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What is Good Design?

Good Home Design

I have been engaged in a discussion on an on-line forum of residential architects in which we are debating what good design is and what our profession should do about it. It has been my contention that we have negatively influenced public opinion about architects be creating an elitist image of ourselves. I would like to see this change. I would like to see more architects designing more houses and becoming a positive influence on good house design.

Here’s what I posted today. I thought you might be interested.

“I have no problem with modern design done well. It is not about a style preference. It is about who we are as a profession.

I like modern design. I’ve designed, built, and lived in two of my own. And I’ve designed many others for my clients. But I don’t think that much of what wins awards (Residential Architect magazine) and is therefore held out to the public as the “best of our profession’s work” is very good, at all. Because of that, our mission of improving residential design is crippled by this negative public opinion that we are creating. We are praising a very narrow sliver of residential architecture that is appealling to a very narrow sliver of the population. And in many cases, the leaders of the profession come across as disparaging anything that comes closer to matching the public’s image of “home.” Couldn’t we at least find good examples of modern architecture? What we feature doesn’t even have furniture in it, for goodness sake. It’s often merely a metal and glass museum box with a Barcelona chair. Where are the people supposed to go?

So my point is that by doing this, we are actively alienating the public, except for a very small segment, and our opinions about what good design is are losing credibility. All of this hurts us in the marketplace. It distresses me that we remove ourselves from the game and then complain about how the game is being played. Wouldn’t it be better if we embraced all styles, regained a voice (not just a voice to the elite) and then spoke out to make a difference?

What is truly disturbing are the reactions that come from within the profession. If you dare accept that anything even a little bit traditional might be “good design,” then the cognoscenti will ostracize you as a heathen who can’t comprehend the intellectual superiority of modern. I find the modernists to be unyielding and, frankly, close-minded. Shouldn’t the profession be more multi-cultural? Shouldn’t we have a bigger tent?

So although this may sound like an endorsement of traditional, it isn’t. It is an endorsement of all styles and a call to the profession to open its arms and embrace all styles. Let’s not continue to marginalize ourselves. If we do, good design will be the loser.”

I would love to hear your comments on this topic.

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Bill Hirsch

Bill Hirsch

5 Comments

  1. Steve Minkler on October 2, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    I agree that much of what passes for great architecture is something that most of the public would not choose to build or live in. I think that the PC mindset that saturates this world has also infected the architectural/building community.

    I much prefer to see a wide variety of high-quality designs represented rather than just one small segment. I’m sure that view would be reflected in the general population as well. I also don’t get too worked up over all of this talk about “green” building (as I am not a devotee of the global warming nonsense). It is another form of political correctness which is choking creative thought and good design.

  2. Edward J. Shannon, AIA on October 13, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Bill. I agree whole heartedly! While I have some modersnism in my bones, I have now become more intigued with what makes a house seem humane (sense of place), how can a home inspire in a subtle and appropirate way, and what can be done to make a home age more gracefully. These are just a few of the things I’m searching for, but they clearly transcend style.

    It is a shame that the architecture magazines only look to the avante guarde for what is deemed architectural merit. Even the publication of the AIA (which should be representing all American architects) – Record Homes – has homes that are typically way too austere for an even progressive familiy’s tastes – not to mention that they can’t be constructed by a residential builder. I could go on, but need to get back to the board/machine. Just good to meet peers who share my views and concerns.

  3. Bill Meredith on July 31, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Mr. Hirsch

    I have several comments:

    First, I just finish reading your book and I really enjoyed it. As someone educated in construction science, from a family of builders, and one with a lifelong appreciation of architecture (in many forms), I thank you for putting things that I felt, but didn’t know, into print.

    Second, I concur with your comments about the trend in your profession. While searching for residential architects for my future home, I am discouraged that residential design seems to be, generally speaking, relegated to the back burner based on the web portfolios I’ve come across in the last several weeks. I find it interesting that much of the discussion of anything other than modern or post-modern residential design is discussed more often in publication targeting BUILDERS instead of architects.

    Third, in response to the “green” comment posted by Mr. Minkler. While many may concur with your doubts in the scientific validity of global warming, etc., one beneficial outcome has been an increased focus by homeowners on proper site selection, location and orientation of there homes to bring back tried and true design / construction techniques. Regardless of the validity of the cause, it is difficult to deny the increasing cost of energy to the homeowner, even if you believe (as I do) that global warming theories are largely bunk.

    Thank you for your book and blog. They have both been very information.

    Regards,

    Bill Meredith

    • Bill on August 1, 2010 at 8:23 pm

      Bill – Great comments. Hopefully the profession of architecture can renew its commitment to the most important building of them all, the dwelling. I also agree with your observation that the “green” movement, while bordering on a mania and providing an avenue for charlatans, does increase awareness of critical and important issues in home design. Designing and building a house that is efficent, suits its site, uses resources responsibly, and fits harmoniously with its surroundings is a hallmark of good design. It’s what we should be doing regardless of the cost of energy or the political tenor of the times. We should design houses this way simply because it’s the right thing to do.

      I’m happy to hear that you like my book. I see “army” in your e-mail address. Thanks for your service. There are still many of us out here who appreciate our exceptional armed forces and the good work they do for all of us.

      Bill

  4. Bill Meredith on July 31, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    please excuse my typos…..

    I just FINISHED you book, and it was very INFORMATIVE….. ugh… long day.

    –BM

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