Complexity of form and detail increases the cost of a project, so clean and simple lines should be cheaper. However, what in finished form appears minimal, in process often requires more time and precision. Trim carpentry typically hides all of the gaps, out-of-plumb and out-of-level exigencies of construction assemblies. Take that away for a crisp modern look, and the work of all the previous trades is revealed. An aesthetic of clean simple lines can thus add complexity to a project. At the other end of the spectrum, detailed millwork also requires precision, and stained trim is less forgiving than a painted finish.
Architecture can be thought of as a hierarchy of layers. It starts with purpose and space, then come structure, systems and surface. If we get the bones right, the other layers fall into place more easily. Those layers can also blur together and change places. A project might be driven by structure or surface, or they might be one and same, at least conceptually. So we weave back and forth between concept, form and detail. Back to the figure skating analogy, there are technical requirements, physical finesse, the music, the narrative, costumes, the emotion and execution, all brought together into a seamless whole. And if not? It’s like a project that doesn’t quite come together, where the parts don’t quite add up to a pleasing gestalt. Or perhaps it’s just not to your liking. There is no denying individual taste in the evaluation of architecture.
Following the economic downturn and growing concern for the environment, we’ve seen a tendency toward smaller homes and less complexity. Efficiency not only in design, but in operation and maintenance are now more important. The concept of footprint inevitably encompasses an environmental aspect. A long term view is required, along with an appreciation for evolving building science. For example, the cost of more insulation and high performance windows can be offset over time by a reduced heating load. Or consider roofing, where the upfront cost of metal is much higher than asphalt, but the life-cycle cost is actually lower. Photovaltaic systems might be beyond a homeowner’s budget, but leasing options are now available. All of these aspects of footprint are inherent in home design and construction.
Residential design is a manifestation of a vision of home for a dweller. It includes personal and cultural ideas of what’s important, whether or not they’re articulated. I appreciate the trend toward simplicity and the goal of a reduced footprint, as most of us are overwhelmed at times by the amount of stuff we accumulate and the cost of living. But what is a right-sized material life? That’s a tough one to pin down, and it changes over time with our family situation, economics, our age and interests. So we keep seeking that sweet spot, enough but not too much space and complexity, uniqueness yet with adaptability. If efficiency alone is the driver, we’ll likely be left with something missing. In home design there’s got to be an aspiration about dwelling, about how we choose to live if we are able to make that choice. I think of it as a story about daily life, something that a well-designed home can help us along with.