Generic Architecture

Does anyone know the definition of "Generic Architecture"?

Feb 11, 11 1:05 pm

well i think at least three defintions could be used

Generic as is the avergae architecture of society a la your Walmart's, big-boxes, ranch or other tract homes etc....

Then there is Koolhaas's and OMA's version of generic architecture/generic city here

Finally, in IT one can also find generic architecture

Feb 11, 11 1:42 pm  · 
Sarah Hamilton

Wow, Nam.

I guess Generic Architecture could also be any work not done by a Brand Name architect.

Seriously, though, I go with day-to-day buildings as a true definition. Works that don't sizzle, but serve their function. The sort of buildings we drive by everyday and never notice.

Feb 11, 11 2:49 pm  · 
Meiri Tofani

"I guess Generic Architecture could also be any work not done by a Brand Name architect."

We can't really classify it based on that. But i can understand if you were saying it in cynical context.

Generic architecture work focuses only on the essentials; budget & functionality, thus often ignoring variations. The work is conventional but not cutting edge.
It holds elemental quality of architecture as shelter but not as symbol (although it still aesthetically right).

It is also not a part of Architectural Types, as it cant be seen as a kind of art form. It doesnt posses a specific style or characteristic.

But i guess im not as skeptic as others on judging the Generic Architecture.
I am somehow tired too, of all the arrogance of most postmodernists who aim only to stalk the exotics n making architecture as one upmanship.

Feb 14, 11 10:56 pm  · 

nam -

What does this represent for you? It's clearly not Wal-mart or lowest common denominator, but it's not Rem. Is this really that diagrammatic a proposition? I think not -

Feb 14, 11 11:30 pm  · 

And, it should have been pointed out, that was finished last year. I'd be thrilled if even a quarter of the 'generic' stuff of Atlanta was done that well.

Feb 14, 11 11:31 pm  · 

Is it like generic medicine?

A company spends millions on a pill, figures out what it's good for, how it will probably kill you, and puts it on market. Their patent expires after 15 years, and other companies start making replicas.


Generic Architecture is architecture devoid of original ideas and innovation, yet still capable of making you feel (live) better or giving you diarrhea.

Feb 15, 11 12:10 am  · 
St. George's Fields

I would give a broader definition to "generic architecture."

I agree much with what Nam says. But I'd add this: Generic architecture is also referential to location and is not necessarily dependent on a number of socioeconomic factors. Generic architecture in Florida is probably much different than generic architecture in Montana.

I would also add that some aspects of generic architecture have a bit of variation built into them as variation, even when confined to style, is a selling point.

I hope you see what I'm point at here. Architecture is pretty much always generic unless there's a significant contrast between buildings. I wouldn't limit it to specifically architecture of the poor or middle classes.

Feb 15, 11 1:12 am  · 
St. George's Fields


Feb 15, 11 1:13 am  · 
St. George's Fields

Feb 15, 11 1:15 am  · 

Did you use MS Paint to dress that bird, glitter?

Feb 15, 11 1:16 am  · 

an additional definition of generic architecture, closest to glitter centaur's, i guess, is that proposed by stewart brand in 'how buildings learn'.

this will be my paraphrase, i.e., what i've taken brand's proposition to mean for me. it could have drifted from his original, so i recommend the book.

my version of brand's generic architecture is that of the valuable shell. if a building is built well and beautifully, in such a way that its community finds it valuable enough to keep, but it's also built in such a way that it can be adapted for any number of functions (thus the generic - allowing it to have several 'lives' - that's a successful architecture.

for louisville, downtown's 19thC warehouses are just that kind of generic architecture - buildings that recall our history, are built well and of good materials, and exhibit characteristics particular to our city. law offices, museums, restaurants, galleries, architects' offices, bookstores, etc: these buildings now serve as any number of things because their raw space suggests nothing in particular.

Feb 15, 11 7:22 am  · 

Maybe generic architecture is less style driven- as many of you are imply above (i.e. glitter) and more about programmatic variation. For example, I'd say most office buildings have a generic type of layout- central core with perimeter offices, for example. The same goes with residential multifamily- double loaded corridor, single loaded, central circulation, etc. I'd suggest these are generic buildings regardless of their appearance or architect since they are functionally/spatially the same. Maybe non-generic buildings occur when these typical patterns are broken or reorganized.

