I have a confession to make: I always tell people I prefer modern architecture, but that’s not the whole story. The truth is, my architectural preferences depend on the situation and the project.
I generally dislike most buildings designed by Frank Gehry—from the Walt Disney Concert Hall to his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao—but I really dig the bold forms of The Barnes Foundation by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. I love the work of Merrill, Pastor & Colgan Architects, as well as Philip Johnson’s iconic Glass House.
An old, neoclassical building with tall walls and period details, such as ceiling medallions, crown molding, and beefy casework, is highly desirable to me. But would I want to live in a newly built apartment that replicates those neoclassical details? I’m not so sure.
My preferences are complex and my architectural tastes fluid. Sure, I see the beauty in a 1930s New England shingle, a 1920s bungalow, and an 1890s Victorian, but that doesn’t mean I want to build one today—at least not without updating the elements that don’t work. Old houses that merit saving should be saved, but if I’m building new, I’d prefer something fresh, not another center-hall colonial or Mediterranean-inspired McMansion.
Modern architecture often gets a bad rap. True, some modern buildings don’t age well or have details that don’t hold up over time. And I’ll concede that some modern homes do fit the stereotype of being cold and wacky. But modern projects can be just as wonderful as traditional ones. For evidence, explore the amazing work of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, Deborah Berke Partners, Elizabeth Roberts Architects, Salmela Architect, Bates Masi Architects, Olson Kundig, or Lake Flato. You will be inspired.
Good architecture from any period is beautiful, as long as it’s designed right and built well. It also helps to heed the details. There is room for the familiar, but there is also opportunity for the opposite of that. Our issue this month explores the beauty and possibilities of modern architecture. The two custom homes we feature vary by location—eastern Long Island, N.Y., and Quebec, Canada—and their architects approach design and materiality a little differently. But what they have in common is an embrace of good design.
Nigel F. Maynard