Monday, August 27, 2007

    A modern home for a modern time

    So what's so great about a modern house? Don't get us wrong — we find no offense with Tudors, Victorians, Cape Cods, cottages, bungalows or craftsman-style homes. In fact, many of the best examples of those styles are lovely homes. They're just not for us. (We do find offense with the mish-mash style so prevalent in the greater-Salt Lake area, but we'll save that rant for another day.)

    We are not the type to write a modernist's manifesto — check out or any number of architecture schools for better-articulated theories — but boyohboy are we ever opinionated folk. And we are very, very strongly of the opinion that modern design, building and living is the way to go.

    For us, the core of modern living (that phrase sounds so 1950s! in a sputnik-era way! with new electronic kitchen implements! and gleaming teeth! and automatic coffee makers!), breaks down to the emphasis of function in the home. We love the emphasis on easy construction methods — simplify the construction, the thinking goes, and thus reduce your costs and thus increase your potential impact and audience. We love well-placed windows and the natural light they provide. We love open floor plans and their inherent love for entertaining and family gatherings. We love a site plan that just makes sense. We love efficient use of space. We love multi-purpose rooms. We love site-appropriate construction. We love the energy efficiency that comes with all of these things. We love climate-appropriate landscaping. And, we love the way it looks.

    Just below Ensign Peak, Salt Lake City

    Moreover, we believe in building for our time. I know no one who wants a 1920s kitchen. I don't want room dimensions or ceiling heights from 1906, either. I also think that the exterior of my house shouldn't look like it's stuck in a decade from another century. Show it for what it is, instead of disguising your contemporary interior in a faux-historical facade.

    Top of F Street, Salt Lake City Avenues

    So, yes, we want to build a modern house that we believe will be more comfortable, more energy efficient, and more fitting for its eventual (and currently hypothetical) location than any pre-approved plans from a builder or pseudo-historical new construction.

    Any yays? Nays? Yawns?


    todd said...

    a yay from me for good design. but i think that the word 'modern' gets over-used and perhaps misused. the ultimate in modernist design (philip johnson's glass house and mies van der rohe's farnsworth house) end up dictating how its inhabitants live (ordered, structured, rigid) rather than allowing the organic, entropic, sometimes cluttered existence that usually happens in real life, despite best efforts to the contrary. modernist efficiency was not always about comfort.

    only recently has 'modern' design taken on energy efficiency as one of its benefits. mid-century modernism was largely about faith in science, technology, and machines to solve nature's problems. all that south and west-facing energy-inefficient (at the time) glass with no overhangs let in amazing natural light, but would quickly bake its contents. that is no match, though, for modern climate control systems, which guzzled electricity no doubt.

    what looks modern now (clean lines, light, well-designed, open, energy efficient) is philosophically distinct from what is called modernism in the history books. and to me, that's as it should be. we're not living in the 50s, so let's not design things like they did then. i'm for smart, clean design.

    so it's basically a nomenclature issue that only a few people care about and doesn't have much to do with your post. but you asked for yays, nays and yawns. so there's something that might make someone yawn.

    also, i'm all for renovating old spaces and making the insides clean, cutting new windows, replacing glass, lots of white and an old wood floor. most early 20th century ceiling heights i've seen around chicago are 10-12'+. far higher and more comfortable than the 8' junk standard in construction from the 60s to now. maybe it's a regional issue, though. is there none of that in salt lake? besides, renovating, if it's done right, can be greener than building new. old shell + new insides = awesome.

    Tai said...

    I guess you go to school for this kind of stuff and you get to know what stuff "actually" means.

    I don't really know exactly what "modern" means in academic circles, but I know what it means to me, even if I can't articulate it fully. I guess then it's a bit like what that supreme court justice said about obscenity. I know it when I see it.

    I don't have the training to properly describe it, but to me modern is being honest with materials and forms. It is not being bound to the traditional styles of homes. To me it really isn't even really a style. It's a way of thinking. Modern to me is different than contemporary. I also agree that "modern" is a word that gets used to much, but it's has become an easy way of identifying things that fit my way of thinking.

    As for "green", there, is green architecture that is not modern and there is modern architecture that is not green. So you are right that green is not inherent in modern architecture. Energy at the middle of the 20th century was plentiful and cheap, so why would you worry about siting your building correctly to take advantage of the suns rays in the winter and protect yourself from them in the summer? We want our home to be modern and green.

    I guess I really can't explain it and probably sound like a fool when I try to, but I know it when I see it.

    We used to entertain the possibility of renovating an old house and making it "modern" inside. Perhaps even building a "modern" extension off the back, but given the prices the old homes go for around here, and what it would cost to update everything that needed it, it will likely be more economically feasible for us to start from scratch. An old house would need new plumbing and electrical, and maybe a new roof. The sandstone foundations common here are a bit iffy to me and all the asbestos and lead common in construction during the early part of the 20th century is a bit of a turn off.

    I agree that old shell + new insides can = awesome, but it can also be more expensive than we can afford and a much bigger headache fixing things that are wrong than to just start new and do it right the first time.

    todd said...

    i didn't mean what i said to be a criticism of your goals (which i applaud) or how you talk about what you want. people know what you mean when you say modern. it's interesting to me that a term like modern (which by definition means of the present or recent times) can get pinned to a time period or movement that is now in the history books. personally, i think modernism is still around, but some of its defining ideologies have changed. it hasn't ended.

    your statement that modernism is about being honest with materials and form is dead-on. that is one thing that has not changed. i'm not at all an architectural historian, but i have studied art, and that is one place that i imagine the histories of art and architecture join. a lot of it grew out of the same place.