Preserving the Very-Recent Past
Two houses built in the 1970s have been in my thoughts recently, and are leading me to define my thoughts about preservation and importance. The first is an architect-designed, Japanese-influenced, contemporary home where I was asked to design a replacement for the failing front brick stoop. Because of a leaky water main, the stoop had slid down 5″ from its original location, leaving a treacherous, 9″ front step. The owners (full disclosure: they’re family) wanted to add a railing where there had never been one, and wanted something that fit in with the original architecture and detailing.
For me, investigating the original, simple ornamentation was just sinking into a new architectural idiom. It was obviously different from the 1920s Durham patterns, but also obviously present. Finding a detail from the eaves, repeated in a slightly different scale to create a railing was a perfect solution, and much like sussing out the appropriate front porch pattern in a neighborhood. With clear architectural merit, it does not matter how old this house is – it is important.
The other house? A late 1970s tract home set outside of town is the new home of a friend, who invited me over to give a little advice for their renovations. This house doesn’t seem to have any distinguishing features and walks the dangerous line between cool-vintage and out-of-date-ugly. In 20 years, it will be fully over the border into quaint and charming, but right now it’s… questionable.
Talking and walking through the house, we decided that it needed to be pushed towards the mid-century, and that the new owners will retain the pieces that already seem cool and not mourn the rest. The new elements they bring in will try to play nice with the original features but not be slavish to the era either. So while there are no distinctive elements, hopefully the house can be shepherded along towards importance – it’ll have to get there by making it through the years, not via some architectural design that set it apart from the beginning – but it will make it eventually.