Tuesday, April 02, 2013
  Form fakes function

Reading a Dover book of house plans produced during the postwar boom to advise GI Bill buyers. It includes a number of small and medium houses, all done by real architects and all showing the skill of the architect.

For instance, this is one of the smallest. Note the vestibule, the breakfast nook, and the attention to traffic flow and sight lines. A family could live here for a long time without feeling cramped.



The book includes lots of useful info and details for the new house buyer, starting with a broad sense of style:
Today more than ever before, both architects and architecture are divided and subdivided according to the often heard professional expression Form follows Function. It is a perfectly logical axiom, and is by no means limited exclusively to modern designers and modern houses. When one studies the old houses of Cape Cod, Williamsburg, or Charleston, there are few forms which cannnot be traced to fit the needs of a particular function. ... The houses in this book were all designed by leading architects in the small house field. ... Cape Codders, Colonials, Regencies, Georgians, Ramblings, and a few slightly in the Modern trend.
...
It matters little which style you choose as long as it is suitable for the conditions in the area where you build. Be careful to choose a style that will appear appropriate in your neighborhood. If you lean toward the Modern, remember than simplicity of line and mass requires skill if the result is to be effective. Also remember that as far as can be seen today you must anticipate a very limited resale market for Moderns.
Exactly right, and still true. The Brutal Bauhaus Modern has always been popular among fancy architects and fancy people, but nobody really likes to live in a house with guaranteed roof leaks and high heating and cooling costs. Direct descendants of Cape Cod and Bungalow are still the most functional, as the book says. Brutal Bauhaus has a form that appears to represent pure function, but in fact it's the least functional and most frivolous of all styles. Its form follows fashion, not function.

Unfortunately the book's guidance on mortgages is no longer true:
Mortgage lending institutions are ready and willing to loan money for the building of a new home or the purchase of an existing house. Bank deposits at present are at their all time high and lending rates are exceedingly favorable.
A real blast from the honest past.

Numerically speaking, today's rates have returned to the 'exceedingly favorable' 4% range that the book used in its sample calculations. But the present rates are not driven by supply of deposits because banks no longer pay to get deposits and charge to make loans. It doesn't matter how high the deposits are; they're just a pile of cash waiting for Cypruscation. Loan interest is low because Bugsy Bernanke wants to have Americans totally indebted to his Mafia buddies. All money must be in the Casino, all money must be available for Goldman's bets. Like the Brutal Modern House, our Brutal Modern Bank appears to have a functional form, but its real purpose is solely to satisfy the infinite greed and bizarre tastes of the elite.
 


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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