Authentic period style... What is it? Gothic, Renaissance,
Classical, Neo-Classical, Shinglle-style, Arts and Crafts, Tudor,
to name a few. It is any architectural production from antiquity
that is associated with a historical and cultural period.
Period work is authentic in spirit, style, and detail.
Unfortunately, it is costly and time-consuming. On the other hand,
the main body of residential work that we see today is anything
but original. Bastardized styles of any period work are not lacking
and continue to spread in both single-family homes and housing developments
across the country. A few architects today designing traditional
homes have had training in classical architectural theory while
others are sometimes ignorant and complacent and fall victim to
the demands of homeowners for oversized 'McMansions' that lack proportion
and character. Aesthetics aside, economics have also played a role
in providing the masses the opportunity to use inexpensive and efficient
building materials which only further downplays the need for authenticity
in traditional architecture. False treatment of natural materials
is commonplace, such as using styrofoam moulds to resemble cast
stone; and choosing aluminum -clad windows over wood windows because
of their lower cost and long-lasting durability.
A brief history on modernism... and post-modernism.
The very thought of recreating the past is the antithesis of Modernism's
tenet- that all modern architecture be of 'our time' and that the
designs utilize the latest industrial materials and construction
methodology. As a result, the created spaces and volumes can only
be logical and rational forms. The architecture of pure function
does not stem from aesthetic principles and compositions of the
The Post-Modern movement reacted strongly to the banalities
and strong overtones of the Modern movment. The disenfranchised
public wanted something more 'playful' and less theoretical, a concoction
of both Classical and Modern styles; a bastardization, if you will,
of purposely exaggerated out-of-scale architectural elements. The
effects of Post-Modernism on residential architecture spawned a
prevailing political and social change towards pluraility in personal
and artistic expression.
We as a society are coming out of the Post-Modern
era and into the green movement, which is another subject in itself.
However, what is interesting is that people are still drawn to live
in a comfortable and traditional house. And some are still fixated
on the idea that bigger is better and therefore are not as concerned
about originality and character than about 'over-scaling' and choosing
inappropriate architectural elements for their homes. It is
unsettling that after many centuries, people continue to modify
their homes without much success after the likeness of ancient Greek
or Roman temples. These ancient structures were built to traditionally
honor their gods. So why is it necessary for us to build 'temples'
for ourselves? If it is because we can, then shouldn't we allow such
homes to be designed and built with a certain degree of honesty,
integrity, and ultimately beauty?
It is, and has always been, the responsibility of
the architect to educate the public about what is aesthetically
appropriate for the period style that they are after. But the nationally
accredited architecture programs in our universities have been teaching
students a dry progression on the history of architecture and not
emphasizing enough on the importance of the architectural theories.
Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus movement, said that we
must start 'from zero', meaning classical thoery, in order to fully
understand, appreciate, and differentiate the many paradigms of
architectural theory. Intense personal research and study, observation,
and steady practice of each period architectural style should be
strived for if clients are asking architects to re-create it. The
practice of architecture must be genuine, not complacent. A client
has to understand that an architect cannot merely change a facade
of a building and not see the consequences it will create on the
building's floor plan. We cannot simply strip away a building's
original exterior and add a few architectural features and call
it some 'architectural' style. A building's floor plan(s) and elevations
are interdependent. Nothing is inconsequential. It has integrity.
Good design is a slow, painstaking process.
Fortunately, there is a growing percentage of architects
and designers who are capable of re-educating the public by delivering
period work that is authentic in spirit, style, and detail. In order
to do so, we must be reminded that architects are in an industry
where they serve both the public and private sectors. Architecture
is, and has always been, 'service-oriented.' What most people don't
understand in this profession is that the architect is not creating
a 'product' for his or her clients, but selling them an 'idea'.
An idea that is not borrowed without historical precedent and it
is unique for that project alone. It is not something you can buy
off the shelf from a store. You cannot find appropriate period work
in one of those books that offer you a multitude of floor plans
and exterior elevations. Provided by the client, the functional
requirements and the size of the rooms for a house or an office
building are merely givens, but it is the 'original' idea(s) that
gives birth to a beautiful and lasting building.