Why won't you design what we (the public) want?


By you I don't mean the average mcmansion builder, and by what we want I don't mean wrestle some traditional features into your contemporary designs.   I am asking you as the experts of the field, why won't you build what we want, traditional architecture, and build it excellently.  Certainly I wouldn't expect all of you to do this, or even half of you, just some you, or any of you....


Yes this is kind of a troll thread but with the best intentions, to hear your points of view.

Oct 22, 13 2:55 pm

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Generally, architects do design what the client wants, otherwise they wouldn’t get paid.  Sometimes they don’t even get paid when they do design what the client wants.

Whether or not this aligns with what the public wants is often outside of the architect’s control.

Oct 22, 13 3:21 pm

"traditional" architecture?  who is the "we" that wants that?  sure sounds expensive.  is "we" going to pay for it, or were "we" hoping "they" would pick up the bill?

Oct 22, 13 4:15 pm
Non Sequitur

Surixurient, who said what you think "what we want" is the correct approach?

Design is subjective, what you want is true to only one person: you.


... also, what do you mean "traditional"? Sounds like you've never tried to design anything.

Oct 22, 13 4:16 pm

Is it unreasonable to assume that the average citizen's favorite buildings are at least 80 years old? That is what I am driving at here.

Oct 22, 13 4:21 pm

By traditional I mean architecture up until the point where a philosophical/religious/political movement decided that it would redefine architecture from scratch and call today year zero.  That is how most of us unwashed masses see it anyways.

Oct 22, 13 4:27 pm

People don't know what they want until architects show it to them...

Oct 22, 13 4:28 pm

Then buy an 80 year old building. Simple fix to your problem....but you don't really want an 80 year old building, do you. You want something that suggests an 80 year old building with all of the things available today to make it nothing like an 80 year old building.

Oct 22, 13 4:29 pm

ark1t3kt, If you show them something 100 years old after what the architect showed them, it would be the latter they would in fact want.  But architects have fooled some into thinking it would be "too expensive" so we don't bother to demand it.

Oct 22, 13 4:30 pm
Non Sequitur

surixurient, you know what "they" say about opinions... yours is no different, I'd even add, grossly uneducated.

As an aside, anyone know a good marble sculptor? I need 4 dozen Corinthian capital columns and I need them within 4 weeks to meet our project deadline... but no CNC, they must be made the traditional way because someone decided for all of us that that is the way to do design.

Oct 22, 13 4:34 pm

Non Sequitur,  I am just speaking for myself and the majority of people I have talked to about architecture, with the assumption that we are representative of the public generally.

And I can assure you it is not material or manufacturing process that we are interested in, its simply the design.   3d print the buildings with concrete, use technology to your hearts content, just make sure they are aesthetically pleasing first.

Oct 22, 13 5:01 pm

"with the assumption that we are representative of the public generally"


Must be nice to be so comfortable with your assumptions.

Oct 22, 13 5:17 pm

Well assumptions are comfortably held by the nature and definition of them.

Oct 22, 13 5:20 pm

I think I'll build a traditional bridge you can live under. I'll even put up a traditional sign.


"Please do not feed the troll."

Oct 22, 13 5:23 pm

so, 1933 is your year for when "architecture" started going down hill?  that was actually the year sears quit financing their catalog homes.

1908-1940 was the golden era of the sears modern home people like so much now.  of course they called them "modern" back then.  indoor plumbing.  electricity.  cutting edge stuff.  i like romex and circuit breakers over knob and tube wiring with fuse boxes, but then i'm too lazy to put out fires.

Oct 22, 13 5:35 pm

If only you would build a traditional bridge.  The problem is architects have received no traditional training and have no experience in building traditional architecture and we would end up with a modern bridge with a few basic moldings thrown on and perhaps some columns and an arch or two in extremely poor taste, not fooling anyone into thinking its of the caliber of a traditional bridge built 100 years ago.  Or they would have to just copy some existing bridge maybe making a few changes here or there.  The paris school of beaux arts trained its students under a rigorous curriculum with artistic standards higher than most modern architect students could dream of achieving.  (this goes for art academies in general not just architecture)   My question is why isn't traditional architecture practiced and taught?  Certainly there is demand for it.  The public wants it and would prefer it to the modern and contemporary architecture that dominates the field.

Oct 22, 13 5:39 pm

There is usually quite a bit of public input into design...with commercial projects, neighbors are invited to comment on projects, unless it's a controversial project, few from the community even show up to voice an opinion. What you want is fake. What you want is something that harkens back to a "better" time...but with air conditioning, granite counter tops, high tech security system and a big screen hanging in your vintage media room...You want an Architectural petting zoo.

