Architecture and the Esthetics of Plenty

Architecture and the Esthetics of Plenty

Architecture and the Esthetics of Plenty

Architecture and the Esthetics of Plenty

Excerpt

What is American about American architecture? The question is easier to ask than to answer -- especially if, as is so often the case nowadays, we are really trying to isolate those aspects of our national life which are uniquely good rather than merely unique. So we had best rephrase the question: Does American architecture display qualities which we can safely describe as characteristic, irrespective of whether or not we can be proud of them? This we can answer affirmatively. There are many areas in which our architecture is easily distinguishable from that of the rest of the world. The single family house, for example, shares with its foreign contemporaries the basic elements of plan (rooms for sleeping, bathing, cooking, resting, etc.); the same general types of furnishings (tables, chairs, beds, etc.); the same utilities (gas, electricity, water). And yet the way in which these elements are organized into a whole gives our houses certain qualities which we can call "typically American." The use of large areas of unprotected glass, the window wall, is one such. The large size of garage and motor court and the degree of mechanization in the kitchen are others. Middle-class houses in Sɑ+̃o Paulo or Helsinki will also have glass, garages and mechanical equipment. But the concentration of these elements is far higher in our houses than in the rest of the world; and this purely quantitative factor makes for qualitative differences -- though of course the differences are seldom as important and almost never as favorable as we should like to imagine.

It is even more hazardous to attempt to generalize upon the purely formal aspects of American architecture since, during the three and a half centuries of its history, it has employed so many idioms, so many various means of expression. Visually, it presents a pattern of bewil-

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