Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Modern Heritage...not an oxymoron

I think I might just put together a walking tour of our local modern heritage. There's lots of talk these days about the loss of significant c20 buildings that have fallen under the wrecker's ball before they have even reached their 50th birthdays. I think I've blogged about this before - this is a growing concern among ACO types.

Our modern heritage includes the architectural styles that we tend to overlook, because they are 'modern' and somehow we feel we know them. Familiarity breeds contempt, showing up in other forms as hide-bound resistance to the new, irritation and downright dislike of the modern. Maybe we are drawn to early c19 buildings because of their rarity and because they evoke our history and emotions associated, even when we haven't studied their finer points of construction or design. And of course the buildings second half of the last century can't help to knock us off our feet, with their profusion of revival decoration, and their sheer eclectic excesses. Some of these houses are loud!!

But somehow, perhaps because they are more of our time (those of us with lots of decades on the odometer anyway) and not so decorated, and of materials more familiar, the buildings of more recent styles do not evoke such strong emotional reactions. I must admit to feeling the same way until my last two winters of architectural history courses. I've gained an appreciation for c20 architecture as I have learned about the styles - the architects and their vision, and the use of materials and methods which make these structures unique and worthy.

It's interesting that even up to the present day folks seek solace in old forms and decoration with the Colonial and Period revivals....or in fabulous fakes that incorporate easily machine-made bits from all sorts of periods, the more the merrier. We once visited a business associate of my husband's in a posh new snob-division north of Toronto. I waited in the car admiring the Hummer-equipped garage's door with the wide 'ashlar stone' surround and its three key-stones.....

But arts and crafts, deco, machine age/art moderne, mid-century modern/contempo, international style, post-modern - these are fabulous styles. The revolutionary ideas, the creativity, the innovation, the wit, the experimentation, the quality of workmanship and materials - they've certainly turned my head.


  1. I am in the Unappreciative Group when it comes to modern architecture. Guess I need the edjuhmucation what you got. Some modern looks good enough, I suppose, but I wouldn't want it in (or around) my living room. Not enough soul, baby.

  2. You've hit on it I think - 'modern' is more reason than passion, more an intellectual appeal than an emotional one. I'm just thinking about all the memories, associations, accumulated historical knowledge we carry with us about an pre-confederation or revival style house for instance. Difficult to go deep like that with a glass box :-)
    But I still love some of them.