Feb 15, 11 9:47 am  · 

@Greg Walker and others. I wasn't trying to say that generic was only architecture that wasn't done by staritect. In fact as my inclusion of Rem points to, brand name staritecture could in fact do generic architecture.

Rather, i think it is as many have pointed out the regular architecture of the city, almost a copy and paste architecture. Repeated and repeatable without inclusion of actual designer for instance GC design build kit homes etc...

Also, i think we need to be clear to distinquish between vernacular and generic. One is local and specific and the other is the architecture of everywhere and nowhere.

I think tactile makes a good point about programmatic variation. That was part of the reason i included big box, architecture or tract homes. Now many big boxes are doing more localized style, but program isn't any different.

I guess a big distinction would be between those who see generic as good (an almost vernacular) vs bad (a cookie cutter type approach).

I actually think rustystuds comparison to generic medicine holds a lot of truth. Serves the purpose without the glitz or price tag....

Feb 15, 11 11:00 am  · 
St. George's Fields

I was making the point that in given instances that "vernacular" and "generic" could be used interchangeably given a location. Unlike vernacular, generic can be applied to an "average approximation" over many buildings in a given area regardless of style, cost or historic concerns.

To have great architecture, one must have bad architecture. And to have generic architecture, one must also have architecture both good and bad.

So, it really boils down to a comparative narrative. (Yay, rhyming!).

I also think that "great" architecture can become generic when the architecture loses its comparative aspect. There's a variety of ways this could happen but I'll hypothesize a few aspects when architecture turns generic:

1) One-upmanship -- specific object becomes less important (valuable) through the creation of new objects

2) Style wars -- specific object loses value through cultural shifts and preferences for a given style

3) deconstructionism (in terms of real estate) -- object loses value through analysis of its individual parts rather than appreciation as a whole; seen more specifically when an object is subdivided through co-operative ownership or leasing

4) Redundancy -- object loses value when duplicated and multiplied within a given point of reference

5) Obsolescence -- object fails to function as object was intended; services object provides are no longer necessary

The pictures I posted above were not necessarily about illustrating style but more about how individual buildings when compared to their environment are often insignificant. However, the individual study of each of these buildings to foreigners may make them seem less generic than they actually are.

Even if one uses style as a vernacular tool or even as marketing pastiche, a collection of "faux-arts" buildings moves away from the category of pastiche, historicist et cetera when more than one is built within a specific area.

In a sense, you could have two completely different and dominating styles with in a neighborhood-- let's say Georgian and modern contemporary-- and both would be considerably generic despite both being highly-contrasting and divisive.

Feb 15, 11 3:32 pm  · 

Since Rem Koolhaas relates generic architecture with globalization and homogenization it’s interesting that glitter centaur is relating generic architecture with vernacular.
I don’t know Rem Koolhaas is still insisting on generic architecture and homogenization that had been already well criticized by newer generations like FOA, UN studio and MVRDV…

Unlike Rem Koolhaas, I think the characters of the contemporary society isn’t generic but heterogeneous, and not similarity but difference. The reason Rem Koolhaas looks at the world as generic is because he looks in a viewpoint of “overcoding” the world.

Feb 15, 11 5:34 pm  · 

Is generic architecture a chorus building?

Should all buildings beat their chest?

Feb 15, 11 6:01 pm  · 

dsc_arch very poetic way of putting the question

Feb 15, 11 6:15 pm  · 

not me:

Gramme Morland who taught at USC.

Feb 15, 11 6:45 pm  · 
St. George's Fields

"Since Rem Koolhaas relates generic architecture with globalization and homogenization it’s interesting that glitter centaur is relating generic architecture with vernacular."

I'm also saying that modern, post-modern and contemporary architect is often vernacular, too. The architecture of Miami is so scant on historic architecture that any piece of classicist or traditionalist architecture remains relatively non-generic-- unlike most places in the US.

