Hard-Edged Houses for Those Who Love Machines

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Modernist architects once again are trying to sell hard-edged houses to the American public. A new home plan service called Hometta has been set up to offer “modern homes for the masses.” Hometta is a collaboration of several architectural studios whose goal is to provide “small, sleek, sustainable, affordable house plans for middle-class buyers.” Few would quibble with the goals of “small” or “affordable” or “sustainable.” Whether the market will applaud their version of “sleek” and “modern” remains to be seen.

Hometta is reacting to what they see as an appalling lack of quality in today’s off-the-shelf house plans. Many will agree (including me) that the average mail-order home plan is overly large and dreadfully designed. While clumsily executed, however, most of today’s home plans offer traditional details like gables, bays and porches – because experience has shown that’s what buyers want.

The Hometta architects, however, assert that their hard-edged Modernist home plans offer greater design sophistication and will improve the look of the American built environment. I beg to differ. The Modernist plans being offered by Hometta come from a world view that worships technology and the machine (see Binary House photo). The sharp edges of this type of house make it look literally like Le Corbusier's ideal “machine for living in.”

Up to now, the vast majority of Americans have shown they don’t want to live in machines. They regard their homes as a symbol of what they value and how they feel about their surroundings. And most of us want houses that provide the emotional comfort of a visible connection to tradition and the hand of the craftsman.

Ironically, the Katrina Cottage designed by Steve Mouzon (see photo) offers the emotional reassurance of traditional architecture -- but is actually the product of technology and the machine. The cottage is a low-cost modular house designed to be “small, affordable and sustainable.” But rather than an in-your-face declaration of machine-love like the Binary House, the Katrina Cottage offers the softer outlines of traditional architecture and conveys the aura of hand-built houses.

There certainly will be buyers who will choose Modernist Hometta designs precisely because they look different from the traditional architecture that most people desire. But given a choice, I prefer the gentle embrace of Katrina Cottage!