Why modern buildings look so bland and uninspiring compared to older, more ornate buildings.
As you walk through a downtown area, you may notice that the older, more historic buildings are unique and full of character, while newer buildings seem sterile and lack charm. This can leave you wondering why we don’t build quote-unquote beautiful buildings anymore. The story behind this phenomenon is complex and has several factors that contribute to it.
How Modernism Transformed Architecture in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a rise in modernism in the architectural world, which rejected ornamentation and embraced minimalism. This new movement coincided with a technological revolution that allowed for the use of new and innovative building materials like glass, steel, and reinforced concrete. These materials allowed for buildings to be constructed that were never before seen or even thought possible, such as the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building, and the Eiffel Tower.
The popularity of modernism can also be attributed to changing tastes throughout time. People were ready for something new after so many years of dominance by older architectural styles. The idea of building ornamentation changed just like fashion changes over time. People don’t wear 17th-century clothing to job interviews anymore; they wear more modern clothing that is minimalistic yet elegant. The same is true for building ornamentation.
How Neoliberal Capitalism is Affecting Building Aesthetics and Durability
However, changing tastes alone do not explain the recent onslaught of same-looking buildings in the US and Europe. The reason for this is that we are living under neoliberal capitalism, where housing is no longer seen as a space to live but as a commodity to be bought and sold. The goal is no longer to create durable, quality buildings with proper aesthetics. Instead, the focus is on getting the cheapest materials possible and constructing a building that looks reasonably nice to sell at inflated prices. Developers don’t plan for the durability or quality of the building; they plan for the profit they will make.
Large-scale public housing projects are another example of where ornamentation is not a priority. These buildings were not made to look beautiful but rather to solve the housing crisis that existed in Europe after World War II. Standardized elements were mass-produced to keep costs down, and it worked. While the buildings may not be aesthetically pleasing, they represented a civilizational shift for their new inhabitants who often moved in from buildings without electricity or indoor plumbing.
Course-Centric Urban Planning: How It Affects Modern Building Aesthetics
Aside from changing tastes and the profit motive, course-centric urban planning is another factor that contributes to the lack of ornamentation in modern buildings. Most cities today are built for cars, not people. Urban motor traffic and parking minimums are two major culprits that are responsible for this. Old, atmospheric, human-centric, and beautiful areas would be illegal to build today due to parking requirements. Current laws prescribe car-infested cities and force developers to build a ton of parking for new buildings, which induces even more car traffic and drives up construction costs.
In conclusion, the reason we don’t build quote-unquote beautiful buildings anymore is due to changing tastes, the profit motive, and course-centric urban planning. However, this is not to say that we have stopped building nice things. Beauty can come from places other than ornamentation, and there are still many new buildings being constructed today that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The key is to strike a balance between functionality, quality, and aesthetics while also considering the environment in which the building will be situated.