20 June 2007


This week I'm in a little burg outside of Indianapolis. When we first pulled off Hwy. 70 and came to the motel, I was very unimpressed. Chain restaurants. Industrial park style buildings. It turns out that this was the "new" part of town.

Later, we drove into the old city center and my opinion of Greenfield radically changed. The old buildings were beautiful. As near as I could tell, they had been built for beauty and not cost savings. The difference was remarkable.

I would never trade a typewriter or car or drug from 1920 for those available today. So why is it that buildings from that period look so much better?

And it made me wonder: have we given up esthetics for progress? Are block building WalMarts really what we want in lieu of Victorian homes. Do we want architecture approved by accountants rather than architects and artists?


Anonymous said...

Buerocrats have their purpose, but it appears our school system has manufactured more of these than we have want, or need for. They create more and more idle work for themselves. They are a burden on us all.

Fine architecture is a monument to the forethought of economy. It is the anticipation of generations to come, and their comforts. It is an appreciation of artistry, form, and craftsmanship.

We build today as though we shall not wake to see tomorrow. We have all but lost the practical knowledge of the guilds of old, and yet we hang tight to the vestiges of some superficial glory.

Why are we so sad?

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that there are many factors at play which effect our architecture. The most interesting to me is something that has happened in the last 100 years (for the first time in history.) Labor is now priced out of the marketplace when compared to manufactured components and systems. Craftsmanship is a luxury. Any 70-year-old building in America has something we don't often see today. These old buildings are testaments to the workers whose sweat and skill we now appreciate. It's no wonder that revitalization zones are usually concentric with the artistic centers in today's cities.

-your arcousin

Anonymous said...

Value no longer means quality- it only describes how much we pay for an item or for that overpriced labor. Even in the higher end market.

And people simply no longer have the attention spans it took to build these houses that stand straight for hundreds of years.

There is also the issue of population increase.

Life Hiker said...

As an architecture-loving accountant, I take umbrage at your statement "Do we want architecture approved by accountants rather than architects and artists?"

The function of accountants in a business does not include "approving" anything. Accountants are staff people, not line people. Their job is to keep accurate books, provide management with unbiased financial assessments alternative strategies, and enforce company policies. Operating management runs the business, including choosing its architecture.

Sam Walton figured out that customers would not mind shopping at stripped-down WalMart buildings if their register receipts were lower - so he built ugly.

On the other hand, managements of many high-end restaurants have built elegant, or at least pleasant-looking facilities. The attractive architecture enhances the overall enjoyment of good food and good company. Form follows function.

In conclusion: 1) The accountants plead not guilty; 2) One good thing about cheap buildings is that they are cheap to raze.

Anonymous said...

Nobody blamed accountants. They are just human calculators. Why does every body read these days in some effort to leap on some word to take offense to? Isn't the goal of communication to understand?

These are skills which the master craftsman once had in excess. Not all beurocrats are accountants, either. Beurocrats are people with desk jobs, as in, all the people who were once fine craftsmen may now be beurocrats. The school system, in an effort to transform us all into 'good little third-rate doctors and lawyers', managed to stifle the creativity that accompanied fine craftsmanship.

When we speak of cultural trends, we are not attacking the individuals who comprise these trends. We are talking about systems. Systems are large bodies, not individuals. We must be able to make this distinction if we are to get anywhere in solving the issues at hand. It is not a given that in solving them, we shall forget the individual. It is just that for analytical purposes, one must precede the other.

Taking personal offense to that is something a person who works with numbers ought never do, as surely having a grasp of mathematical proportions would accompany such a trade, at least where it is done with any skill.

And never mind the structural quality of Mr.Walton's buildings, as I could care less where they are in 50 years. Whether this is his own doing, or his shareholders, is not my business. All I know is someone should talk to Mr.Walton about ventilation. He is suffocating his employees and his customers, and putting a couple of holes in the walls for air ducts is not any less expensive than dealing with a burnt-out staff who suffers from oxygen deprivation and toxic fume inhalation.

Anonymous said...


Daryl said...

I suggest that since we are building them, we must want them.

Ron Davison said...

Nice to have you stop by and comment. Thanks. And that bit about labor costs vs. manufactured components explains it for me.

You are too modest about the influence of accountants. Sure, accountants are just line people - as are architects, marketing, engineers, etc. The question is, which discipline or function's mental model most influences senior execs? I'd say it is the accountants.

Thanks for stopping by. I've run into people who believe that, by definition, anything that happens must be God's will. I guess I have a similar skepticism about the acceptance of business actions as proof of market or community demand.