Oct 22, 13 5:45 pm

No I wouldn't say 1933 is the year, or that there is a specific year.  It was probably whenever bauhaus philosophy infected the academic world.  Good traditional architecture was still built afterwards but less and less frequently.

Oct 22, 13 5:46 pm

i assure every architect on this forum has received a rigorous education.  most of us didn't go to the ecole des beaux arts, but that's probably because the architecture school split from the ecole in 1968.

there is a pretty good chance you are misunderstanding what architecture was like in 1933, and you're misunderstanding what we do today, because of your own lack of education.  granted, big ass styrofoam houses suck.  however, they exist because that's what the public demanded.  they really did, and there was nothing we could do about it.

nobody wants us to build them a sears kit home.  a lot has changed since then.

Oct 22, 13 5:52 pm

I hear that kind of attitude a lot from architects Kevin.  That finding the designs before the great divergence (introduction of modern architecture) to be aesthetically superior to those after is somehow illegitimate.  It's not illegitimate.  Most of us do find them to be superior, and would prefer that level of artistic rigor and that attention to detail, that classical sense of beauty to anything seen in the last 80 years.  Do you consider John Williams to be illegitimate as a composer?  Was he crafting a musical petting zoo simply because he wasn't playing jazz?  Why the double standard between architecture and music?

Oct 22, 13 5:54 pm

the bauhaus school was founded in 1919.  mies moved to america in 1937.  1933 is, of course, 80 years ago.

Oct 22, 13 5:55 pm

Yes I believe you do receive a rigorous education, but not in traditional architecture, why not?

Oct 22, 13 5:58 pm

Yes it would be sometime around 80 years ago, but its more of a period.

Oct 22, 13 5:59 pm

because the term "traditional" as you're defining it means sears kit house.  i did take a class on mid-20th century vernacular architecture.  middle class people don't often pay an architect to design houses, because it's expensive.  it's even worse today than in 1933, because developers buy up the land and sell them in pieces in such a way that you have to pick one of 3 model homes and can't deviate from whatever their building.  it's cheaper for the developer to operate that way.

if you want to hire an architect to design you a nice traditional house, there is a pretty good chance you'll tell us how you need doric columns in the entry, renaissance feaux arches over the windows, and a gothic pediment, because that's your view of "traditional."  then you'll find out how much cheaper EIFS really is, and when you have to decide between cutting 2,000sf from your house or putting together the same neo-eclectic crap you're complaining about, you're probably going to end up with the same crap that you're complaining about.

Oct 22, 13 6:07 pm
I would really enjoy doing traditional design. Oddly enough, clients don't seem willing to pay for it. And of course, construction techniques have changed and it would cost more. There is a split between residential and commercial and many price points in each. The market for traditional arch is even smaller than that for cutting edge mod design.
Oct 22, 13 6:10 pm

Curt I will agree that the public doesn't want a sears model home anymore (well I do but the public at large doesn't)  They want an open interior, and all the conveniences of a modern floor plan.  They do however want that aesthetic, those details (its sad that cookie cutter catalog homes from 100 years ago have more detail that today's mansions, but its true), but all they get is cheap modern interpretations of them, poorly executed designs.  The architects clearly have not been trained in a traditional architectural vocabulary.   And with public buildings it gets even worse.

Oct 22, 13 6:10 pm

There has been a very strong movement the last few years to conflict with your idea that the masses are demanding a traditional architecture. Everywhere you look today you see a trend demanding architecture, decorative arts, furnishings etc..of the mid century modern era. The trend was popular before Mad Men, but exploded seems just as many people who want their buildings all dressed up with fake foam traditional architectural do-dads, as flat roofed window walled modern Eichler-types...some people find the fussy architectural jewery of quoins, curly q's, pleasing..most of the stuff was machine made fake crap in the 1920's and 30's nailed on a box...It takes perhaps a more open minded person to understand and appreciate the beauty and thought behind of austerity. Architecture should strive to represent time and place.

Oct 22, 13 6:14 pm

gruen, I would say the market is lower than it should be because no firms are capable of executing good traditional architecture, they haven't been trained for it,  and if they do offer it, its way too expensive, unnecessarily.   You don't need marble or stone to build traditional, whats wrong with concrete block and poored concrete details?   It was good enough for the vanderbilts.

Oct 22, 13 6:19 pm
Hey Siri, if you want to finance it I'll build you your own Hagia Sophia.

You don't understand basic economics relative to architecture.

