Building a Home, Building an Attachment, Building a sense of Place
Over the past readings, posts, and discussions, we have addressed several different types of places, each with their own strengths and weaknesses depending on the lenses through which one views a place. The concept of Modernist Architecture specifically, as discussed by Kunstler always left me wanting. Kunstler talks about modern architecture lacking charm. The quant appeal of classic architecture seemed to be lacking in modern architecture according to Kunstler, and he’s not necessarily wrong. But As the son of a modern designer and architect, I wonder why modern would be, as Kunstler would say, not worth caring about. I have always seen value in a place where the thought that went into the design and construction added just as much value to something, no mater what the period or style. As we have seen in Pollan’s work, both written and physical, modern architecture can and often does have much thought put into the planning, design and execution.
In “The Roof,” Pollan talks to the origins of the roof and how the modern day roof “can often tell us something about our time” (177). He goes into the “amount of technological effort” (177) required in designed and constructing a roof and how “architecture stood at the leading edge of technology” (177). The roof itself encompassed the very ingenuity, creativity, and engineering that could be attributed to architecture in general. In this sense, when one takes the time, as a Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe did, to examine and consider the technologies and engineering advances of the time to create thoughtful and never-before-conceived building styles, he imparts a sense of place into that structure. We see it with Pollan as well.
The countless sketches Pollan references and re-examines over and over again, often to the dismay of his dauntless architect, and the details that he examines serve to create a sense of emotional attachment that will sure linger forever in the place created by his one-room project. He talks about building the house and modern architecture as a whole as a “therapeutic program” (183) for both the builder/conceiver and the occupant. Pollan quotes Le Corbusier’s musings about eradicating dead concepts, which Kunstler would argue are the elements of charm, and shows the power of a modernist place to create fresh, new places that take in account the needs and moods present in current society. In this sense of more appropriately addressing a more “modern” man’s needs, Modern architecture is more utilitarian and emotionally fitting. For one could argue, appreciation for the past is important, but fixation on it is unhealthy. As Pollan reveals, focusing on the now, with reference, as he does throughout the book, to the past is the better distinction to make. Ultimately modern architecture utilizes materials in more efficient and conscious way, without hiding elements behind “softening façade[s]
Pollan elaborates further in “Windows” about “81” (225) and how the 8’ 1” measurements bothered him on many levels. He develops further attachment to the home in wanting for the utilities used in the construction not only to be economically and environmentally efficient, but also make sense. The added 1" was essentially a waste to him, even though the architect deemed it necessary. Pollan spends pages talking about the measurement that would “offend every fiber in the body of any self-respecting carpenter” (227) and how the extra inch needed to be rationalized in order for him to continue; in other words, he needed to believe in ti to allow his attachment and sense of place to grow. Since Pollan takes such a vested interest not only in the final product but also in the every-detail that goes into the construction of the house, he shows how the sense of place can develop and establish the validity of such a modern place in the entire time it takes to complete a project.
My point is that Pollan’s attachment and interest in the construction of his house shows that modern architecture can still retain meaning, importance, and ultimately “placeness”. The relationship is different yes, but Kunstler paints his picture with too broad a brush. Some modern architecture is garbage, yet so is some ancient architecture. When one’s personal views on style and aesthetic integrity are mirrored in modern architecture, value is created there and a care exists for it; essentially a sense of place is created for that person. s