One could say that Miami's vernacular architecture is another city's contemporary or modernist architecture.

One has to remember that most vernacular architecture is no different in assembly than Koolhaus, Foster or even Herzog.

Vernacular architecture is generally created by a small pool of craftsman making a limited number of building supplies. Your architectural creativity is pretty limited to the specifics of the project site.

While contemporary architecture does not necessarily have the same restrictions, contemporary architects are often limited to a number of spec catalogs and manufacturers. Unless everything is pretty much custom made, the genericism still exists.

Feb 15, 11 11:26 pm  · 

glitter- I have trouble agreeing with that argument because vernacular- at least as I understand it- does not relate solely to place in terms of appropriation of a style. Vernacular architecture is often architect-less, specific to a certain place/climate/culture, and tied to available resources. You can't say a restriction on spec catalogs is the same at all. Manufacturers are strongly influenced by each other and are constantly trying to improve and innovate before their competitors. This is happening at a national and international scale. The same goes for architects, to an extent. Whether we'd like to admit it or not, we're all drastically influenced by architecture globally.

So the appropriation of the modernism in Miami is nothing more than an appropriation (not trying to discredit any specific buildings in Miami). Therefore what you're suggesting is just the generic, homogeneity that characterizes all places. I think the generic is independent of vernacular. Although vernacular construction still occurs, I think is placed on a timeline before globalization and homogeneity is the result of globalization, and therefore later on a timeline. So I'd say the generic is more of an attempt towards "equalizing" places as people are exposed to other places and therefore have changing expectations.

I also think it's important to distinguish between "generic cities" and "generic buildings." These are two very different discussions and so far this thread has been focusing on generic cities.

Feb 16, 11 4:23 pm  · 

an offering: generic architecture is that when of all the possible choices relating to the realisation of a building, the most obvious path is chosen.

Feb 16, 11 6:08 pm  · 

in addition to regional materials, techniques, spatial qualities of neighborhood and landscape, and climate, "vernacular" also includes cultural significance, symbolism, and meaning... it's very much about being able to identify with a place.

IMO - "generic" is mostly just context-less, very insular, place-less, only perhaps alluding to the decade in which it was built. although it doesn't really have an overwhelming effect unless it is surrounded by others. but I think the major aspect of "generic" architecture is that it lacks visual cues for one to relatively immediately locate and orient oneself at the street and neighborhood scale. though - it's pretty easy to remedy this by adding something out of the ordinary.

here's a famous example of "generic" architecture used as a plot device:

Feb 17, 11 11:33 am  · 

toasteroven, as a foreigner I would say that is not generic but american.

I don't think the world or architecture is generic. If the world is generic, there would no conflicts between identities and therefore no wars. The generic is just illusory perception of the short-sighted.

Because the world is not generic, neither can architecture be generic.

Feb 17, 11 1:59 pm  · 
"Because the world is not generic, neither can architecture be generic."

So every project gets a blue ribbon for participation? yaaay!
Someone give Karl Fischer a pritzker.

Feb 17, 11 2:37 pm  · 

and "generic" is not exclusive to american suburbia and strip mall development. I'd also lump mid 20th cent. social housing projects in there as well... and I'm sure there are many other examples.

but in my mind "generic" is usually some form of vaguely authoritarian large scale development, either an entire neighborhood of relentless blandness constructed virtually overnight or individual identical spores that are disseminated from a central bureaucracy or marketing department - slowly spreading their architectural "brand" like cancer across the landscape. It cannot just be one building because without context there's no generic.

Feb 17, 11 2:41 pm  · 

Might be some clues in here:

Feb 17, 11 3:01 pm  · 

syp - I'm describing a spatial and visual condition - not a particular archetype.

Feb 17, 11 3:06 pm  · 

I understand...

However, if that, you think, is the definition of “generic”, the term “mediocre” would be more relevant.

In architecture field, the term "generic" has too much been used with a philosophical nuance just for pretence being “intelligent”......

Feb 17, 11 3:10 pm  · 

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?


This is your first comment on Archinect. Your comment will be visible once approved.

  • ×Search in: