Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Tell me about it

    I like a lot of what I read in the Los Angeles Times. They tend to carry trend stories that resonate more with me in Salt Lake City than the New York Times can offer me from 2,000 miles away. Particularly, this.

    Don't these people look angry? It seems that in California, as in Utah, you just can't mess with the bungalow without making enemies.

    The story is more than a week old, but somehow I fear that it's timeless: modern aficionado picks a neighborhood based on its charm and liveability (translation: established, mature homes in an older style) and wants to update his property with a contemporary structure. Neighbors burst into flames.

    Other than the details specific to this situation, the article does a good job summing up what Tai and I fear would happen when we try to pull a building permit anywhere near downtown Salt Lake City. Many of the city's best neighborhoods are that way because a developer bought large tracts of land decades ago and built hundreds of houses all in one or two styles. (Sidenote: wouldn't it be hilarious if 50 years from now new Draper was considered historically charming??) There are plenty of great reasons to preserve and restore significant historical buildings; there also are plenty of great reasons to allow a blend of new and old in established neighborhoods.

    What's evolved in Salt Lake City since that developer of yore are historic landmark districts in many parts of the city. I cannot talk about these districts without first bursting into flames — or at least getting an expression not unlike the man's above — not because their stated purpose is to retain the historical charm of these neighborhoods, but rather because that purpose is often translated to and enacted as "No. New. Anything." sans discussion about compatibility, building for your era, etc.

    This, and the monster home ordinance of early 2006, are two of a few very large reasons that we've been eying Summit Park more and more these days, despite all the other very large reasons not to (including our genuine love for Salt Lake City proper).

    Chew it over while you enjoy your turkey. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


    todd said...

    Landmarking issues are huge in the Chicago neighborhoods we have lived in. Longtime residents and those wanting to preserve historic neighborhoods fight to protect buildings, blocks, and whole neighborhoods. Developers, obviously, fight for the opposite. It's not an easy issue and I'm somewhere in between. I'm all for contemporary architecture, and our neighborhood has a few gems, but MOST of what is developer-built is total crap. The only thing that separates it from suburban tract homes is larger windows in front, and three stories tall. They all have the same 42" cherry cabinets, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances. None of which have to be bad, but those words are in every freaking developer listing. Some of these buildings even qualify for historic neighborhoods if the have brick on the front (because mayor Daley loves brick).

    So while I would love to see unique, modern buildings interspersed with historic ones in old neighborhoods, what usually happens (here at least) is developers buy the open land, or tear down old buildings, and build crap. Maybe an answer is to restrict the number of lots developers can buy in a particular neighborhood, or make everyone run their designs by me. But that's largely what it comes down to. Taste.

    Maybe everyone should be required to take a history of architecture class. Then they would all want to see white boxes everywhere.

    We are convinced that what we want to build is new and interesting, and may even engage the historical architecture around it, but that's usually the minority view, unfortunately.

    That's an interesting thought about the tract developments of today being quaint and desirable in the future. Frightening. Though I imagine most of that stuff is so shoddily-built, it'll have to be razed in a couple of decades.

    todd said...

    Oops. Some typos up there. But I can't edit them.

    Tai said...

    What's frustrating about the process, at least here anyway, is that there is the opportunity for the plans to be run past someone (ie the Historic Landmarks Commission) and they review each plan, and in minutes I have read and meetings I have attended they all think that only something that looks exactly like an old house should be built, which in itself flies in the face of the standards set forth by historic preservation societies. New construction is not supposed to mimic old styles, yet that's what the commissions usually try to force builders to do.

    I am just as offended when I see something that looks like it belongs in a suburb tract home development pop up between a couple of craftsman homes downtown. It's way more offensive to me than a modern building, but here anyway, you would probably succeed in getting that tract home approved because it has a pitched roof and a gable rather than something designed to be sensitive to the materials and styles of the neighborhood, while not mimicking it, yet happens to be a "modern building".

    Tai said...

    The run-on sentences in my previous post are something to be marveled at.

    todd said...

    That's very frustrating. I didn't read the article Kersten posted before I wrote that stuff above. It outlines the issue well. Sameness is killing culture in this country.

    And work is killing me today.


    k8 said...

    if i were to move back to Utah I would do more than eye Summitt Park. Although I am sort of surprised that they are more relaxed about building than Salt Lake-or is it only in Park City that they are sort of freaky about everything looking like a mountain hideaway?

    Kersten said...

    That's the beauty of Summit Park — it's a hold out from the traditional Park City, $12 million, timber-ski lodge look. There are some great modern houses up there, including the cube house that you can see from I-80. There are also different restrictions for different areas of Summit Park — we would, naturally, not choose a lot in the Swissie part of the neighborhood. (Nothing against Switzerland, though...)