as the architect centered the dormer between the columns.

  1. No trackbacks yet.