As a builder I’m an optimist, I think, in fact, it is a required trait to qualify as a builder. A recent article in Builder magazine gives me hope that design and quality are improving and getting better. Or, maybe I’m just being optimistic. . .
As I have given talks around the country on my book; The Timeless House, it seems that at the end of each talk the same question is asked; when will things start to change? When will we stop building McMansions and disposable, ugly houses. The truth is I think things are already changing, but unfortunately change is slow and we live in an instant age.
I was in fact stunned and excited recently to see Vitruvius mentioned in a Builder Magazine article. Vitruvius, was the Roman engineer who wrote the only known book on ancient architecture from Greece or Rome. Further, I must applaud John McManus, the author, for suggesting beauty as the single most important trait that will cause people to buy a home. You can read the article here.
Overlooking the fact that the article misses the essences of beauty, there are 2 reasons to be optimistic about this article. First, beauty was used and is being considered as a solution for building. WOW!! Stop the presses. This is big news. Second, Vitruvius was mentioned in an article by Builder magazine. Here’s why this is big news.
In 1926, the Audel’s carpentry guide illustrated the classical orders along with their proportions that every carpenter should know and understand. I use this picture in my talks as an illustration of what we once knew but have forgotten today. There was a knowledge of building and design that existed before WWII and everyone shared this knowledge, from builder, to craftsmen and even the homeowner. After WWII with the rise of modernism and production housing this, Art of Building, was lost.
The article is an encouraging sign that the building industry is searching for what makes a house appealing. They are beginning to realize that sales are not based on a formula of appliance quantity over countertop quality. Instead, beauty is an elusive yet worthwhile pursuit. This search in builder magazine is a positive sign.
To the question of how long it will take until we stop building ugly houses? It will take at least another 20-30 years. Yet, even despite this long return to quality and beauty, there are encouraging signs. Considering that the 1970′s were arguably the worst time in American homebuilding design; we are getting better. Here are a few milestones:
In 1981 Seaside Florida, the new urban planned community was born. You can read the history here. This development has transformed the Florida coast and made it more beautiful with better construction. The New Urban ideals are spreading across the country, and it birthed the TND- Traditional Neighborhood Development, movement which looks back to the past for design inspiration, think porches, sidewalks and walk-ability as key features.
In the early 1990′s the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art was formed. The ICAA, of which I’m a proud member, now has 16 chapters around the country and is training and teaching classicism and traditional building methods year around. To learn more about the ICAA go here.
Design is getting better, change is improving and yes I am optimistic when Builder magazine considers beauty and Vitruvius as possible answers for better homes. It will take more time, but we are going in a good direction. Cheers.