Oh No: People Have Whined About Architecture Forever
People these days love complaining about all the new condo’s, incorrect apostrophe and all. They are ugly and all look the same, etc.
Some of this is fine—there have been some ugly buildings built recently—but a lot of it has always struck me as mindless, like talking about the weather while also broadcasting that you think you’re a little fancy.
I had a hunch that maybe this is something people have been doing for a while, so I spent, like, not even all that much time checking the first few pages of results for articles with the word “architecture” in Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers from back in the day. I found some complaints.
We’ll start out a long time ago, with a summary of what appears to be a rundown of some kind of Ye Olde Ted-Talk written up in the January 13, 1874 Minneapolis Tribune. These guys are not fans of architecture these days, and potentially Protestantism. It’s nondescript. All looks the same.
Next up, we’ve got this guy who seems kind of rude in the March 13, 1910 Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, who specifically decries all these boxes with some windows cut in them, which sounds vaguely familiar. He urges “organization of architecture and better training.”
Here we’ve got the Minneapolis Journal, on August 19, 1905, talking with William Dunwoody about concerns about how all the new houses in Minneapolis and St. Paul look the same—hmmm….
In the March 6, 1910 Minneapolis Sunday Tribune it is a fact that people just don’t care about design.
Speaking at the University of Minnesota, Frank Lloyd Wright had some things to say about the state of architecture, in 1931.
To be fair, I also found a lot of late 1800s civic boosterism where people also liked the new buildings—which maybe makes sense if you had just moved here from a one room shack in rural Sweden or something.
But I dunno, gang, what are we complaining about, exactly? That all the buildings look the same? I’ll admit that when I was younger I made fun of cookie cutter suburban architecture a lot, and I had some powerful inspiration.
At the same time, different eras have distinct styles. All the three and four story buildings in Loring Park and Stevens Square look the same, too, but they’re 100 years old, and so people like them.
Likewise, there are blocks and blocks of similar houses all over Minneapolis, but they too are decades old, have new siding, and/or have mature trees in front of them, and so you never hear anyone whining about that. They were built from catalog designs with sexy names like “English House No. 14” and “Colonial House C-276,” which is less annoying than an apartment building named ElseWarehouse, but not really all that unique either.
There’s room for legitimate criticism of buildings, but can you be a little more specific? For example, I think the random collage of materials on a flat plane on the side of building is often bad. This is…very bad:
And since this was built, Minneapolis has in fact adopted guidelines recommending that you have no more than three types of materials on the side of your building, which is nice. But it’s extremely hard to regulate aesthetics.
Most of the stuff that’s been built over the past ten years is fine. We’re spending more time paying attention to things like the ground floor of the building, as we should. I like recessed balconies, but active uses (stores and doors) on the ground floor of an apartment building are what make a nice streetscape. There are a lot of expensive, high-falutin’ buildings that have blank walls along the ground floor. We’re doing a lot better at building pleasant streetscapes lately.
In 2034, the buildings of this era will have mature trees in front of them and people will have moved on to complaining about the late 2020s batch of buildings, and wonder from their apartment (built in 2011) why people just don’t seem to care about design anymore.