Friday, January 11, 2013

Zip Zap Architecture

Zip! Zap! And a token curve thrown in too.
Residential architecture in the United States has taken on a fresh look lately. "Modern" (in quotes because the definition is impossible to nail down) architecture is in ascendancy.  Materials that used to be considered edgy (corrugated metal, concrete panels, polycarbonate windows) are now popular. Or, at least, accepted without criticism. Architects are experimenting with shape, form, and colors. Commercial architecture has always been a little more adventurous. Now residential design, in all price ranges,  looks more contemporary too. Mid-century modern, once a daring style avoided by conservative developers, is box office gold in the theater of speculative housing.

I applaud this trend because the prior "approved" styles were stodgy artifacts of a dusty past. (In most cases, a past not even connected to American history or mores.) Modern architecture encourages innovation and lends itself to new technologies, materials, energy efficiency, and sustainability. However, I  can't help being concerned about the slap-dash manner in which much of the new modern is designed. Modern architecture ought to be about exciting new spaces and clarity of purpose. But a lot of it is different solely for the sake of being different. It does not emerge from a coherent philosophy. In particular, I'm referring to architecture that is jarring and lacks composure. I call it Zip Zap architecture.

Zip Zap is a cartoon version of architecture. It is made of askew geometry and a jumble of materials that bear some resemblance to mid-century modern icons without their sense of originality and dignity. Too much of this will taint the whole idea of doing anything modern. Come on, young architects; get your act together with something a little more thoughtful. Thank you.