Deconstructing Neo-Trad, Again

I just want to say that I love this house, because it’s like like punching Leon Krier in the face, repeatedly, in the most awesome way possible.

My, what a strange house. And what a strange thing to say! But it’s true – the designers of this “perforated house” Kavellaris Urban Design, explicitly designed this house to question the conceits of neo-traditionalist architects: that somehow the kitschier architecture gets, the more inherently vernacular and/or ecologically responsible it becomes. To wit, it doesn’t, and this house moves (rather brilliantly, I think) to call for a renewed emphasis on critical regionalism.

Immediately the design recalls the minimalistic and highly functional openness of southern Japanese machiya houses, with a bit of a mod-Oz twist. Owing to the extremities of the Australian climate, the house is built out of reflective materials, letting as much light in as possible while throwing back as much heat as necessary. And in a nod to privacy, the top and bottom (i.e. “private” and “public” levels) are reversed, letting the hotter parts of the house open up completely while conserving the more intimate rooms, moving them to cooler and more insulated spaces.

I don’t know that I can say more than either the builders or Inhabitat already did, but it’s very easy for me to contrast this with interviews where Leon Krier talks endlessly about modernist conceits as “literal rape”, or Andres Duany claiming that the “neo” element of “neo-traditional” is valid because the clock fixtures are quartz.

I was talking recently with a friend who opined that one of the most pressing issues of contemporary architecture is the tendency of architects to consider themselves pure artists rather than designers; while art can exist for its own sake, design must consider the functionality of created works at least as seriously as their form. (There are some problems with this analogy: in many instances the value of designed objects can easily be arbitrary and fleeting – like clothes that are “loved intensely for a day and then discarded”, in the words of Chuck Pahlaniuk.)

This building straddles that line, possibly sacrificing some of its value as a functional work to make a statement about architecture itself. But it is nonetheless an amazingly useful and beautiful building, even if it seems to be trying a little too hard to be funny. And it is deeply funny, at least to some of us.

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~ by J.D. Hammond on August 21, 2009.

7 Responses to “Deconstructing Neo-Trad, Again”

  1. But the building is surely only funny the first time its viewed (or maybe the second). It works well as a picture sent around on blogs to inspire critiques of neotraditionalism, but I imagine to someone actually living in or near the piece, it becomes like a person shouting the same exact joke to you from a megaphone every day straight for years (or maybe decades if it lasts). Jokes have a shelf life and so does this building. About a day or two.

    • But no one says this about, say, Randy’s Donuts (which has become an historic landmark), or that building shaped like an elephant, or any number of examples of architectural folly that have existed, and continue to exist, in the United States and elsewhere. What makes modernist architectural folly somehow fundamentally different?

    • You say “jokes have a shelf life”…whats interesting to think about is what actually happens when a joke loses it’s effect over time. The postmodernism of the 1980s is viewed with complete sincerity by most people. In effect the duality of the meaning has been lost. We are left with just a single meaning (basically viewed the same way as modernism).

      All that is left to judge is the actual functionality of the building (a large amount of the old pomo buildings were just not up to the same function standards as the modernism of the time).

  2. […] kinds of gestures can be amusing as part of a larger, more meaningfully self-aware aesthetic statement, but when it’s in the context of a society that doesn’t […]

  3. Isn’t this the very definition of kitsch?! Not just in form but the tired, self-aggrandizing ‘just kidding’ sentimentality?

    • I don’t think (intentional) irony is at the heart of kitsch. If that were the case, Precious Moments figurines would never be kitsch, and yet they always are.

  4. It’s sort of like a gag alarm clock, sure you thought it was novel when you bought it, but there’s only so much you can take before you shoot the maker in the face.

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