The Pinnacle of Flatness

Maybe it’s just me, but everything is starting to look the same.

Not just look, but sound and feel the same as well.

Kind of weird lament from the guy who just warned against excessive individualism, but hear me out.

This thought struck me as I was driving with the family last weekend, and my wife and I got to talking about what kind of car we might buy next. Looking around the highway, seeing the vehicles on the road, and comparing them to what we already had, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “What’s the difference?”

I know what you car-types are thinking now: There are huge differences in engines and transmissions and overall quality and so on. But I’m talking from a design and aesthetics perspective, because these things do matter.

Extrapolate this line of thinking to cities and towns the world over. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Toronto looks like London looks like Los Angeles looks like Berlin, and so on. Not identical, but close enough. Modern architecture is but one way in which ideas of design seem to be converting on something universal…and kind of beige.

And then there’s urban sprawl and the explosion of squat, concrete strip malls, fast-food joints and gas stations, and big box stores everywhere. It seems like that’s all some towns are.

And this, of course, goes for the arts as well. Movies all feel the same, screenwriting formulae aside. Music, books, television shows, education, pop culture…the list goes on.

Is this just where things always lead? Is there an “ultimate design” that we as human beings have finally reached? Or is it the natural consequence of a society that embraces Adam Smith’s “capitalism” while rejecting the “guided by moral principles” part of the equation?

In other words, is function driving this sameness, or is commerce? Or is something else? Continue reading “The Pinnacle of Flatness”

Preservation

I hate the way things look.

No, I mean it. Cities and towns are really ugly.

Is it just that architecture suffered the same general decline as everything else? Are we so consumed with trying to build stuff fast and cheap in order to maximize profits? Has the advent of the automobile demanded so many changes that our landscapes and our traditional ways of gathering together have been forever shattered? Or has post-modern philosophy infiltrated even the very way we design and construct our buildings and public spaces?

Whatever the case, I’d like you to perform a simple thought exercise. Imagine various structures or areas in your city, town, or country that have been designated “historical” and thus worthy of special protection and preservation.

…what do they look like?

…when were they built?

…why do people like them so much?

And now try to imagine anything built since, let’s say, 1945, and think about whether they, too, will be worthy of historical preservation, or if civilizations of the future–God grant that they still be American!–will just raze the eyesores and build something new.

I use this as an example a lot, but ponder if you will Boston City Hall.

City Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Look at this monstrosity!

What feelings is it supposed to elicit? What sensation is the citizen of Boston supposed to feel when he gazes upon that concrete turd?

And the whole area around it is a red, brick expanse of nothingness, appropriately enough called Government Center. Continue reading “Preservation”