hot dogs and chicken nuggets


It seems that new construction makes people nervous when it looks like new construction.

I live and practice in a region that is largely fond of traditional or classical architecture, or at least architecture that poorly masquerades as classical or traditional architecture. Of course, this rule only applies to houses and anything within “the city.” I conclude this because I rarely (actually never) hear anyone give the slightest care over the destruction regularly being put up in suburban areas along retail corridors or suburban mass housing developments. There is a sense of ambivalence for the most part towards suburban commercial development. Suburban housing development is a lost cause to me. People seem to flock to the new strip mall or the new restaurant, but I rarely hear or read any comments of disappointment in the building itself let alone the poor overall site planning.

This rule does not apply to anything within the city limits where the overall nature is more urban, even though people prefer the automotive life of non-urban areas. I’m confused at how quick people are to criticize merely because they don’t “like” it.

chick fil a.jpg

This forces me to conclude that people’s taste for architecture is much like a child’s narrow comfort with only hot dogs and chicken nuggets. Actually some men never grow out of this stage…let’s leave it at that.


I’m not here to preach a sermon in support of ‘modern’ architecture or ‘contemporary’ architecture – whatever that means. If anyone wishes to know my preferences, visit my website or watch me on social media. Furthermore, I’m not opposed to the fact that people like or prefer what they think is classical or traditional architecture – especially for their homes – a very personal domain. To be honest, I support the notion of not needing to defend one’s preferences in architecture any more than one needs to defend their preference in music. Why do we make fun of people for liking music that has to be termed “guilty pleasures” after all? [Don’t answer that…let’s talk architecture].

How narrow is your universe?

My point is to dismiss quickly or take action to block a type of architecture simply because one “doesn’t like it” is a rather immature way to approaching civil debate and discourse – and a narrow minded way of developing neighborhoods. Why can’t architecture be critiqued on its own merit rather than its style? (I hate that word). Is it good or not? How does it work?

As usual recent events in my world inspired my writings as I have pondered and thought about this behavior. Specifically, I made the mistake of following comments about a recent local development that was promoted on social media where I perceive people mimicking a toddler turning up their nose at a new food that Mom is trying to introduce. This is when I cannot help myself from chiming in to Facebook debates. Moth to a flame my friends, I’m a moth to a flame.

To recreate some of my FB comments, I wrote “many people merely judge [architecture] based on “I don’t like how it looks” and can’t see past that to what it does for a neighborhood.”

The conversation (I am proposing) never excludes past architecture and never invites anyone to “like” something beyond what they currently like. However, it ought to challenge us to consider our future and whether we should be welcoming to other ways of creating architecture as well as opening our minds beyond the limits of where we find comfort.

Some people’s preferences with architecture are a bit like children’s views on food (very limited) and they miss the wonderful world of delicious food variety that is out there. Architecture is not that different.

plain hot dog.pngI hope we can mature in our architecture (and culinary) tastes.


fussy child photo credit: Nasty Food via photopin (license)

hot dogs and chicken nuggets

9 thoughts on “hot dogs and chicken nuggets

    1. There’s no change (or growth) if people don’t talk. Too many people still have childish palettes when it comes to architecture – and they don’t know why, let alone care.

  1. dwmarc2014 says:

    Lee, if there is error here, it would be that you overestimate the average person’s interest in the built environment. Consider that there’s really no interest in it at all beyond a couple of styles that are analogous to comfort food. A childs’s palate will expand in time. But the public’s interest in their surroundings kicks in only when some danger is perceived- like having a contempo house built next door- and that’s about property values more than anything. This hard truth- the public doesn’t care- was pointed out years ago by a then-business partner.

    My part of Northern VA has many tear-downs going on- and the new homes are are all modernist. This generation of clients is progressive. The ritz parts of MD are a different story, because of the review boards in place!

    1. CDonahue says:

      I’m not an architect so my experience is different, but my viewpoint on this topic is the same.

      There are 12-15 fairly large new developments in progress within a few mile radius of our home (and that many more already completed in the last few years), and I wouldn’t buy a house in any of them. They are boring and safe and lack any real character, yet they will all happily be sold to people who don’t really care. If people did care, it would/should drive a change in architecture, or at least a change toward more variety I would imagine. There’s apparently no reason to change if no one is asking for it, reinforced by the types of homes that are being stamped out in mass quantity.

      Our home is in a tiny 30 year old development, with an interesting modernist home under construction down the street, and another in a different style under construction behind us. I’m adding to the neighborhood flavor by having our architect design a modernist garage/shop for our house. I somehow feel a duty toward improving the look of the area and offsetting the surrounding spec-home blandness, even in a small way.

  2. We are not taught to see or experience buildings – there is no visual or structural education.
    I recently gave a lecture for the historical society on the local catholic church (cornerstone laid 1889) Gothic-ish, sited with great skill to engage the street, the community.
    A stone pile: every layer of the stone detailed – ashlar, honed edges, 2 ft. long scotias and ogees and smooth bands where people would bump, bands of carvings as one looked up the buttresses. Quatrafoils at the springing point of the arched windows, etc. All engaging the eye and encouraging one to experience the strength and welcome of the church.
    2/3 of my audience were long term members of the parish, including the priest. Many told me afterward that they had never ‘seen’ what I showed them. Did they feel it after I showed it to them?
    How can we ‘like’ or ‘not like’ when we have no sense what we are looking at.

  3. mike.wantabe says:

    I am a regular reader but a first time replier. I too am not an architect so take my commentary with a grain of salt if you wish.
    As consumer, or future consumer, of the built environment, I’d like to spin this a little bit though this may venture a bit off the path started by the initial posting. I’d like to challenge a notion lack of education on the architecture or a general ambivalence of the consumer, though I’m not denying that it may exist. “We” (the consumer), are cattle, I’ll not venture so far as saying lemmings. I see this to be a twofold issue, or maybe it could be argued as one. One, the consumer does not perceive there to be options beyond what a builder provides in the mass produced neighborhoods. Two, the consumer gets what the builder can provide, meaning, the traditionally build, thoughtless house that the consumer thinks they want because it is the only option available. (Can I pick my granite?)
    Going back to the blog posting from earlier in the year (“Keys to Effective Change” on July 18), I have to wonder what it would take to effectively change the options for the general consumer. I have to wonder, if it was not left to a builder to develop a neighborhood, what could it look like? I have to wonder if a thoughtful neighborhood were developed, with a less traditional approach, if there would be interest by the consumer? Is this happening anywhere? Is it working anywhere? Why isn’t it here? Why can’t it here? If you “build” it, will we come?
    This will seem a tangent but I’ll try to bring it back around. Normally, I’m a Netflix viewer. I can’t justify the cost of cable. Recently, my wife and I have been watching the Olympic Games and I seem to be inundated with commercials (Netflix = no commercials). But what I do notice, when a “home” is presented in these advertisements, it is not a “builder special”, traditional, monstrosity. There has to be something to the marketing of their product in a “designed” home. If that is the type of home in mass marketing, envisioning the consumer in a “designed” home, why is this type of house so unavailable “here”? (I use “designed” to try to avoid assigning a term suggesting “style”)
    I want to believe there is a market for a better built environment. Give me a better option. Make it visible to the market. I think the challenge is in the “how”.

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