An article shedding light on the idea of copying the past has been published in The Washington Post. “Recognizing a revival in pattern books,” by Kirstin Downey, treats the construction of houses from pattern books with examples of really nice houses designed many years ago as a really good thing.
And it is!
“Copying the past” is modern architecture’s most predictable stock rejoinder to the idea that good houses can be built by using the accumulated intelligence of previous architects and house builders. The alternative is to either guess at what the future will look like and try to copy that, which is what most modernist house designers do. For that reason, there are not very many successful practitioners in that field. Most people do not want to go out on that limb, which could put them in bad odor in their neighborhood. And there is no reason they should.
The Post article describes house developments using pattern books not by Andrew Jackson Downing of a century and a half ago but put together by local architects and municipal planning departments to foster regional aspects of house design that got lost over the past half century of homebuilding. People are seeking to redesign their mid-century houses in more authentic period styles. (There’s a phrase that will cause shuddering spines among the modernist set!) But Downey, the Post writer, also finds the practice flourishing on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where I used to spend vacations as a kid. She also speaks of building along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Toward the end of her piece, Downey seems to have felt obliged to quote from an “expert” from the American Institute of Architects, who looked down his nose at a practice that lets average people without the funds to hire an architect have nice houses. His response is predictable. He even pulls out the old “Disneyfication” chestnut. Talk about copying the past!