May 18, 2010

Steamboat Gothic

Before roadside vernacular, there was riverside vernacular more accurately described as "Steamboat Gothic." This style came to existence almost entirely as a product of adaptive reuse of otherwise boring structures into delightfully playful objects of desire. The Floating Palace, circa 1888, embodied the glamour and popularity of Steamboat Gothic: instant nostalgia, if there is such a thing.

In 1873, the White House was retrofitted with Victorian ornamentation, interestingly mocked by some who downplayed the changes, labeling the new style as a degrading "steamboat gothic" rather than a more civically-pleasing "pure Greek" style.  Nevertheless, an impressive online gallery of images can be found at the White House Museum.  In the 1950's, the White House was stripped down to it's bare structure in (what I would like to imagine) was a fit of rage by emerging Modernists.  It's about time for a steamboat gothic resurgence.

Images from American Shelter, by Lester Walker.

May 16, 2010

Fancy Home Styles

Apologies for an absence of posts lately. I've been sifting through some old Sears Catalogs (circa 1910-1920) and have some curious, but certainly rambling thoughts which quite honestly do the topic no justice at all. Nevertheless...

This advertisement should make architects tremble with fear: "Architectural Service: What's it worth to you? We make no charge for this valuable service..."  It appears that the catalogs would have effectively shut out the architecture profession from operating in the design of suburbia.  Despite being a recklessly naive statement, I still can't help but wonder if Sears' timely role in suburban development doesn't have some affect on today's lack of interest in suburban design and development.

The Sears Catalogs were a sort of super-firm, providing "architecture" for free by prescribing a series of carefully selected styles, 22 to be exact, in a mass-produced method. The perfect compliment to Henry Ford's Model T, which debuted the same year as the first catalog.

Reflecting the nostalgia of an assortment of European vernacular (vernaculaii?), the catalogs exist as a form of early pop art; elaborately conceived objects of desire accessible to a mass audience at a delightful price. But were the Catalogs liked or disliked by practicing architects at the time? And how did they affect the profession?  I can't help but wonder if there were rogue architects at the time who attempted to challenge Sears' model of home production.

Finally, I can't help but wonder if "green" design will embrace the same architecture-meets-capitalism agenda of Sears, Roebuck & Co.  LEED may have already co-opted the system of building by catalog components: a green roof here, bicycle parking there, etc.