Cost per sq.ft drives everything
Oct 22, 13 6:26 pm

"It takes perhaps a more open minded person to understand and appreciate the beauty and thought behind of austerity."  and there it is.  That's all well and good but architecture is not reserved for poets and philosophers.  austerity (sack cloth and ashes) is not for everyone.  Most of us just want to live in a beautiful environment that we can appreciate and that inspires us (beauty in the classical sense).

Oct 22, 13 6:30 pm
The bauhauslers were all trained classically. Mies van der Rohe grew up designing for stone. A lot of the principles of classical architecture are easily apparent in modernism. We all get that stuff.

Just for the record, molding is not a detail it's decoration.

If you mean something more rigorous than that, well there are many architects out there who can do whatever you would like. It costs a lot to do it right because the world has moved on and skilled workers are less plentiful. But it's the market not architects who are deciding all that. Blame Adam smith if you need a real culprit.

To put things in context most people in the good olde days lived in dangerous unhealthy squalor and what you aspire to may have always been out of your reach. Unless you are upper class and filthy rich?

To get out of rhetoric response mode what exactly are you hoping for? This is a random rant or are you aiming to take these thoughts somewhere productive ?
Oct 22, 13 6:41 pm

The same inspiration can be found in a well designed, beautifully proportioned and appointed steel and glass box. Austerity can be beautiful beyond imagination. On the other hand, busy, tacky, useless decoration is often horrible to experience. I find most traditional buildings over the top with decoration, to hide the fact it's just a box behind all that make-up. The simplicity of a Craftsman bungalow, a quality bungalow, usually has decoration that is a result of function. I think Frank Lloyd Wright perfected residential Architecture with his usonian homes. The materials are the decoration, not false ticky tack pasted on for nothing more than decoration.

Oct 22, 13 6:50 pm

Most of us just want to live in a beautiful environment that we can appreciate and that inspires us (beauty in the classical sense).

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I am just speaking for myself and the majority of people I have talked to about architecture, with the assumption that we are representative of the public generally.

No small assumption. And if you are representative of the majority, Dog help us.

Oct 22, 13 7:03 pm

Will Galloway, what I am hoping for is a great renaissance of art and architecture.  We are basically at this primitive cartoon stuff once again you could see something half-assed like that in an exhibit today.   I am hoping students will rediscover that which was lost, return to it, and continue from that point, as has been done before.

Oct 22, 13 7:06 pm
Non Sequitur

Suri, don't try and think too hard, it appears you might hurt yourself. It's a good thing architecture has a minimum average requirement for acceptance... or at the very least, a demonstrable ability to tie one's own shoes. Either, I can rest easy tonight knowing you'll remain on the outside, confused and angry.

Oct 22, 13 7:14 pm
having learned to design well in a variety of historic styles, i'd challenge THAT basic assumption. i wasn't alone.

do i choose to design that way if it's my choice? no.

do a majority of clients want it? maybe 10% or less will pay for correct historic forms/dtls/ornament built well.
Oct 22, 13 9:53 pm

Most people who are seeking a traditional home do so because to them it just "feels better" than the contemporary housing in general that they are being exposed to. Why do people want the old? Is it because they long for a butlers pantry and servants quarters? Maybe for some, but I would postulate that it is all down to the feeling, or rather the experience of the spaces within the home and how they relate to the human scale. I will agree that scale has been exaggerated in many McMansions as they strive to be something they are not (traditional). This makes spaces feel awkward and just not right to many, leading them to feel that the house is not designed right and therefore designers just cannot be as good as the old days. 

However, and here is the rub, 95% of housing does not involve architects! The majority of what our built everyday experience is created by developers who are trying to tap into that longing for the traditional style and what we associate with it (the experiential poetics of their spaces) and sell it to you like apple sells iPhones. In other words, housing is a mass produced consumer good primarily derived by developers with an eye on the bottom line and a shelf life of 20 years. 

This is the reason people are constantly buying and selling, their houses just don't completely fit in with real human life, and therefore they never provide that complete home experience that is being sought. This further pushes the layperson to believe that architects are out of touch with people and they long for the good old days when craftsmanship was king (or so the perception is). 

Architects can deliver the experience of space found in traditional styles, we are trained to do this. The only issue is the cost. Recall that 5% oft he residential market architects fight over! the unfortunate reality is that the homes in this area are generally those that the 1% buy. Why is this? It is because the wealthy can actually afford to pay the costs associated with traditional building techniques, architectural fees, and the cost of good artisans. 

But yes you could deliver (downsized, flattened and mass produced) elements of the spaces you are looking for in a cheaper, economical version, the thing holding this back sit he current model of architectural practice and the subsidies and power of the development industry. 

