Monday, August 20, 2007
An online note-to-Eric
I share with DoResearch an affinity for a different generation of prefabs. I really love the Charles Goodman houses (that's one of his pictured above), many of which were built in and around DC from the late 40s to the early 70s (Hollin Hills is an entire subdivision (!) of his houses in Alexandria, VA, and there are a couple of smaller subdivisions just outside of DC in Montgomery County, MD). His homes were panelized, and buyers could choose one of a small number of configurations. Hollin Hills got a little blurb in Dwell a couple of years ago, and a terrific cover story in the Washington City Paper. (Some more coverage here, and a blog with lots of Flickr photos here, and also apparently the subject of a documentary film-in-progress. And a recap of its designation as historic.)
I say all this by way of wondering whether Eric has seen this during his time away? It's a collection of photos detailing post-war prefab homes in the UK and the people who live in them:
Now I don't know as much as I should about the particular ideologies of early modernist architectural theory. I understand that Bauhaus' early mission emphasized mass production, utilitarianism, and exploding the artist/craftsman binary - the architectural version of the then-burgeoning cultural Marxism. And that the particular brand of modernism it eventually championed by the '30s was largely the product of Mies' own aesthetic, rather than a natural consequence of class ideology. What vestiges of the early relationship b/w class and modern design remain now? Was that relationship just an historical accident that has been largely left behind?
I know that for me, my interest in modern design is borne out of a visceral aesthetic attraction rather than any larger ideology. Quite a gulf, I imagine, between people like me and people who think seriously about prefab for a living. And between people like me and the people who are the subjects of this book (and I’m going just on the blurb and pics here). I’m being grossly conclusory, but where’s the connection between the aesthetics and economics of the homes in this book and, say, a house like mine? Isn’t (a lot of) the original ideology of the Bauhaus movement (and modernism generally) present in the Sears houses and the Levittown houses, notwithstanding their traditional design? How much of the ideology of modernism is really invested in the aesthetic, which – and this is the point – is what I love about it? Or, put another way, isn’t what’s driving the current zeal for modern prefab simply some savvy marketing to people (like me) who like the look/feel/lifestyle of modern homes? As opposed to any class concerns/ideology?
Prefab is still just a meme and all that jazz, but I wonder if it can (or aspires to?) be any more than that right now. I mean, there’s no way that Res4 (or Dwell, its occasional talk to the contrary) is shooting for the same folks who live in these post-war houses. I'm not saying they should be. But for those concerned about cost (and class), where does the aesthetic of modernism come in? Cost is a bottom line concern for Sarah and me, but not in the way that it is for the kinds of buyers who would drive a mass market. So is all the talk about making modern prefab affordable really missing the point? Which is maybe that most people don’t want modern design? And for as long as that’s the case, it ain’t gonna be cheap?
(I wrote this last night - see what happens when you're stuck in the woods by yourself?)