Meditations on architecture

I love old buildings. I really like Art Deco buildings, but anything pre-Brutalist Period has some charm somewhere. Beauty for beauty’s sake in architecture says something about the society that was extant when the building was erected. Exuberance. Faith (whether that being faith in a higher power, or faith in society as a whole). Hope. Optimism.

Just being a long-standing public exhibit of the ability of Man’s soul to produce something useful that is also beautiful and uplifting.

I can’t stand Brutalism, and I find most modern architecture to be rather soul-less, truth be told.

One of the things about old buildings — aside from their charm, if not outright beauty — is that they were built during a period when air-conditioning was Not A Thing. They supported folks going about their daily duties without dying of heatstroke at their typewriters on a daily basis. 

High ceilings that allowed heat to rise away from the work areas. Transom windows above doors  so that heat could flow away, but maintain some level of security and privacy. Floor vaults, thick walls, and functional cupolas all provided environmental consistency and relative comfort at a time when HVAC was still a fever dream.

I have to ask: Why, at a time when elements of the population are decrying the “wasteful” use of widespread conditioned air (and demanding that more public buildings get “green”) are these older, time-tested — and quite frankly, charming — features not being incorporated into more of these “ecologically-sensitive” modern buildings?

I would love to see a “Neo-Art Deco” style come back into popularity. Beaux-Arts.  Even (if we have to) “Neo Moderne”

Buildings that are not only “environmentally conscious” (can’t believe I typed that  with a straight face), but are graceful and beautiful for beauty’s sake.

What? I can hope, right?


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12 thoughts on “Meditations on architecture”

  1. High ceilings are expensive to heat and cool with HVAC systems. Taking advantage of the different temperatures is beyond my expertise, but I think innovative engineering can use the difference for efficiency. Still, the extra cost for material can outweigh the demand for a higher ceiling.

    My wife, and I, were in Columbus, Texas near the downtown area, so we took a gander at the Colorado Country Courthouse. It’s old, magnificent, and nothing built today parallels with the building.

  2. Most of the iconic highway bridges in Oregon (which is another way to say “nearly all of them”) were designed by a guy called Conde McCullough, who was the chief engineer for what is now the Oregon Department of Transportation. McCullough was big into Art Deco, so a lot of Oregon’s bridges have Art Deco motifs–especially along U.S. 101, on the coast.

    Nowadays, not only is modern, “economical” architecture more soulless than Hilary Clinton, it’s also not built to last as long. Nowhere does one get to witness the philosophy of “throw it up and just get it done” in action more closely than those who work on the operational level in the trades. We -know- the shit isn’t gonna last forever, and we raise it to the project managers, and all we get in response is “Don’t worry about it, stick to the build plan.”

    And we wonder why newer buildings look rundown after only 20 years.

  3. Love art deco, too. We went up to New York in 2019 and I sought out all the art deco buildings I could find (with the limited time we had). It exemplifies a successful meld of a classical style with a “modern” aesthetic. We’re definitely overdue for a new art deco.

  4. I live is a 1940s double-brick farmhouse. High ceilings. Sash-windows. Wood heaters.

    Sash windows are good because they encourage exactly that kind of air-flow. A 4-6” opening fixed with a couple of large nails through the frames renders them “secure” – at least until the glass is broken.

    It’s no Gothic Cathedral, but it’s practical. Ceiling fans to keep the air mixed rather than letting the heat build up near the ceiling would make it even more comfortable in cold weather.

    For hot weather, nothing beats a shaded area with lots of airflow, and keeping direct sunlight off brick walls.

  5. If architecture interests you – or any of your readers – may I heartily recommend FROM BAUHAUS TO OUR HOUSE by Tom Wolfe?

    It may, of course, be that (being avid readers) you already know all about Wolfe, but I run into lots of people who don’t.

  6. I’ve read of some newer buildings with windows that open, but they usually don’t open much for “security” or “safety”. Unfortunately, even “environmental” practices don’t live in a vacuum and liability can trump even it…

    I have tried to explain why the current trend of “sustainable” isn’t, but people don’t get it.
    They don’t understand that we don’t know how practices a decade old will do in the long run – they just repeat the words like a mantra, and they ignore discussion of the things that we know work because they’ve been done for hundreds of years…

  7. The house I grew up in had 12 ft ceilings lower floor and 12 rising to 15 in the peak for the upstairs. No AC and gravity circulating water/steam radiators, one in each room, including the bathrooms (one on each floor). Doors were scaled to about 9 ft between rooms. Concrete/brick walls about 1 ft thick. Due to crime and privacy issues, all windows had hardwood slat curtains that could be lowered from a roll above such that 3/4 of the shutters were solid shut while the upper 1/4 could be left tensioned such that there were 3/8 inch spaces between slats allowing for heat and air to move in/out of the house. It was not the coolest place in summer but tolerable. In winter the thermal mass of the walls and floor kept it tolerably warm with the coal fired furnace and radiant heat system, but sweaters/cardigans were absolutely needed. My assessment of why things are no longer built this way is simply cost, we being now taxed as never before, cannot afford this option unless insanely wealthy, thus excluding 99% of the population.

  8. A big problem with modern commercial buildings is that for accounting purposes the value of a building is depreciated over a fixed period, (20-25 years, I believe) and after that is effectively worthless. So they knock it down and build a replacement.

  9. The Wife thinks I ought to have been an architect because I “redesign” every building I enter. Lol!

    I also yearn for the styles of a century ago but do not have the checkbook to back I up.

    Also, does Hillary have a soul?

    Ulises from the People’s Republik of Kalipornia

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