Building a modern house

There’s a new modern house going up about five minutes from where I live, a rarity for a New England town. So many of the houses that are built now are faux-colonial or just generally faux-traditional that it’s a pretty big deal when this sort of thing happens. People tend to get excited and to heap praise onto the new house without holding it to any sort of serious standard.

This is not the house that I toured, but it looks pretty similar in the way that it begins to edge on tasteful staleness.

Read on past the break for more on these sorts of houses.

Fortunately, the one going up near where I live is actually pretty good. It has the whole Renzo Piano ‘elegance’ thing going on, which is certainly all the craze these days, but unlike many of Piano’s works (particularly his more recent ones), this house has enough originality and tension to avoid boring staleness.

The owner of this new house, a professor of architecture who designed it himself, recently gave me a tour of the mostly finished house, and one of the things that struck me was his interest in those interior-design-y ‘clever’ details. I’m talking about cabinets that open a certain way in order to avoid jutting out into a room too far, or anodized aluminum ceiling fans that supposedly exude elegance but are at the same time functional. Those details that, though conceived as a blend between form and function, often end up as extraordinarily kitschy, show-offy and generally divorced from the far more interesting matter of conceptual design.

But hearing an architect talk about them in a house he had clearly put much thought into made me think twice about my judgement call on such details. Because the truth is that as much as I like conceptual deconstructivism from the likes of Peter Eisenman, often when the design of a building is more integral to my everyday life, simple, elegant functionality becomes far more palatable. That’s not to say that my overall judgement of those precious details I dislike is any different, just that in some cases, when real thought goes into them and they serve an actual purpose, they’re not all bad.

In fact they can really be pretty important. They’re just not as interesting as all that conceptual, intellectual stuff that we usually focus on here.


One thought on “Building a modern house

  1. […] furious insolence with which most in the field would. (I have certainly done so in the past, as in this post.) In explaining her stance, she writes: As an architectural historian without ideological baggage, […]

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