Recently in my house there has been a rehash of the modern vs. classic conversation. Children have amazing insight sometimes. It all started when my oldest found my sketchbook from college. You know, way back when dinosaurs roamed. The sketch book from the class where the teacher would take us out into the city, stop at some random point and tell us 'sketch something you see in 10 minutes', that sketch book. Anyway, in this sketchbook there are random sketches of intricate door hinges from churches, stone gargoyles, turn of the century wrought iron details, and stone arches etc. So the comment made was “ why are old buildings so interesting and new buildings so plain and boring?“ “Why don’t people make details like these anymore?”
Well that opened up quite a conversation. Similar to ones that have been going on around here on Archinect, but with a 13 and 15 year old. It went sort of like this.
15 said “ New buildings look so plain and boring.”
13 said “Not all new buildings, just a lot of them. You only like all the old buildings still here because they’ve had time to blow up the bad ones.“
15 “ Yes but when have you ever seen a new building with a hinge half as detailed as this picture.”
13 “ New doors are thinner and plus they close themselves. We don’t need hinges like that”
15 “ But new buildings have no details, just plain boxes. It doesn’t take much thought to make a box. Old buildings have such nice details they must have been much harder to think of. “
13 “ I told you, that’s because they already got rid of the bad ones. They had hundreds of years, that gives you a lot of time get rid of stupid buildings and keep the good ones. So now we can’t tell what bad ones they had back then.”
So after that little gem of wisdom I had to butt in and show them a few modern ‘boxes’ that were well thought out. So I google up some Mies pictures, and a few Saarinen, threw in a Corbusier and some Graves, then finish with Koolhaus. I figured that would give a range of styles and dates that they ought to find something in there redeeming. I pointed out that buildings were more than just a few nice details. They needed to look at the whole building together, see it as a composition. They looked, they learned and they even agreed that not all modern buildings were stupid. (well there were reservations about the Koolhaus, apparently it would make a great building, pretty cool, but not a great house. After all who wants to live in ‘ the weird house’ when everyone else had a normal house? People would say stuff. (hmmm Did they just stumble upon the reason for all the cookie cutter developments that fill our landscape? Teenage angst? )
A week later we had the opportunity to visit NYC. So I asked them to look for things they liked in both new and old buildings. They spent the couple of days looking. They noticed a lot of things. Learned a bit, hopefully. Turns out they found a modern building they could both agree on and it surprised me, not because they hadn't picked a beautiful building but because they found beauty in what they has previously complained about. (how typical for teens) Because it's literally a rectangle, a 'box' as the 15 year old called it.
The new entry to the 9-11 memorial museum, not even open yet. Nestled in among the memorial pools/fountains is a steel and glass building that is the entrance to the future underground museum. Their take on the building was interesting. They decided they liked it because it looked like a building emerging from the memorial like a phoenix. It reflected what is going on around it while you could still glimpse the emerging angled, structure. They felt the angled steel represented the building coming out of the site after all the trauma. It shows that the place can come back. It wasn’t plain it was respectful.
Context is everything I guess. :)