Next Discovery

By: D Steckler

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    "They've had time to blow up the bad ones" or The wisdom of children.

    By DAS99
    Apr 30, '12 10:46 PM EST

    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.  :)


    • a great discussion to have. when you visit early modern buildings, you can often see a lot of care and craft in the details that we don't see now, especially if they're pre-wwII. the hinges, rails, etc were still pretty much one-offs then. it had nothing to do with modern vs non-modern so much as with mass-produced vs made for the job. *now* it's almost always mass-produced, with only the rare exception.

      May 1, 12 6:56 am

      one other note: here in our city, the downtown has blocks of old warehouse buildings with cast-iron facades, similar in some ways to what you'd see in soho. they were never considered particularly special and - when the city was in the tank for several decades - nobody had the money to tear them down and nobody cared enough to make the effort. other sections of our city were decimated by 'urban renewal', but these buildings still sat there. these, of course, are now the most sought-after part of the city. tastes change, values change.

      May 1, 12 6:59 am

      Yes we had the mass produced discussion as well. But, well thought out buildings with mass produced materials can still have 'details'  they just aren't in the same places. They spent time looking for them in NYC (we aren't going to find any where we live that's for sure)  They found quite a few things that were interesting.  According to their unscientific survey we use more color and more shapes in the building as a whole in current times as opposed to shapes applied.  They definitely had opinions on wether or not a building was thoughtfully designed or just built. However they didn't think 'just built' was bad. That also gave me pause for thought. 

      We also had the discussion that sometimes it isn't the best that survives but the most funded, because funding usually means care, and that means survival. Often that means religious or government buildings, because those are more stable sources of funding. I realized that the blanket statement of they got rid of the better ones isn't true across the board, I certainly can think of some better building that are gone, but it does give pause for thought. Also being teens without architectural education they meant modern as in new, more current not modern as it the movement. LOL They thought Mies had great steel details. :)  

      Also the 13 year olds quote about blowing up buildings was innocently made from watching a special on TV about the implosion of a building in Vegas a while back and  the recent episode of 'touch' where they imploded a building and had to save the people in it. It's just what he thinks people do with unwanted buildings because it''s what he's seen on tv.  

      May 1, 12 1:14 pm

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A blog about the many discoveries in life related to architecture.

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