Phoenix modern architecture: the danger of success

[Source: Linnea O’Dowd, LEED AP, Associate AIA, Guest Columnist, Southwest Contractor] — Phoenix is in danger.  We are in danger of finally achieving an aesthetic many of us in the design community have longed for, an aesthetic built on the brilliant tenets of modernism.  A lack of built history, no surviving historic vernacular, and an overabundance of cheap land and labor give local architects and designers an incredible array of design options, yet our reputation for cutting edge design continues to diminish.  Our Phoenix design aesthetic has become modern without meaning, not McMansion but McModern.

Exposed emotionless grey block, crumbling remnants of gabion walls, identical weathered steel and river rock accents: does anyone else notice the ubiquitousness of the various building materials, the loss of craftsmanship, the absence of inventiveness and imagination?  We are missing the intimate detailing which made Modernism so incredibly radical and beautiful.  For our desert modernism to go beyond style, we must stop denying why we build, we build for human expression, for ourselves and for our neighbors.

From within the design community, we scoff at the Tuscan or Olde Worlde, for all its frills and ornamentation.  Yet if we cannot fulfill our commitments, as designers, to build with a craft approach and to convey a sensory delight in materials, using structural ingenuity and inspired experiential design solutions, then as Modernists and as architects, we have failed.  We cannot blame the Tuscan invasion on anyone but ourselves.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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