The uncomfortable clothes. The uncomfortable crossroads. The flat screen TV.

There’s opportunities to design better than ever before (thank you AIG and HGTV), and a receptive public finally thinking those mcmansions might actually NOT make your life better.  But there’s a fork in the road and a professionally imposed box that’s stifling a lot of possibilities.  Architects are putting their little heads down and doing the same things they know how to do again and again and again.  Footing, foundation, sill, stud, top plate, joist, rafter, skin, plumb, wire, insulate, work triangle, toilet, tub, curtains.  They know all the ingredients- all the requirements- for designing a house that was perfect 60 years ago.

Some will say “we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.”  “Change is slow.”  But we just can’t shake the feeling that the whole build-a-house design and process as we know it is wobbling under the weight of a new set of demands.  You’ll see we’re also hinting that there probably isn’t going to be a solution that involves someone (especially us) coming up with a widget that fixes everything.  We’ll be advocating a new WHAT and a new HOW.

The Clothes, the kitchen, the possibilities:

There are many weak points we can attack on the current house as we know it.  We’ll use the kitchen because it’s lessons can be applied to other areas of the home.  How many “unique” kitchens have been designed? Hundreds of millions? You’d think there would be a few solutions that worked and we’d stick to it and it’s variations.  How many man-hours have been consumed designing kitchens and then how much more has gone into fixing poorly conceived plans (yes we know the demands shift through time but that’s an unacknowledged problem in itself).  Ironically a lot of the fixing goes into trying to fit the same basic set of tools.  For all their “uniqueness” most everyone just wants their kitchen to do the same things.  They are a spectacualry expensive portion of  a house- which we think is OK because they are the center of modern life for most of us.  But don’t you feel like they are a little awkward?  Like they go a long way towards working well but don’t typically quite get it done?  We’re as guilty as any-  we say “let’s start with this blank sheet and make a kitchen that really works!”  Well- it’s a kitchen so it has blah blahblah- and guess what- Ta dah!  it looks like a kitchen.  If you really want to bore yourself go visit 10 kitchen showrooms.  I’ll wager pretty soon you won’t be able to tell what is what or who makes what or what tray pull out or divider or closer makes what special (they almost all use Hafele, Blum- or a knock off).

Some in their quest to stand out really punch themselves in the face or worse- a round kitchen- really? Really?  But there is one company that has started the right discussion-  Jorge Pensi and Poggenpohl started looking at how we should display our objects, how we should interact with the kitchen and how we might socialize.  It’s not the perfect kitchen- but it is a MASSIVE leap.  (of coursethen Poggenpohl followe dthis up by “joinig forces”(read: paying handsomely) for Porsche to slap their brand on a big turd but I digress)- A leap we should all be thinking about next time we set pen to paper because they are looking at how to make the kitchen work better and more beautifully- how to meet our needs- not just trying to make a kitchen that LOOKS different.

This will be our jump-in point in upcoming posts from this angle.

The crossroad:

Beasts are great farm tools.  Modern farming demanded better.  You could breed better animals but there came a point when men said.  This ox just isn’t going to get the job done.  Today we build a structure (insert your favorite: frame/ sip/ panel/ ICF/other). We cram it full of mechanical guts and we skin it in something “appropriate.”  In the last few years we might add sealants, tapes, membranes to manage air movement but really we’re doing the same assembling and skinning of the same things.  It’s a terrifically flexible beast- but just like boeing reached the end of the aluminum space frame- it’s time to really look hard at what and how we are building.  Designers are trapped in this game of  “limitless possibilities”  and get so caught trying to do everything that they forget to anything.  Architects have been trying to come up with “systems” for years but they always fall into the same common traps: too limited, too limitless, too imposing, too small, too expensive, too cheap.  There’s a real lack of meeting the needs of the market or the client which is a built-in flaw to many who would re-define a segment.

I know, I know- tough nut to crack- and a whole other book and discussion and yes yes many have tried and many have failed- but the Wright brothers got that thing flying eventually.  The point is that the traditional frame/systems/skin is wobbling and imposing more wraps and sealants isn’t going to drag it forward for another 100 years.

So how do you change it?  Patience, Persistence, Marketing- and oh yeah- a great product that meets the “checklist” and budget of the consumer without imposing new problems on them .  Did you know it takes ten years for a car company to gain a footing in the USA?  Did you know that Red Bull sells over $1 billion dollars in beverages each year (not because it’s delicious)?  We see a lot of “new” ideas fail and then blame the consumer instead of fessing up to the limitations of the solutions (houses make lousy trucks).  In an upcoming post we’re going to look at some new approaches and poke thorough the graveyard for some failures.  What’s clear is that any progress will take a sustained and focused push.  It’s also going to have to push outside the architecture circles and target the consumers.  Do you know why you see all those cialis ads?  Do you know why Anderson sells so many mediocre windows?  Do you think architects are the right market for Prefab homes (we always found the proliferation a few years ago of prefab architecture in trade magazines an odd duck).    We’re talking about a great team working with the backing of some major heavy weights to make the public expect better than the status quo.

And oh yeah-  Designers should probably start coming to terms with the fact that there maybe just maybe might not be 200,000 unique independent extraordinary designers.  Hurts huh?  There will still be a need for ALL the other tools architects have crammed in their quivers in the past 20 years.  Do you think the penmen at Pininfarina know ALL the ins and outs of the engine?  Where do you think Palladio would have located the wireless access points to provide a sufficient network of coverage with all that masonry?

So we’re going to start exploring with text.  Of course we sketch and dream and we also like to attack a problem with words because the words can sometimes get you outside the proverbial box.  And then we’re going to sketch and draw and model (because that’s what we do).

Who wants in?


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