Recovering the best

I caught a Megabus from Philadelphia to New York earlier today. Glancing at Northern Jersey’s industrialized landscape at one point reminded my of a post I saved recently: “On Ugliness and the Hatred of New Building:”

History shows us that people don’t object to new housing per se, they object when the houses are less beautiful than the natural landscape they have devoured.

I like Graeco-Roman. I like Spanish Revival. I like Art Deco. I like modernism. I like architecture that’s rooted in tradition, but more to the point of the linked post I like architecture that evokes beauty and consideration. It continues:

What seems like negative and entrenched NIMBYism is at heart an inarticulate, disguised but understandable plea for grace, elegance and a touch of grandeur.

The answer isn’t to build replicas of Georgian crescents, let alone rows of canal-side Gothic palaces (any more than it would be an idea for someone who loved the English language to begin addressing strangers in Shakespearean dialect). The answer is to create housing developments in the best architectural idiom of our times, places like – for example – the exceptional Accordia housing scheme in the suburbs of Cambridge (to which, unsurprisingly, no one objected).

Solving the housing crisis requires that we get better at grasping the nature of the problem we’re facing: the issue isn’t stubborn selfishness. It’s a longing for beauty. Crack that, and no one will mind the felled trees too much, and mortgages will come down too.

Nostalgia often gets a bad rap, especially in architecture where it often becomes synonymous with drippy or indulgent sentamentalism. 

What we forget about nostalgia is that at heart it’s a desire to recover the best parts of the past. Not every moment. But the most remarkable moments. 

That spirit should guide our architecture too. Recovering the best aspects.

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