Modern Architecture Versus Old-Fashioned Architecture

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.

The Complicated Career of Architect Frank Gehry


How do I feel about Frank Gehry? My opinions on him both seem more relevant and less relevant than my opinions on other architects. They’re more relevant than my opinions on the obscure architects that no one outside of architectural circles has ever heard of, since Frank Gehry has been described as one of the most important architects of our time. On the other hand, the simple fact that he is considered so important more or less manages to make my opinions seem unimportant. He’s going to continue to make all of these buildings, and they are going to continue to receive critical acclaim. However, my two cents is at least worth that much.

Some people would say that Frank Gehry has invented the quintessential modern buildings. A lot of his buildings more or less look like giant modern art sculptures, which is a good thing if you actually like modern art sculptures. I never liked them, and I never understood why a sculpture that didn’t look like anything and didn’t take any real technical skill to make was considered to be on par with something like Michelangelo’s David. These sculptures don’t get any more impressive to me just because they’re really large.

In fact, the large and ugly outdoor modern art sculptures that we’ve had to endure thanks to Frank Gehry are so much worse than the modern art sculptures in modern art museums that it isn’t even funny. The modern art sculptures in museums have the advantage of actually being contained. You don’t have to go and look at them if you don’t want to, and you can move onto something else in the museum if you’re still here for the art. Frank Gehry buildings are outdoors, and they occupy a good portion of the landscape in a given city block. You’d have to walk around blindfolded in order to avoid them. A lot of them can be seen from very far away, so it feels like they own a good portion of the horizon. It amazes me that his buildings are considered some of the best in the world, and yet a lot of people still refuse to have windmills in their cities because the sight of windmills somehow offends them.

It is true that taste is subjective. A lot of people obviously love Frank Gehry’s buildings, and I can’t objectively say that there’s anything wrong with them. I acknowledge that. However, there are at least some objective standards in architecture, which isn’t the same as other sorts of art. A sculpture doesn’t do anything, and it isn’t supposed to do anything. You can waste a lot of materials making a sculpture, and at least all you did was create a really unsightly sculpture.

When Frank Gehry wastes building materials for the sake of constructing a building that looks like a lot of folded up and unrolled napkins, he’s wasting materials on a much bigger scale. He’s also wasting them in a way that can be legitimately harmful. His Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA looks like a paper hat wrapped in ribbons, which makes it easy to recognize. It also creates so much glare when the sun hits it from a certain direction that it’s like looking into a magnifying glass that’s being operated by an evil god. I don’t know how many car accidents it has caused, but I do think that everyone who gets into an accident in the area should consider suing Frank Gehry. The building was an eyesore anyway, but now it is an eyesore in a much more literal sense.

To be fair, not all of Frank Gehry’s work is as bad as the Walt Disney Concert Hall. However, he really seems to have a thing for completely useless building forms and buildings that look more like paper airplanes than houses. When people think of bizarre modern architecture, he’s usually one of the first people who comes to mind, and that’s not always a good thing even for them. That means he’s more or less helped set the standard for the way modern buildings can look.

I’ve actually seen residences that appear to be designed according to his principles. He’s created academic buildings and, appropriately enough, art galleries. I do not want to see architecture get remade in his image. I can only hope that his work will be dismissed as a kitschy twentieth century art fad in the future, and that his buildings will be replaced by whatever future styles become popular.

Green Building Design and Architecture

You might not think that architects have that much control over how green a building is. It sounds like it’s the sort of thing that the electricians and the engineers have to take care of, while architects hunch over their T-squares and tilted desks. However, there are plenty of things that architects can do in order to make sure that the buildings are going to be much greener than they would have been otherwise.

For one thing, a lot of green building design involves making use of natural light. Natural light has the advantage of being both free and energy-efficient. A lot of buildings are designed with small windows, or windows that aren’t set up so they’ll get a lot of sun. You have to know which side of the building to take advantage of when it comes to natural light, given the direction of the sunlight in different areas.

You also have to make sure that the windows are energy-efficient themselves and that they are going to retain the heat effectively enough. However, from there, you can make good use of the light that’s already all around us. If you look at a lot of modern green buildings, they will seem to have a futuristic design that favors a lot of windows, as if you’re looking at a giant spaceship. That isn’t just a fashion statement. The architect received orders to make use of the natural light as well as possible.

A lot of green building design isn’t about the shape of the buildings themselves, of course, or any of those other factors. Often times, it all comes down to the building materials. Some building materials retain heat better than others, which means that you don’t have to use as much energy when it comes to heating them. Buildings that are good at maintaining internal temperatures also won’t use as much energy when it comes to air conditioning.

Some of green building design comes down to interior decorating. You need to choose lighting fixtures that don’t use too much energy, and you need to choose sinks that have low water flows. Your lights need to be on timers so you can make sure that you’re not using electricity when no one’s even in the room to see it. Having electricity that flickers on an off based on motion sensors can also work wonders in that regard. However, some of green building design is inherent to the framework of the building itself.

