Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Improbable Persistence of Modernism

Kevin McCloud, grand panjandrum of Grand Designs, blames himself. His progamme has encouraged a plethora of white-rendered boxy houses with punctured projections and a spot of cladding. Nowadays, it seems, anyone building aspirationally from scratch, opts for moderne, usually with 'eco' flourishes. The results can be quite impressive, especially from the outside, but it seems an odd way to build, at least in the countryside, and, with those vast expanses of uninflected glass and wide open interior spaces, these seldom look like houses one could comfortably live in. Small windows, separate rooms, plenty of furniture (especially bookcases, seldom in evidence in Grand Designs houses) and a bit of lived-in clutter are what we need to feel at home - especially in the country, where open-plan living behind vast windows is just asking for trouble from nosey neighbours and the local weirdos and roughnecks, or am I being paranoid? Aren't the nostalgic English supposed to be fatally in thrall to debased versions of the Arts & Crafts cottage? Jonathan Meades has lambasted English taste more than once on that score, and he's right, to judge by the ghastly stuff the big developers routinely put up. And yet here are all these white boxes - pure modernism, little changed in 70 or 80 years, once again the style of choice for the ambitious self-builder. Even in gnarled old nostalgic old England, where modernism is supposed never to have taken root. It seems very odd.


  1. Now the charge is that even a show like Grand Designs is encouraging people to build very similar homes, perhaps because those doing the building are looking more to the long-term investment aspect than they are to creating a comfortable home for themselves.

    Sure, people like comfort today, but what about the future?

    "But you get inside and it's really tiny and mean and out of sync with the values of modernism which are space and light."

    There's a place for space and light, its called the OUTDOORS!!

    This is fine for sun-worshipping cultists, but where are we vampires supposed to live? Who's thinking of our needs?

  2. The Welsh JacobiteMay 07, 2008 12:12 pm

    The clue is in your phrase: "modernism, little changed in 70 or 80 years".

    The present neo-modernist fad is (irony of ironies) just another instance of nostalgia.

  3. Good point, Welsh. Mordernism in domestic architecture does seem to be pretty much of a cul de sac, so one can only be nostalgic for it...

  4. Even Le Corbusier, the architect who pretty much got the Modernist ball rolling, said "A house is a machine for living." Those houses, where they are, don't look very livable. And you're right about the neighbors, etc. Where a house like that looks right is the beach -- with lots of space around it. Those kinds of windows capture the views, the light, air, and changing colors of the shore. In the countryside, next to those thatched English cottages, it simply looks weird. A Martian's idea of a chicken coop.

  5. The slavish commitment to architectural designs crafted almost a century ago is nothing new. What is new is pretending that such reactionary thought continues to be "modernist." It ceased being that well over a half-century ago. At the same time, few of the modernist icons have stood the test of time and prolonged use.

    I got a chuckle out of one of the comments over there saying that people were being given an alternative to the cookie-cutter designs of large homebuilders. There is just something SO ORIGINAL about building yet another cookie-cutter white box sans storage space sufficient for the average squirrel much less human being.

  6. Mcloud seems to consider himself at the forefront of the house as an extension of the individual, school of thought, all he in fact achieves is to act as a channel for a bunch of aspirational twerps. The programme on the Huf haus was presented as an up to date example of the use of engineering materials in housebuilding, in fact the house was a previous generation example, the Germans have moved on. The programme is another example of cynical exploitation by the media of the current British unhealty obsession with the house as the main reason for existing.
    It is not the end of the world if you do not buy, then borrow four times more than you can afford and then refurbish a property, typified by the "must have an Aga" people, 600 kilos of cast iron that takes for ever to cool down