So is it fair to say that architects have lost touch, some may have, but overall I would say that the majority do try to take human factors and spatial experience into consideration, however money drives many things and you will find that the original concept that included them was stripped to fulfill the client's budget. Or alternatively the client does not see the value of the architect and toss tot he developer and is wooed by the granite and hardwood, only to later complain that the "architect" of their builder house just doesn't get it and should build in the traditional way. 

Oct 22, 13 10:18 pm
good summation, marisco!
Oct 23, 13 6:54 am
Which architect did you hire to design your home? There are talented firms doing traditional design today. Did you hire one? Did they work with you to design what you wanted? Did you build it? Do you like it? How much did you pay the architect? What did your home cost per square foot?
Oct 23, 13 8:30 am

surixurient, as part of the general public you speak on behalf of, I have to disagree with your statements.  Classical/traditional is not the only way to be beautiful.  I think there can be a lot of beauty in simplicity.

There are many factors I do not think you are considering.  First, these traditional buildings are in part beautiful because they stand out.  If they were the norm, they would just be normal and not necessarily appreciated as much. For example, when Camden Yards was opened in 1992, it was a revelation to the baseball world.  It reconnected people to their childhood stadiums that had since made way for cookie cutter multi-purpose stadiums.

Every team in baseball wanted one and over the 20 years, there has been a construction boom of teams either getting new stadiums or renovating theirs to feel retro. For a long time I liked this trend, but in recent years, it is starting to feel boring.  These stadiums start to feel like knock offs of others previously built.I love Camden Yards, the one that started it all.  I love Fenway Park, an original stadium over 100 years old.  I even love Citizens Bank Park, a retro style stadium that is approaching 10 years in age.  But I am growing weary of the retro style stadiums recently built in places such as Washington and Citi Field in New York. They no longer stand out, as unique, they are just another stadium, I would have preferred they tried something unique and innovative than just copy the past.

Second, consider also that the "traditional" designs we see today, are primarily the best of what was made then.  The most distinct, the most beautiful, the most signiifcant.  Most of the rest have long since been destroyed to make way for new cosntructions.  You are only seeing the cream of the crop, and comparing it not to just the cream of the crop today, but making a broad based comparison upon all things made today.

An allegory for that is found in music.  It is easy for someone to listen to a classic rock station or an all 90s weekend on the radio and think that music was so much better back then, its a shame it stinks now.  Well you are all hearing a small portion of the music made during those time periods because the crap has fallen by the wayside, lost to the dustbins of history.

Also what is considered traditional?  What is traditional today was contemporary or modern yesterday.  Design got there because someone else pushed it there from previous design before that. If enough people like an older style, you will see a revival of it (i.e. Greek Revival). But if you are asking for this in public works, which it sounds like you are, then you have a tougher sell (because if you are complaining about privately financed constructions, then you need to take up your issues with the people funding those projects)  Public works are dependent on tax payer money and tax payers often are stingy with their wallets, afterall who wants to pay more in taxes?

Building a bridge or government building in these older, more decadent styles will simply cost more money.  It often does not go over well when politicians choose to pay more for something without getting anything for it.  At least with modern, buildings, if you choose to pay more for design, you often are getting some tangible benefit that will cut operating costs and save money in the long run.

Also consider something like the Eiffel Tower.  It is not a traditional construction, it was in fact very modern and very controversial when being built.  It was hated by many people, it was protested, it was only supposed to be temporary, having been built for the 1889 World's Fair.  But its naked steel construction ended up being seen as beautiful and as a landmark in Paris.  It is one of the most iconic structures in the world today.

i get where you are coming from, I used to be there too.  But my tastes have expanded over the years to where I can now see the beauty in minimalism too. I am currently a post grad abroad at one of the oldest universities in the world.  I walk around Europe for the first time and see buildings routinely that are 500-800 years old at my university.  Even many of the "newer" ones are still 100-200 years old. It certainly is beautiful, but for me it is too ornate, and some of the extreme attention to the details detract from the overall beauty of the buidlings.

Oct 23, 13 9:20 am

certainly suri has made some assumptions and - try as we might - we probably wouldn't change his/her name based on what we've grown to love.

the basic argument that i think is worth arguing, though, is whether architects are educated to suit his needs/wants. i think there are architects who will do exactly what he might want, making gruen's questions the most critical ones. are suri's complaints rhetorical - based on what he thinks might be true? or is this the result of an actual effort to find an architect?

if someone came to me with a request to design a house modeled after a style of the past, after listening to what was desired, i could probably give 4 or 5 names of people in the louisville market who could meet those needs. i'm sure that's true in other markets as well. so what's the real beef? 

