- Gulf Cost communities are smaller
- Mississippi evacuees are nearby rather than scattered asunder
- Economic recovery has been quicker
- Mississippi involved the citizens in redesigning their communities
A Pattern Book for Gulf Coast Neighborhoods has been distributed free to residents as part of the rebuilding effort. The book illustrates details, materials, and forms that have traditionally been associated with local styles and demonstrates how these can be practically adapted to even mobile homes and manufactured housingâ€”which will likely form the bulk of new houses. A chapter shows how typical Gulf Coast houses can be adapted to meet FEMA requirements. Four local styles are recommended: Acadian-Creole, Victorian, Classical, and Arts & Crafts. One looks in vain for such Gulf Coast perennials as Funky Beach Shack, '50s Googly Motel, or Down-and-Dirty Shopping Strip. Like most design guides, the Pattern Book is as much about taste as style. Whether it will succeed in turning the Mississippi coast into a Southern version of Santa Barbara remains to be seen.The last two sentences reiterate what I've been saying for some time. That the traditional house that is so prevelent here is popular for a reason. The design responds well to the climate and is therefore familiar to their owners. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here. That does not mean that we can't improve upon it
Critics of this approachâ€”and so far there have been manyâ€”miss the point, however, when they use words like "historicism" and "nostalgia" and call for more cutting-edge designs. New urbanists aren't promoting traditionâ€”they don't have to; American home-buyers made that decision years ago. They prefer houses with pitched roofs, clapboard siding, bay windows, and porches. Visit any subdivision in the country and you won't find any ersatz Frank Gehry or Rem Koolhaas knockoffs. Gehry's public buildings are popular, so are Koolhaas'. But most people prefer not to make a home in them.
There are a few ways that can be done:
- In low-lying areas, do away with the Ranch House and return to the Raised Cottage.
- Investigate new construction methods and materials.
- Improved building materials and finishes.
- Better energy efficiency.
- Electrical and communication systems that can accommodate 21st Century advances.
- See if we can find ways to bring back the "Old School" quality without the high labor cost.
- And please, can we get a reasonably priced residential window that looks like traditional wood and not a cheap knock-off?
One reason critics scoff at historicism is that the resulting product usually is just a cheap knock-off of the historic building they are trying the emulate. Historic building can be accurately mimicked but the problem lies in the exorbitant cost involved. And when the estimates come in, the fancy windows and stone details are the first to get valued engineered out.
Contractors and building suppliers need to find ways to bring back some of the "Old World" materials without the "New World" costs.
For example, wood windows. Many a home built before the '60's had wood windows. These were often leaky and not very energy-efficient and were more costly to manufacture. Manufacturers went to the extruded aluminum window. They are more efficient and cheaper to make. Unfortunately they look like shit. Companies like Pella and Jeld-Wen still make wood windows but they are mainly for the high-end user. I would like to see a vinyl-window manufacture come up with a design that has that "punch-out" look and raised mullions but using the modern manufacturing techniques we see today.
There should be no reason that the middle and lower-middle-class cannot enjoy a traditonal home without having to buy an old home.
PS - Witold Rybczynski's interview with NPR can be found here.
Hat Tip Veritas et Venustas.