Today’s guest post is by Nadia Pidgeon. ArchitectureTravelWriter ran a Q&A last month on this Denver-based architect. Yet another employment victim of the Recession, she started her own architectural tours company and commenced upon a set of international journeys. Here she discusses some (possibly) positive results of the Great Recession.
Perhaps the Recession is really a second chance. Architecture, and in a broader sense design, has been an endangered species on the American landscape. How many times have we heard colleagues or students dream of landing international work in an effort to escape a dying craft in our own country?
Efforts have been made to re-introduce design to a consumption driven American culture. Years ago, Target began to offer products designed by famous people in their respective fields. The Michael Graves tea kettle sat on the shelf next to the regular, made-in-China, looks-like-every-other tea kettle. Priced similarly. The American consumer had to decide which was better: The one that looks like the typical kettle or the one that had been contemplated and crafted for a purpose. Did a tea kettle change the American design movement? No. Is it a start that reaches a great number of people? Yes.
The Recession also reached a great number of people. (Yes, that was a comparison between the Recession and Target.) Jobs were lost, houses went into foreclosure, instability became commonplace. If Americans are considering what type of home they wish to raise their families in now, it is the first time in my lifetime. The concept of house=investment led to the neutralization of design and downgrading of quality. The person who built the house only wanted to make a profit, which led to the cheapest solutions for the highest yield. In order to appeal to a large market, the standard 3/2 with neutral color palette and stainless appliances became the only available option. The market was controlled by realtors who strove to have houses sell quickly, not for the highest profit as the commission differences and a couple thousand dollars was negligible in the face of taking the time to show the property six more times. Owners took cues from realtors as if they had no self-interest and families attempted to force themselves into the standardized creations. There (seemed) no need for designers.
I worked for an architecture firm in a resort area. Many of the homes were second homes and all were over a million dollars… most (were) several million. The neighborhoods required each home to be designed by an architect, yet to look at the neighborhoods, they all had strikingly similar homes. The reason? The homes were simply contractor-built properties in fancy, gated communities. While the neighborhood association demanded unique, architect-designed homes, the contractors built and developed the properties and sold them to clients. The contractors simply brought their plans to the architects for review and stamp only. Once I was working on a plan and noticed that the master bath and master closet must have been labeled incorrectly because the closet had a perimeter wall while the bath did not, hence no window. They were exactly the same size and adjacent so I switched them only to be told to switch them back. The contractor had no intention of paying for an extra window on this 3 million dollar property. Mediocrity ran rampant yet consumers had become so conditioned, they knew no difference.
As instability in the job market became a reality, people were less likely to over extend themselves on the property they choose to own. Instead of both incomes going to support a suburban McMansion, people started to look at homes that could be supported on just one salary in the event of a job loss. Some experts are even calling this the end to the McMansion era. These smaller homes have real world constraints. Design solutions must be employed in order to create solutions for each family. And, more than anything else, this is what designers do best: solve problems.
These developments are crucial to the design market. Architects were hit harder than other fields during the Recession seeing an 18% drop in employment. But maybe the Recession was a blessing in disguise. While so many designers have craved international clients for the opportunity to truly design and create without the limitations seen in American culture, the Recession may have been the catalyst necessary to allow Americans to once again embrace individuality. Only time will tell, but architects and designers across the country have their fingers crossed!
Hopefully American consumers will start to demand more for their money. Maybe they will seek out designers to solve problems and the American landscape can once again be a symbol for innovation. One can only hope.
(Nadia’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of ArchitectureTravelWriter.com.)