Classical Architecture & Corn Country

One of a few entries I posted elsewhere pre-October 2010, before I (officially) started The Roving Home blog.

The following excerpt is from a not-so-recent article in the New York Times about the resurgence of classical architecture.  I deviate from the focus of the article to rejoice in the fact that the writer pointed out that:

In upscale subdivisions across the country, for example, the Palladian window has become a prominent architectural feature, letting plenty of light into double-height living rooms, while still summoning up echoes, however murky, of early-19th-century gentility.  But paired with an eyebrow window, an off-kilter gable or two and a rambling ranch floor plan, the traditional look becomes something very different: what might be called neo-hodgepodge.

Ah, yes.  The neo-hodgepodge look.  I know it well.

Were my mother in possession of a digital camera, the knowledge to upload a photo, and a DSL connection instead of a dial-up one, I would ask her to race down the lane of the house I grew up in, cross the road, and take a picture of the house in the field opposite so I could post it here.  This photo, of a relatively new house, would reveal all one needs to know about the trend toward the hodgepodge mentioned in the article.  Except for the “upscale subdivisions” part.

The house is first house to be built on our road among the corn and soybean fields in approximately 130 years.  It wears its newness like a cheap dress – no, not the cool second-hand cheap dress you got at Goodwill – it’s more like the cheap dress you picked up from the floor under the sale rack at Wal-mart, where it had fallen in a heap after slipping off its disposable plastic hanger.

I don’t really consider the depressing inappropriateness of the house in the field across from my parents’ farmhouse to be the fault of its new owners.  I blame it on the cabal of building companies and the architects who work for them, squirreled away, far from sunlight and fresh air, scratching out plans for kit houses with neo-hodgepodge as their guiding principle.  And seemingly in the center of all these new houses is the apple of these architects’ design eye: the Palladian window.  The vaunted Palladian window, reduced to presiding over cornfields, when a plain old double-hung would do the trick nicely.  Even moreso if this window was set squarely over a front porch.

This is one of the sorrows of my midwestern heart, to see the fields of my youth blossoming with homes strangely inappropriate to actually living in a field.   I don’t think homes need to be custom built – bring on the pre-fabs! – but there should be a prevailing common sense to these designs and their customer base.  This doesn’t seem like too much to ask of designers.

So as classical design principles resurge, I hope that everyday architects and builders will discover a way to bring the Palladian window back home to the piazzas and villas, and leave the farmhouses of the midwest to a more modest version of upward mobility.


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