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Architecture future and past October 24, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Architecture/Design, Media, Travel Diary.
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In Alain de Botton‘s televison series based on his book ‘The Architecture of Happiness‘ he talks about how nostalgia for the past is so prevalent in contemporary residential architecture. He discusses how an older style, particularly 19th century and early 20th century architecture, is hailed as better and more beautiful than modern design, even though it often does not fit with the needs of our lifestyles.

There is a section where he visits a new housing estate in Britain based on traditional architecture and compares it with a similar development in the Netherlands that uses very modern design.
This has struck us so much since we have been in Holland. Many of Chris’ relatives live in new estates in houses that are less than ten years old. The thing that struck us straight away is that these developments are so different from the McMansion style that dominates the Australian new housing market. Each street of each development seems to have a different contemporary architectural style. This has the effect of a streetscape that flows because the houses in one street are similar but the next street will have a totally different look. This makes for a refreshing amount of choice.


This love of modern design can be seen in many aspects of Dutch life. Interiors, household products, clothing- so many things seem to be beautifully and simply designed, even at shops the equivalent of Target or KMart. Where there are antiques or older objects, they are placed within a modern context.

This brings me to another peeve about the harking back to the past- so often we only regard architecture in Australia to be valuable if it is pre-war. In Brisbane, you can’t demolish a pre-war house but if it is postwar there is no assessment of it’s value. This applies even when the building is by one of Australia’s most successful architects like Harry Seidler. The SMH reports today here that at least two Seidler houses are under threat of demolition only seven months after his death. While there is some debate about the architectural value of one of these houses, there should at least be some sort of assessment process for houses of possible historical value. This has long been a bugbear of mine that some amazing examples of architecture from the 50’s and 60’s are demolished or altered without any regard for their historical and architectural value. Why are we so short-sighted?

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