Sarah McLeary

Ceramics and Architecture

don’t you wonder sometimes

I was handed a book of house plans by Robert A W Stern. Among many other housing developments he designed the masterplan and many buildings for Celebration, Florida; the Disney town.

The forward from the book looked promising, with Stern talking about the importance of tradition and individuality. Here are two plans from the book.

It is also here a bit bigger. ‘But how does Stern manage to make something so repellent and yet so familiar?’ I hear you cry. ‘It’s like the housing equivalent of Chase No-Face; it’s so wrong, so how is postmodern architecture so popular?’

The first thing to say is that this type of thing is more complicated than it looks. It’s difficult to make your elevations look so arbitrary and ugly. You start off with a sort of symmetrical plan, as the bottom ground floor shows, then you think ‘well this is America so you can never have enough reception rooms’ so add what looks like a conservatory to the side. Instead of making the conservatory a separate element, and perhaps using a glass roof, as it is after all a conservatory, why not throw the whole thing sideways and put a single bedroom on top and hide it all under one roof.

Don’t feel constrained to one style of roof, after all it doesn’t matter how small the internal area, you must be afraid of any blank wall that doesn’t have a weird window or a tiny area for the poor roofer to clad. A set of Architectural Fridge Magnets might help you here, or just look at how a five year old puts a Lego set together. Remember, this postmodern style is totally appropriate to housing. It’s correct to make a house that looks like it’s been butchered by too many renovations. Coherence and legibility are important, but only insofar as you can tell where the front door, the stairs and the master bedroom are from looking up the driveway. The hierarchy should be read through how weird the windows look. If they are stepped up the facade, that’s the stair. Is it a barn? Is it a church hall? Keep ’em guessing.

It’s very important to keep the roof line as low as possible. This allows you to add four different styles of dormer, and also ensures the discomfort of the family members consigned to the bedrooms in the hipped ends of the roof. Gable ends are the devil’s work; always always finish the roof in a hip, no matter how contrived this may look.

In case you can’t tell, I do not like the designs of these houses. That’s a shame, because I do like Stern’s ideas about architectural theory, which I think boil down to ‘don’t throw the baby out with the  bath water’. It’s also a shame he works in America, where the vernacular style is… well it’s the stuff above but without being stuck altogether like architectural Katamari Damacy.

Edit; just looking at vacancies now, if you like this sort of thing they’re building lots of them in Ghana, it looks like Stern would be proud.

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This entry was posted on March 25, 2011 by in architecture.
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