Survey: Your preferred row

Borneo Sporenberg townhouses in Amsterdam. (

Borneo Sporenberg townhouses in Amsterdam. (

Matthew Johnson, writing in ArchDaily of the furor aroused by the recent Bingler/Pedersen oped in the New York Times, the response by Aaron Betsky as mouthpiece of the American Institute of Architects, and the tart wrap-up of the brouhaha by Justin Shubow in Forbes, ran a shot of a set of modernist townhouses in Amsterdam. He was making the point that modernism does not need to overwhelm or to otherwise wow a street in order to make livable places. But his photograph, above, undermines his argument.

The fact is that fitting in by way of massing alone is not enough. A set of townhouses that fit in by massing but elbow each other stylistically does not work. Somebody else sent in a photo of a set of proposed townhouses for Brooklyn (below) that also doesn’t work, for reasons that add up to the very descriptive word cheesy. They do not discombobulate as openly as the ones in Amsterdam do, but still leave an empty feeling in the pit of one’s stomach.

I add a third set of townhouses, on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston (bottom), buildings that are stylistically diverse but do not kick each other in the shins. Here is the answer. It is not rocket science. Do not copy it, merely take inspiration from it. It is not illegal. Just do it.

Proposed townhouses in Brooklyn. (

Proposed townhouses in Brooklyn. (

Townhouses on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. (

Townhouses on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. (

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Survey: Your preferred row

  1. Pingback: Pretty rowhouse poetics | Architecture Here and There

  2. David Brussat says:

    That’s among the most enchanting descriptions of architecture that I’ve come across. May I take it out of this comment section and put it in a blog post where it belongs?


  3. westfall2 says:

    The first example forgot to put the facades on the buildings,and they fail to smile at the public. The second example forgets that wallpaper does not make a facade. It smiles to the public but there is no respect for the public in that smile. The third, in Boston, gets it right. Its faces the public with a display of architecture’s mastery of materials to give the buildings substance and a sense that this is a serious place worthy of enduring buildings. It also recognizes that not all people and not all families are the same: some of those buildings are SROs, others are flats.


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