A House Has a Responsibility

I love architecture but am not an architect. I love to watch it, learn about it and try to understand it. I enjoy figuring out why some buildings are a great success and some hurt my eye to look at them. I guess I could be characterized as an alert observer; someone who knows enough to be dangerous.

With that disclaimer firmly in place, I will add that I love Pioneer era homes in downtown Phoenix’s Pioneer Park. To me, these are the hot homes of our time. Pioneer homes, built from 1842-1870 are charming and comforting. They have beautiful physical exteriors that provide meaning to our great respect for the men and women who settled the state. A red brick, two story, decorated home from the late 1800’s is hard to beat. They are larger, have more ornamentation and elicit “oohs” and “aahhs” each time I see one. They maintain principles of balance, mass, proportion, rhythm and scale beautifully.

The post WWII , mass produced Sears bungalow kits although humble, were pleasing to look at and had character. They were functional, attractive and still stand as a good example of how the country stepped up to the plate when the boys came home and needed a place for their families.

 In the late 60’s and 70’s the design of homes took a turn for the worse, in my view, as the horrible split level was invented. I know. I grew up in one in Los Angeles. We lived in a neighborhood full of them, one exactly like the next, any unique character stripped away, placed on curved, confusing streets where addresses became hard to find and cul-de-sacs were valued as a new important feature in some neighborhoods. Contractors started to eliminate parking strips containing trees and grass, favoring the asphalt, curbs, concrete look, and neighborhoods without a speck of street presence became the norm. Profit drove the builders’ choices and my parents, glad to move up from the bungalow or rectangle, were glad for the space that our split-level provided. Little did we know that the contractor was saving money on the footprint of the house at our expense.

I would propose that a house has a job to do besides providing comfort and protection for its inhabitants. A house has a responsibility to be a contributing member of its community. The places where people live become living, changing organisms and houses in all their forms add or detract from the experience. This is not to say that houses must be big or expensive. Some of the most charming neighborhoods contain the most modest homes.

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