Making a conventional building anywhere near this green would involve extensive remodeling, and even then you’d never quite get it right. You’re generally better off just starting over again and trying to create a building that was green right from the start. Architects and their engineer and energy manager colleagues are managing to do that all over the world, and it is possible that this sort of building design will become standard in the future.

Architects Need To Understand the Landscape

Some people will look at all of the terrible disasters that have happened in the history of modern architecture, and they may wonder how any of this could have happened in the first place. I think a lot of this simply comes down to the fact that some architects only focus on the building, apparently under the impression that the building is going to be constructed in a vacuum. They don’t always give enough thought to the fact that this building is going to be constructed in a location that may contribute to the stability of the building, or it might detract from it. Too many architects get enamored with their own unique creations that they seem to forget that they’re not sculptors who are designing something in order to put it on a pedestal.

The case of a certain Shanghai complex is a perfect example. This is a building that actually collapsed. There aren’t that many buildings that collapse during an architect’s career, largely because this is the sort of thing that can end an architect’s career. However, the reason the building collapsed is that it was constructed on a riverbank, or at least near one. The land and the terrain that’s near rivers tends to be very unstable, which isn’t good news for the people who build anything there, and is especially bad news for the people who want to live in anything that they built.

At least the building that collapsed didn’t take any other buildings with it, although that was a serious risk and it almost happened. However, the building itself was actually designed pretty well as far as I could tell. It was just in the wrong location. If it had been released in a vacuum, it would have been fine. If it had been released on a steadier terrain, it would have been fine. As such, it was constructed on terrain that would not have been favorable for any building, let alone a building that was housing a lot of different people.


A Fine Fireplace for a Fine Home

e02fdfb3b1f277c9db9ebbbece226924How many home and garden shows have I seen on TV where a young couple buying a “fixer upper” wants to change the fireplace right out of the box. It is “dated,” an eyesore, and “it has to go.” It is usually made of brick from floor to ceiling with a modest tile hearth that has seen better days. When did that become a horrendous detriment to the décor? Stone is just as bad. People find it cumbersome, heavy-looking, and too rural in tone. What looks good in a ski lodge looks unsightly on a living room wall.

The designer accompanying the prospective buyers on these TV shows tells them how great it will look when redone and does some computer graphics to show just how. Wham! In a second, the atrocious monster is a sleek modern warming pit ready for real wood or gas logs. It seems that fireplaces have always been the focal point of a great room, and everyone wants one, even in Arizona. After all, the temperature could drop to 70 degrees!

Fireplaces add charm, grandeur, modern style, and utilitarian function depending on how they are build. Outside on the patio, they are the perfect accompaniments to the ubiquitous grill and lounge chairs. Wherever you want them, a full-scale version is best, but you can buy freestanding and portable models as well. Some more modern, minimalistic room designs, like the one in the photograph, are swapping the traditional fireplace for a modern wood stove unit instead. It all depends on the size of your room and the final effect you desire. They all have their assets.

An elegant home that deserves the name must have a fine fireplace. The smallest apartment needs one of those built-in TV size units that operates at the flick of a switch (the worst case scenario is an actual screen with a film of fire). A mansion demands a commanding presence more than a few feet wide. Marble can be magnificent when it fills the eye with its swirling, reflective grandeur. Imported tiles are also nice and various kinds of stone that are a far cry from the old crudely cut boulders that use to be so common. Who ever thought that equated with luxury? It was décor for the sake of décor, but not of taste!

Mantles add the final fillip to any concept and they come in every possible style and size. A fireplace begs for a good one upon which you can place special objects like photos, vases, and artwork. TVs often are mounted above any sort of personal paraphernalia. What you have to decide is your overall look: country, urban modern, retro, log cabin comfy, ranch, English Tudor, or French Provencal. If you look up these styles, you will see the differences, clearly expressed through certain furnishings, colors, textures, and accessories.

A simple plank of hewn wood with a light stain gives a far different impression than finely-carved wood (hard to find any more so be ready to make the rounds of the antique stores). You can buy an entire fireplace frame including the mantle if you are open to spending a few bucks. These are recycled from older homes, especially mansions, from a time when craftsmanship was valued. The wood and finish can be glorious. There are also replicas that can be painted or stained in any color you like.

Modern mantles are simpler. An expanse of wood or marble is all it takes to become a long pedestal for your favorite objets d’art. This is not usually carved and has a sleeker finished than a ranch mantle. Sometimes you want the thing to just disappear and not make much of a statement. There are plenty of fireplaces that have no mantle, especially those pre-fab that you just slot into place in a recessed area of your wall. Many people who build custom bookshelves like to keep an area open at the bottom for a faux fireplace for looks.

A fireplace in the bedroom is a luxury indeed. It is usually smaller and less of a focal point, but it does add warmth and visual appeal. If you house comes with it, consider yourself lucky as they are hard to add after the fact. Portable models that sit on the floor are a bit too rustic for a sleeping area.

