A Curbside Revolt
Could architectural ornamentation become a new sign of non-conformist resistance?
It may seem a ludicrous and inconsequential question when millions of Americans are unemployed and when despair chokes our dreams like the smoke from a thousand dumpster fires. But step aside from the horror for just a moment and imagine that you’re an architect with a superior flair for design. Then ask yourself, if money were not a concern and you could customize your own dwelling from the ground up, what would you include? And as you fill that thought-bubble, consider if you would add decorative flourishes to the exterior.
Why does that last question matter? More on that in a moment. For now, expand the range of decorative possibilities beyond faux stone finishes or a touch of siding. Ponder something dramatic and memorable, something that challenges the tyranny of neutral-toned, rooftop triangles that now rule the sky over suburban America.
I’m talking about something like this.
Or even this…
Or maybe something more subtle.
Or more sinuous than a triangle forest.
Or bursting with hope
Or more stately perhaps?
Maybe something that has teeth.
Or that’s restrained
You could aim for something Shaker-simple and a bit mysterious
Or something more storybook
Or something bold and non-apologetic
Or something that poses a question, at least for Spanish speakers.
Or that tells a story, even if we’re not quite sure what it is
How we answer this question says something about our sense of the future, which looks increasingly grim. Exterior design will reflect that world view, too, if we let it. There will be little place for personal expression in a conformist society obsessed with safety and order (imagine HOAs with Constitutional authority!). And even if we don’t equate bright colors and decorative whimsy with philosophical resistance, maybe we should encourage and applaud those who do dare to embrace them, as well as celebrate their little victories over the smooth-and-smart-tech-surface brigade. Their victories are ours as well.
Of course, there will be a price to pay. The creation and maintenance of decorative flourishes can be expensive, particularly when they’re made of wood. But as new, more weather-resistant materials become available — passive cooling ceramics being just one example — artists, painters, mosaicists, and their designer allies could combine both beauty and sustainability to embellish and personalize home facades. The new materials might also allow residents living with extreme winters a chance to ditch the limits of brick and join the party. Surely, we’re overdue for an aesthetic revolution, if not something more substantial. After all, how much more farm modern can we stand, at least until too much non-conformity makes black-and-white revolutionary again?
Author’s note: Many thanks to the citizens of San Francisco who continue to carry the torch of non-conformity from the roofline to the curb.