Monday, March 2, 2009

--Eisenhower's Interstate and the Erosion of Regional Architecture

When Americans visit Europe, invariably they comment on the "quaint" nature of the towns and villages they encounter. Interestingly enough, Europeans have their own fascinations when visiting the United States. Imagine a country spread from one ocean to the other in which any night of the week you can buy your dinner at an identical McDonald's before spending the night in an identical hotel room. Imagine walking into that room and knowing precisely where the lightswitch is; the lightswitch is in the same place in every such room at every off-ramp in the country!

Europeans are amazed by the uniformity blanketing the US, and Americans are captivated by the distinctive regions of Europe. From the UK down to Greece, cities and towns arose organically over time with attention to the materials and climate of their location. Half-timber houses in Northern Europe, thatched roofs in cool climes, open courtyards in the Mediterranean, and breezeways on sunny islands not only take advantage of local building materials, but also heat and cool most effectively for their particular environments. These materials and techniques arose over thousands of years of intimate interaction with the local environment.

At one time, this was also somewhat the case in the United States. New England was covered with saltbox houses to conserve heat and divert snow; the South was dotted with antebellum mansions and dogtrot cabins, each designed to promote breezes and break the oppressive heat. Such architectural styles were well suited to their environments, but their construction was halted originally by the Depression and then by the diverting of resources during the war years.

Following this period, the transfer of assembly-line construction techniques learned during the war effort to the post-war economic boom meant those cookie-counter fast food boxes and motels popped up everywhere--as did countless little square houses on little round streets. While this boom was a boon to the economy, we are only now learning that attaching an HVAC box next to any sort of construction may not be the most sustainable form of long-term development.

The New Regionalist will be guided by the assumptions found in the above commentary. This blog will be devoted to exploring ways in which a New Regionalist approach to architecture could help promote a greener--and altogether better--future.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog topic! We've gotten too far away from our regional architectural tradition here in the South, and it's costing us money and damaging our environment, as well as increasing the ugliness of our built environment. Looking forward to your posts on this important subject.