I don’t like fake things or fake people (see past post on masquerade). Therefore, I don’t like fake architecture or fake materials. Yes, last week’s events sparked this post, but I’ll spare you the actual stories.
What I see ought to be real, what I feel should be honest, what I experience should be genuine. I would love to say I’ve never broken this rule with my architecture, but that would be a tad disingenuous. However, authentic is the goal and when the decision rests on me, materials impersonating other materials are out.
It seems the construction world in America does not share my values – let alone even care. Perhaps very few people (mostly architects) have ever really cared.
I suppose one could make a case through history that elements of architecture have intentionally appeared to look like something other than what they were. We know the Greeks used this mimicry to replicate wood construction elements out of stone in their temples. Now we mimic the Greeks with EIFS, which in itself is a fake form of cement plaster stucco. <shudder>
My distaste for vinyl siding has always existed (I’m so sad I had to use it on a few recent projects…out of my control – seriously), but in the construction industry today, we keep seeing materials that are intended to appear as something other than they are. Why do we do that? Does the food industry do that? I doubt it (chefs chime in here and prove me right or wrong).
Here are a few that I struggle with at best or hate at worst. Share others with me please.
Vinyl siding (impersonating wood lap siding – with pressed in wood grain no less)
Simulated stone (concrete sponges glued on to a building)
Thin Brick (super thin veneer glued on to appear as a thicker veneer)
Wood grain ceramic tile (what’s wrong with ceramic tile?)
Plastic laminate (fake granite or marble texture at a lesser cost)
Faux paint finishes
I suppose if we take my basic value of “what you see is what you get” to the extreme, we would have to rule out standard brick veneer or any masonry veneer, fiber cement siding and even chrome plated brass faucets. That’s ideal, but not possible. We cannot go back to solid, structural brick walls, wood siding ultimately fails, so fiber cement lap siding has replaced it (and looks more real than vinyl), and brass or bronze do not fare well as an exposed metal in the kitchen or bathroom.
I would like to say this is a value shared equally by architects, but I hope I’m right in saying we generally strive for authenticity. This goes beyond mere materials, but to perception through architectural elements. Wood beams are structural, columns are essential, an axis leads somewhere important and the front door is intended to be used. Architectural components ought to go beyond mere decoration to existing for a purpose.
Why is this important? Why does this matter? If America wants their buildings to look like something they’re not, who cares? Isn’t it fun to live in a fantasy?
As usual, I would argue that this is asking the wrong questions.
Why fake the past? If we can build with today’s technology, should it look like yesterday’s technology? Will our children’s grandchildren look back at history and wonder why a technologically advanced society was stuck on mimicking the look of previous centuries? What should 21st century architecture look like?
We are making buildings that are net zero with energy usage, have computerized controls for temperature, security and energy monitoring, and can emulate highly complex geometry. Nevertheless, we find the majority of Americans content with living in Hollywood stage sets that are poor replicas of previous eras. Our commercial buildings are equally culpable. Have you seen small branch banks, suburban apartment buildings or any retail structure in a strip mall? I guess architecture matches Hollywood after all – fake, fake, fake.
The search for authenticity is truly challenging. Typically convincing the client is more difficult that developing a design. This is how I think. I’d like to know that what I see is genuine just as much as I want to have honest relationships.
Why be any other way? What do you think? I’d love to hear it – if you’re honest.