Timeless Design and Trendy Design

Timeless Design and Trendy Design

I just looked at a few different residential architectural websites out there.  I saw some work by other architects that I truly enjoyed in terms of their contemporary artziness (if that is a word).  However, being trendy and consciously “contemporary” usually handicaps the owners who paid for it within a few years as being hopelessly Dated.

Why?  Because simpler is usually better, in the long run.  Complicated swoopy curves (which cost an alarming amount of $$ to build) and overly complicated details (while initially interesting) can cost a lot over the years to maintain, as well as to construct initially.  Also, remember the 1960s fad with 1″ square turquoise ceramic tiles on large courthouse buildings?  Well, what do you think of those now?  Hopelessly dated, right?  Just remember that when you see some zippy new “contemporary” swoopy form with complex details!  Come a few years, those forms, shapes and colors may be no longer in vogue and looked outdated.  Remember the Hyberbolic paraboloid concrete shell roofs from the 1960s?  Hopelessly outdated now.  How about “avocado green” and “harvest gold” kitchen appliances?  Ridiculously passe’.  Remember Formica kitchens with aluminum trim from the 1950s?  That was a modern new “trend” back then, too.  No one could imagine having that today.  A simple, real granite counter installed back then would still look good today.  Simple quality that lasts.

What to do?  Try simpler.  The challenge with simpler things is greater.  The arrangement cannot be concealed with flashy colors and expensive materials and extravagantly expensive details (who can afford that stuff, anyway?).  Simple things have to work.  It will be obvious if they do not, because they are the raw truth of what is going on, in and on the home or building.  They are not hidden or camouflaged behind some trendy “modern” shape or color or flashy expensive material.  They are exposed and real and either work or do not for all to see.  And being able to see what is happening clearly allows them to be refined and corrected, improved and as perfect as possible before they are actually built.

Also, overly complicated floor plans can add a great deal to the cost of a home.  They look cool, when you are viewing the floor plan like it is a piece of art, hanging on a wall in a museum of modern art.  But that is Not how you experience the actual house!  Your floor plan should be a record of your desired lifestyle, not a nifty assemblage of zippy, swoopy lines.  Hopefully your lifestyle has a more solid basis than such idiosyncratic arrangements.

Rectangles have a lot of good in them.  Especially golden rectangles (a particularly well-shaped easy-to-live-with proportion that has been known for thousands of years by geometricians, and some architects.  Squares are good too.  For instance, there is a lot of economy in having a home design with less surface area and overall volume, being more of a volumetric cube.  You have to have sloping roofs to get the rain and snow off, of course.  And there are topographic and foundation issues to be considered, depending on your ground slopes, which can affect the proportions of your home, and your views.  However, in general, simpler, more boxy arrangements will cost a LOT LESS than more complicated and exotic shapes, proportions and arrangements.

I strive for Timeless Architecture, which in general means: I would like my designs to look like they could have been built today, 50 years from now, or 100 years ago.  I think most of my clients would agree.  Not trendy, “flash in the pan” quirky fads.

It appears that some architects and designers design for other architects or for contemporary magazines that they want their work to be featured within.  I personally admire their creativity and artistic ability.  Beautiful shapes, details and forms.  Very Artsy.  But I wonder how many people out there in the “real” world understand how much those sorts of things cost?  Certainly no where near normal construction costs per square foot.  Homes with extravagant shapes and exotic materials and complicated details can cost $500 per square foot, or $1,000 per square foot, and even more!  I have clients coming to me wanting to build for $100 per square foot, or $150/sf or $200/sf these days.  I cannot imagine coming up with designs of the sort I am seeing on some other websites.  Such creations might charm clients for a few weeks, at most, until they got the shock of their lives when contractors bid that exotic design!  Then they would see red.  No thank you.  I will not trade today’s political expediency for tomorrow’s complaints.

I would rather be up front and explain that less truly can seem like more.  Also, it is okay for less to Cost less!  Nothing wrong with that at all.  And it is wonderful to have “less” result in much lower utility bills each month, and to have simpler details that cost less to maintain over the nearly 100 years that many homes will be with us.  Tell me this: 100 years from now, who will care about some trendy detail that has rusted off the building?  Better to have a priority of sound decisions that result in use of funds where it counts the most.  DO provide several interesting features!  Just do it where it makes a difference and where people will see it the most and do it in a way so that it will be durable.

Does that mean that homes have to be super-plain?  No.  Not at all.  I pride myself on having designs that do win awards and do get published and featured in books worldwide and win energy conservation awards.  But such recognition is not the basis of the creation.  Solving a client’s problem or satisfying their hopes and dreams are what results in the solution.  And they are beautiful.  And simple.  How that’s accomplished is part of how I do it.  Give me a call and let’s talk about it some more…

Rand Soellner Architect 1-828-269-9046

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