I've always enjoyed architecture
. When I was a boy, used to design floorplan
s for house
s, medieval castle
s, and gothic cathedral
s with great alacrity and an excess of graph paper
I've designed myself fantasy homes that looked like castles, hacienda
s, glass and steel pyramid
s, houses practical and impractical. And i enjoyed every second.
It seems that almost all the houses I really like were built before World War II. The Victorian era produced some of really wonderful architectureal ideas: Tudor revival, Queen Anne, Richardson Romanesque, Craftsman style and more, to be followed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his creation, the prairie school of architecture. These houses have the sort of details-- shapes, proportions, materials-- that make them really stand out. Their aesthetic distinction prompts otherwise sane middle class and wealthy individuals to move into the ghetto and spend years working on some decrepit masterpiece so that they might enjoy its former glory.
But nobody builds these homes today. Nobody. I'm a commercial electrician, but i've done some work on what passes for executive class housing these days. They're huge- I know of one elderly woman whose floorplan covers 30 thousand square feet--but they're built little differently than entry level housing from entry level developers. Drywall walls with minimal trim, stucco or vinyl siding exteriors with brick fronts. They have a lot of cathedral ceilings, and top floor exposures, and the fixtures are a bit better, but at the end of the day they're simply huge, and often built on lots scarcely larger than postage stamps. I've seen half-million dollar homes located ten feet from its neighbor.
So what gives? Did taste disappear with the Beatles? Or is there something else? So I asked Duane, the architect for the school I'm remodeling what it would cost to build a modest sized prairie school house today.
He told me that was funny, because his business partner had just gotten a commission for one. Then Duane told me he couldn't afford one. And he drives a brand new Volvo.
Basically, it's the building materials. Almost all the older styles use good materials. Frank Lloyd Wright's 'affordable' usonian system homes used faced concrete blocks are used for decorative purpose. You use good woods, ceramic tiles and more. Great architecture not only gives you shapes, but textures. Duane tells me that when you can get the client to spring for the good materials, it makes all the difference.
But the difference those materials make to your wallet. In, Ohio it is possible to build your basic house for around $70 per square foot, plus site, utility connections, and a host of other necessary expenditures. Local home builders deliver finished, ready to live-in homes for around $100 to $125 per square foot. But go for an authentic prarie home, with authentic materials and the cost can jump to $1K per square foot!
So, here's your trade off: For a half mil, you can build a 3,500 square foot monolith with three car garage and three and half baths with whirlpool tubs. You'll get your cathedral ceiling and acres of drywall to hang art on. You can have huge parties, or a roman orgy if that's your taste.
Or, for a million dollars you can build a thousand square foot two bedroom, one bath house. And every one of the few people you squeeze inside will think it's cool until you tell them what it cost. For two mil, you can get the same space from a local developer for $200K. You really have to love great architecture in order to sacrifice that much money.
The amazing costs suggests why the rich and semi-rich spend so much money on what Pete Seeger might call Really big boxes. And why so many otherwise sane people spend months living inside half-finished buildings. Gentrification's greatest appeal comes because ressurecting an old classic is often the only way normal people can hope to enjoy their dream home.
But it also suggests an opportunity. If someone can figure out how to give us premium materials for a modest price, they ought to make a killing. And they get to touch off a new boom in great architecture, permitting homes with aesthetic C! and modern plumbing.