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On 11:26 AM by Rachel Preston Prinz in
A while back, one of my artist friends posted on Facebook a cool article on New York Times.com that found Edward Hopper's inspiration houses and put them up against the original paintings. What was most interesting to me about the article was my reaction: I realized that this simple study in what seemed like art history was actually a great example of how modernism might can be seen to have damaged us as an architectural culture.

Here's what I mean... Look at the original painting "before" and a modern photo of the same building "after "below. What's different?


Original Painting


 Modern House

Yes, the garage below is new. As are the lattices. The paint job is new.

But what here is relevant to sustainability? Well, first let's identify some of what makes up sustainability. Because true sustainability means minimal decoration which we do not have here. (Decoration for the sake of decoration is not sustainable, let's just be honest...) We do, however, have a recycled house, and it was recyclable because it was built incredibly well. That is something.

Sustainability also means buildings that work despite the circumstances - even when the power or the gas goes out - and we can still be warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and we can still cook food. That's sustainable.

It appears here that at least one chimney has been removed, but that is okay. There are other chimneys, which means other fireplaces, which means an ability to cook food (as long as you have fuel).

But where modernism has had its say may be even more telling in another set of photos from the article.


Original Painting


Modern House

What's missing? Well, it's really all about the windows. Those stark square boxes highlighed in white are a modernist-inspired vision of "improving" on a space by making it more plain. Which, is kindof in keeping with sustainability, right? Unfortunately, though... the answer is not so much, once you add building performance as a sustainability criteria. Large windows allow natural light to flood the rooms, and bounce off the floors and ceilings, allowing natural sunlight to get deeper into the house during the day. Smaller windows mean natural lighting is less effective. Canopies provide shade during the summer, cooling the air before it comes into a space, and allowing a free flow of air for ventilation. Louvered shutters do the same, allowing you to adjust the angle of the shutters to bounce light where you want it, when you want it, while also providing cooling shade and natural ventilation. Shutters also allow you to "batten up the hatches" before a storm, which is sure to happen, and which protects not only the window glazing, but the contents of the home. Which is, by definition, more sustainable. All of these have been removed from the modern house above, and no shutters on the first house... means overheating.

Now, I am not trying to abuse modernists here. I love modernism when done well. But the vast majority of it... isn't. And we, the consumers, pay the price for that, in larger gas and electric bills.

That's why here at Archinia, we go beyond style - we look for solutions to questions that have themselves been forgotten. So our clients get the best value for their design and/or preservation dollars. And, they can enjoy a space that works, no matter the circumstances.