Over the years, I have visited many places in America, Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong. Some were wonderful places to live. Others left me cold and eager to escape. What were the key elements of design that made some places warm, comfortable, and delightful?
In one word, these places felt humane. They had a human scale, warm colors, natural materials, and in many cases they had either artistic or historic charm. Hong Kong and Tokyo were two exceptions —but only at first glance. When first seen, they looked too big, too tall, too noisy. But when you enter into the places of everyday life, these cities have amazing charm –often hidden.
In sad contrast, we have the depressing places built by most modern architects in the past 70 years, since World War 2. It almost seems that war also killed good taste, at least among the key designers and decision makers. Modern architecture became the “in thing” or as the French would say “au courant” (which almost makes the in-thing sound in good taste and chic) or as critics would say “a cheap fad.”
The result were cold boxes of glass and steel or weird shapes of gross concrete (now called brutalist architecture). From a distance they look grand. Up close, on the street when walking past, the wind howls in the winter, the pavement broils in the summer, and we people are made to feel like ants. In some places it feels like the designers expected us to congregate in huge crowds, and scream “Sieg Heil” (for those readers too young to have seen the news reels, that was the Nazi salute given by thousands of people in sheep mode–just look on Youtube for Nuremburg Nazi Rally). Hence that term from my Swiss friend: “Fascist Architecture.” The prime example is Boston’s city hall and its plaza.
More grating to our human senses are the everyday places: the sad shopping centers, the factory-like movie arcades, the expressways without trees but too many billboards, the university campuses built by outer-space aliens (e.g. Knight Campus CCRI) or by the sleeping dead (e.g. URI campus).
The fad of “form follows function” gave rise to a demand for some type of design that would appeal to people’s need for warmth. In residential development, often this takes the form of “Neo-eclectic architecture” (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-eclectic_architecture). In large buildings it is called Postmodern architecture (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_architecture ). Unfortunately, these styles fall short of satisfying most people’es needs.
What is the solution? I really cannot put it easily into a few words. So this website will try to answer the question with many examples of what I have found delightful.