Windswept West Texas is a sparsely populated and dusty landscape primarily sustained by the oil industry. Ranching and farming are part of the economy in addition to services associated with present-day communities. You might believe on the surface that such places are bereft of significant art and architecture; however, all locations hold a wealth of design. We live in a time when various fashions of Western architecture show up in most places in contemporary culture.
About every Sunday afternoon while I was growing up my parents and I would hop into the car, drive around my hometown to see the new houses under construction, and occasionally visit the open houses for sale on the real estate market. Each of us found inspiration in what we discovered for personal reasons. My father ran an advertising business, and my fashion conscious mother always had a slew of design magazines delivered. They enjoyed seeing the creation of architecture and I loved going along for the ride. Design ideas surrounded me.
I grew up in Midland, Texas, a small city of about 120,000 people on the mesa of the Llano Estacado, where the southeastern corner of New Mexico meets the base of the Texas panhandle. In comparison to the average town, it is a wealthy place due to significant profits earned in the oil business. That does make it unique, and the taste in home design reflects the affluence; however, the region stretches from there up to Lubbock and then to Amarillo and includes sections of eastern New Mexico as well. Wealth varies considerably, and so does the fashion of its dwellings.
The combination of that location, landscape and the influences from the world beyond those parched plains intrigues me infinitely. Where do we get ideas for design and architecture? How do we interpret shelter? Why do we use certain materials over others? What does it matter that roofs be steeply pitched or shallow and slight? Why would you use a row of two-story columns to create a porch? Why is the detail of a column critical? What does “traditional” or “modern” imply? I am fascinated by the architecture of what we live in, and I suspect that you may be too.
I started sketching house plans on lined school notebook paper at the age of five and continued becoming more intrigued at how to design a house as time passed. My father showed me how to use the drafting boards in his office and eventually supplied one for myself at home. When I became old enough to understand careers, I knew that I wanted to be an architect. I set my sights for a Bachelor of Environmental Design from Texas A&M University.
In college, I emphasized my interest in residential design by taking classes that gave me a chance to understand this fascinating topic. I loved art history and, I proudly brag, never fell asleep in the dimly lit classroom where the professor ran a delightful slide show of Western art and architecture along with his lecture. I spent a semester studying architecture in Italy. Our student group traversed outward from Florence exploring down to Pompeii past Rome and up to Venice on the Adriatic Sea in the northeast. We made it to Milan, Hadrian’s Villa, Assisi, Lucca, San Gimignano, Pisa, Pasteum and the Amalfi coast among other spectacular Italian locations. On my own, I ventured to Switzerland, Germany, France, and Austria. Each city contained famous landmarks and thousands of years of structures with varying types of architectural inspiration. My fortunate background and long career allow me to indulge the complexity of this topic. Wrapping an understanding of the influence of historical Western architecture and comprehending how it folds into the homes that surround us in 21st century America inspires my journey and career.
I am fortunate to have lived on the east and west coasts of the United States in addition to those formative years in Texas. The images of sprawling level ranch houses set into broad and flat cotton fields outside Lubbock stick into my memory. Clay tiled roofs over strong and thick stucco walls languishing lovingly in the Chianti hills lies within that memory too. Impressive classically designed houses in Washington DC have their spot. So do contemporary suburbs in the rolling California hills with mid-century modern houses of glass walls framed with wooden posts and beams. From these memories and places, I seek an understanding of how we decide to fashion the architecture of houses.
In the past thirty years, I have worked professionally in residential design in California. What I have discovered is that in the past one hundred years, fashions of architecture tend to transcend place and economic status. I learned where the roots of particular design dialects stem. While it is a complex subject in breadth, distilling the topic into rooted categories allows a good comprehension of most architectural fashions.
There are three primary roots to residential architecture in the United States. The first is traditional. These styles stem from the study of classical architecture, ancient Greek, and Roman ruins, and include Greek Revival, Georgian, Colonial Revival and Italian Renaissance to name just a handful. The second is the vernacular, which just means folk architecture or design that blossoms out of necessity, economy and localized ingenuity. The favorite American Farmhouse style is one of these, for example, and the manufactured, or modular, home is another. The third root is modern architecture, which began around the turn of the 20th century and paralleled the Industrial Revolution. Its design theory attempts to depart from all precedent and emphasize the use of new methods and new manufactured materials to achieve a contemporary aesthetic.
People gravitate to labels and phrases, and sound bites communicate effectively. It is the same with architecture. A Cape Cod cottage has an instant visualization attached to it. A mid-century modern conjures an entirely different one. The vast terminology in design may overwhelm many people. Do not let this intimidate you. Almost all homes have elements or forms and mass that attribute to a distinct architectural style and its origin in history. Consider the three primary roots and also understand that overlap and experimentation is the nature of this subject. My feeling is that it is a fantastically delicious adventure and I love all of it, and I believe in all of it. That is to say; I think every architectural style is timeless and deserves replication and refinement. While classical architecture has explicitly ordered sets of rules, archeologists claim they have evidence that the ancient Greeks varied details within their system significantly, and individual creativity distinguished each building from the other. I realize that point sounds lofty. However, it is obvious that everyone places their personal imprint on the design of their house, and I find that exhilarating.