Oct 23, 13 9:27 am

from archinect's front page today, by the way:

"Award winning New York City firm specializing in high-end traditional homes seeks project manager with professional architecture degree and minimum 8 years experience. Interested individuals should have a strong background in traditional residential architecture, possess excellent verbal and written communication skills and be highly organized."

Oct 23, 13 9:28 am
Exactly Steven.

What's the point other than telling those rotten kids to get off the lawn?

As for renaissance I think we are in the middle if a very creative and turbulent age. Going neocon would be a step back not forward.
Oct 23, 13 10:54 am

I would like to see some examples of what the OP believes we should be cop--er..designing.

Oct 23, 13 11:52 am

It seems to me that the OP is unfamiliar with the role of architects and designers.

90% (or maybe higher) of all the buildings you see around you have never had even a sideways glance by an architect before being built.

So if you're looking to lay blame for endless cookie-cutter pastiche suburban developments, malls & strip malls, civic buildings & infrastructure that offend your eyes with their (at best) pedestrian detailing and lackluster forms, start looking to developers, City Councillors who get paid by developers, and the general public who only care for getting the maximum square footage for their hot tub and 59 foot Media Screen for Intense Viewing Pleasure.

I'd say that most architects, in theory, agree that there is something beautiful about what you call 'traditional' architecture, if we can also agree that this is a pretty ambiguous term. I'd also venture a guess that most people on this board at some level feel that what passes as the built environment these days could be much, much better. Where the disagreement perhaps lies is how you see the solution.

To you it's simple: study the past masterpieces and adapt current technology to churn out something just as steadfast and beautiful. Everyone who goes through architecture school spends much time studying at the past, so why aren't the top contemporary architects making something as good as all those "traditional" buildings?

I'd say they are.

I think you just don't know it.

I think there is great beauty in a lot of architecture these days. Perhaps more so than at any other time in the last 50 years. I think that designers value craftsmanship much more than the average person, and I think that if all of us had our choice and a high enough budget, we'd spend our lives crafting incredible, long-lasting masterpieces of our own.

Unfortunately, none of us have the uncountable fortune of the Catholic Church behind us, or are privately commissioned by Royalty, or live in places where the city founders are prolific humanitarians that gift expensive public buildings (and future maintenance fees) every 3 years. But I think that we are doing pretty well with what we get.

Can you argue that there is less attention to detail or less consideration of aesthetics in any of these projects?

It is right to be upset by the crap that gets built, in general. But it's also important to be inspired by the context of place and time, as well as knowledge of the past.

Oct 23, 13 12:01 pm

You all taking a step backward (from the cliff) is a step forward for the rest of us.  You are literally dooming us to a grim future, the wooden homes are fast decaying, brick buildings are crumbling, all that will remain will be stone or concrete(assuming they arent gutted and destroyed by one of your fellow poet-visionaries or whatever you consider them).  Urban renewal and the cultural plunder and razings of the 1960s was practically a crime against humanity.  There are no buildings to replace the ones lost, the only traditional buildings we see being built are less than impressive.  There is no lack however of eye-sore novelties and flavour of the months that become dated and unvalued after a decade or two.  You are destroying the built environment, we live in a freakshow of meaningless structures, look-at-me monuments to the insecurity of their designers.  The buildings of history on the other hand actually had meaning, they followed a language, one defined and built up for centuries, and a language even the common man could understand and value.  Now, every generation of designers throws away whatever they inherited and arrogantly declares themselves as the enlightened generation, the true builders.  Useless and self absorbed virtues like 'originality' 'rule breaking'  'wave making' rule the day.  Well, that is how is appears.  It is a sad time to be a lay-admirer of great architecture.

Oct 23, 13 12:23 pm

Maybe you could sketch out a "classical" well-made detail for us so that we could further understand your point?

Yeah that's what I thought.

Oct 23, 13 12:35 pm

Stephanie, I just looked at all of those projects you posted.  And I agree that the best and brightest are doing great work, but the sad reality is that those buildings will not last. how can they?  They have no meaning outside of the present. They have no language, no way to communicate outside of a specific context.   What wasted potential, for the majority of viewers they will simply be a novelty or else just noise.

Oct 23, 13 12:37 pm

Nice, what do you mean by sketch out, literally draw or post pictures?

Oct 23, 13 12:44 pm

suri: you are intentionally not listening to any of the very valid points made here.


Oct 23, 13 12:44 pm

I'm still digesting all of the responses Donna, there is a lot to read and consider.

Oct 23, 13 12:47 pm

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