Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Timeless versus Trendy Architecture

Just had a run-in with a brand-spandy new hospital - 3 months old - that got me thinking about how buildings reflect their periods.

This is a very nice hospital: convenient and pleasant for patients and families, while staff seemed to like both its facilities and appearance.  Its style is commercial contemporary with a spa-like feel.  There is a strong flavor of the current '70s revival.  (Also obvious in fashion.  Oranges and greens?  Those silhouette-like scrolling floral patterns?  '70s Retro.)  This hospital seems well designed...  maybe a leeetle bit trendy.
It's said that architecture is timeless, but that's rarely true.  A few buildings come close: the Parthenon or, locally, the Kimbell Art Museum.   Each is a building of its time that is also particular to its site and individual in its design.
But most buildings wear their era as prominently as the date on a yogurt .  Nothing wrong with that.  Dallas' Fair Park or Miami's south beach are famously Art Deco - a "dated" style more widely loved now than it was new.
Trendy though?  Trendy, to my mind, has the of-its-time quality of any style, but trendy is only expressed in popular surface details.  Trendy gets "dated" as any style does.  (Art Deco was laughed at for years afterwards.)  But trendy feels superficial, not integral to the design.  It isn't bone-deep.  A perfect example is our rash of Wachovia Wells Fargo banks.  Notice that gentle arc roof?  In the mid '90s that shape charmed architects of uncounted thousands of projects world-wide.  Round about the year 2000 that flat arch sorta... slid sideways, from symmetrical to asymmetrical.      Wachovia, um, Wells Fargo has the slump-y version.  Not that this isn't a good looking roof... but it's everywhere.
(sorry lost this link)
In the '80s it was paste-on shallow Post Modern (Postie-Toastie!) detailing and stair-stepped gables.  (I'm guilty.)  Now it's the Millennial Arch.    Trendy.

Maybe we architects need to dig a little deeper when designing, eh?

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