All in all, you can see that a fireplace can be a major style and décor issue for most any home. It will spark up your space and add pizzazz. Having them in any numbers surely adds to the resale value of a home, especially when they have been cleaned up and redone.

About Bathroom Design

7Interior design is a luxury for many who buy tract homes and have to settle for builder’s grade finishes. Cost savings dictates generic looks and run-of-the-mill appearances. This is particularly the case with kitchens and bathrooms since they entail fixtures of all kinds, where style becomes apparent. If you are allowed to make choices, no doubt the word “upgrade” would cross your lips.

There are wonderful ways to construct a bathroom these days, and you just don’t want to miss out. Watch TV and read the magazines. People want spa-like spaces that make them feel relaxed and unstressed. They want a retreat that is up to date and uses the latest devices like low-water flush toilets and knobless sinks. They want to feel pampered when doing the most mundane activities. If you want to please your customer as a bathroom designer, there are now certain requirements advised. The smallest room in the house is hardly the least important.

It is always about form follows function in this most private room of the house, but it is also about a luxurious appearance to be sure. When vast numbers of faceless, nameless homes grew up after World War II, there was a tub or shower, a toilet and a sink with some added white tile. It was all about basics and nothing more-all in a pretty diminutive space. There were no “en suite” master baths, only Jack and Jill. If you had a stylish home with a big more grandeur, you might have some Malibu or Mexican tile, or the ubiquitous combo of pink and black. This was a paean to Art Deco and it was rife.

In the sixties, aqua reigned supreme as popular color number one. Sometimes you saw tubs and matching sinks and johns in pink or burgundy as well. Color was hot. Taste was minimal. It was a time of avocado and turquoise kitchens that held stacks of plastic Melmac dishes. They mirrored the color scheme of the bathroom if you could call it that. But things were still basic. As time wore on, marble was added to sink countertops or tub ledges for real pizzazz. It wasn’t just for powder rooms any more.

People seem to be able to identify when a house was built by the look of the bathroom and kitchen. They can put a date on it right away. We all know about stainless steel replacing just about any other stove and refrigerator option. Too much brass was used in bathrooms for a time as the accent metal and too much grout in the ever-widening tile. The look did not last in popularity and begged for a transformation. The late 20th century saw a change. The mansions of the 80’s were Dynasty personified, and the bathrooms followed suit. They got bigger and better. Floors were heated as were towel bars. Finishes improved. When things calmed down after a decade or two, and a few economic recessions later, the spa look came into being. It worked for any size room.

More and more people were joining gyms during the initial stages of the fitness craze. They are now hooked on exercise. The “me generation” wants to stay fit and young, even as they age. They started to look around when first exposed to the new-look gyms and came to appreciate that less is more. A spa style meant clean lines, granite or marble, not too much metal, and never gold or brass. It meant fixtures that look like sculptures and toilets that rivaled that of a prince in quality and style. No tacky decorations, shower curtains, decals, or window treatments. No area rugs that match your tissue holder and toilet seat.

Plush white folded towels, as dense and thick as sheepskin, are laid elegantly on beautiful chrome bars that cost a pretty penny. You have to have more than a few. They match your cabinet knobs that look hand-made, never mass produced. Tissue holders, toilet paper dispensers, and medicine cabinets are completely reborn. The look is stunning and you have to have it. Those who can afford to update are standing in line to get new bathrooms that rivals the best spas. Showers have pebble stone floors and high end fixtures like rain shower heads for two people or more. There is glass everywhere but no wall to wall mirrors. Music is piped in and soap comes from France. It is the epitome of the modern loo.

It is an exciting time for interior designers who want to create individual looks for the new generic concepts. They are experimenting with more than gray, white, and black. They are seeking alternatives to subway tile and mosaic inlays. We are all waiting to see the results.

Keeping the Use of a Building in Mind

One of the things that you’ll notice about a lot of modern artists is that their pieces of art will only make sense to them. When they try to explain it, the entire piece seems to fall apart. I sometimes feel that way about some modern architects. The fact that they’re designing buildings makes the ‘falling apart’ bit more literal and devastating in some cases. In other cases, they just end up causing problems out of carelessness and a seeming inability to predict how their buildings will interact with the real world.

There was a hotel that seemed to have been constructed entirely out of glass, or at least with enough glass that it would generate some truly spectacular glare. This was the Vdara Hotel & Spa, Las Vegas, NV, so you could say that this level of tackiness was to be expected. However, the sunlight rays managed to bounce off the glass and hit the guests who just wanted to lounge by the pool in peace.

Normally, you would think that they would appreciate that someone decided to augment their tans. However, the rays were so strong that some people actually ended up with singed hair. When you have that much glass, you’re not so different from a kid with a magnifying glass and a bunch of ants.

I’m sure the big glass building looked great on paper. I’m sure the idea that these sunlight rays would actually singe people would seem like an absurd worry on paper. A lot of architects today seem to think according to their papers however, and they need to be able to broaden their perspectives or things like this are just going to keep happening.