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.


Savvy Psychic said...

My friend lives in the house she grew up in, in far northwestern Minnesota, and which her parents ordered from Sears and Roebuck just after World War II. I'll show her your blog. Thanks.

David Knight said...

"I can't help but wonder if there were rogue architects at the time who attempted to challenge Sears' model of home production."

Or, perhaps, rogue architects who saw some value in this approach? It's certainly a witty rebuff to the obsession with 'innovation' and 'uniqueness' going on all over the place in today's architecture. Someone will have had some fun designing those alternative gable ornaments...

Thanks for the post.