One of the first things that anyone is going to notice about modern architecture is that it is really minimalist. Well, you may not notice that if you’ve never compared it to the more old-fashioned architecture of the nineteenth century and earlier, but it is the sort of thing that you’ll notice if you study a lot of the architectural styles of the past.
Houses constructed during the nineteenth century are tall and ornate with lots of different details, from bay windows to detailed shutters. Lots of modern houses look like boxes. They’re livable boxes, but they’re still boxes. Modern urban apartment buildings look like giant blocks. When you look around the city, you’ll be able to find the big church immediately, because it’s one of the only buildings that hasn’t been constructed according to the most minimalist and time-saving guidelines possible. Although, some modern churches still fit those guidelines anyway, so even then, you’ll really have to look for the older stuff.
There’s a reason for that. It isn’t because everyone’s tastes suddenly changed in the twentieth century and everyone suddenly developed a love for boxes. The nineteenth century homes that are turned into apartments today were houses constructed for the rich, at least for the most part. Maybe a few middle class people had them, but overall these houses functionally weren’t for most people. If you were a poor person and you weren’t living in a tenement residence, you were living in something that you wished was as good as a modern box.
The suburban homes of today were by and large constructed in the 1950s as part of these huge development projects that were taking place at the time. These were constructed in large numbers all across the country, so they had to have a very uniform design and they had to be easy and efficient to construct. It’s hard to construct beautiful architectural works of art in massive numbers like that, so it isn’t surprising that all of these houses had a functional but not especially picturesque appearance. In some cases, the older homes were torn down to make room for these ones anyway, since it was ultimately more cost-effective for everyone to go in that direction.
When it came to the expansion of the urban environments all around the world, the same principles applied. You can effectively store large numbers of people in big, tall, stacked boxes, so it makes sense that large urban environments were going to have these kinds of apartment buildings.
I’m definitely not complaining one way or another. I live in one of these giant boxes inside of other giant boxes myself. I’m perfectly fine with appreciating the really impressive architecture from a distance and acknowledging that it isn’t cost-effective or efficient to fill cities with these sorts of buildings. I don’t blame the developers in the 1950s for anything major. I know why they did what they did. Still, I do want to be able to appreciate the beauty of Old World architecture from afar, knowing that these are the buildings that people still want to see after all these years.