Traditional or Contemporary?

If you were asked to take one minute and draw a house, you would likely draw this:

Not this:

So what’s better ? 

Its not news to say that housing styles, same as other things, change over the years. Culturally, attitudes towards aesthetics change and forms / details of clothing (quickly), cars (not so quickly) and houses (slowly) change along with them.

Another aspect that changes the details of homes is technological innovations and material development. As new materials and processes are developed, it has an effect on the construction and the look of homes. 

Usually neighbourhoods are “built-up” over a rather short period (say, 10-15 years?) as they are first opened up for residential development. That means they often have a level of uniformity.  

In the collection of images above (developed to satisfy the City of Ottawa’s need for a Streetscape analysis and with thanks to Google Streetview) note that the homes vary in size, number of storey’s, exterior material and colour but...are generally traditional in style with gabled fronts or pitched roofs, and traditional style windows/doors and trim. They also feature front entrances and porch/steps marking the entrance. This gives it the uniformity spoken about.

Houses built with the timber-frame construction that is common in North America are capable of lasting over a hundred years, but usually require repair every 20-40 years or are subject to renovations/additions as they transfer from one owner to another.  Sometimes zoning changes or properties passed over previously due to size or other site restrictions lead to streetscapes changing significantly or “gaps” later becoming infilled. Eventually a residential neighborhood is subject to being filled with different styles of homes. Some people embrace this and others.....not so much.

A considerable amount of the conversation at neighbourhood gatherings and the large portion of the internet that discusses this topic is testament to the judgement and emotion surrounding any new construction to “fit-in” to existing places. 

Given the emotion surrounding the topic... should you build a “modern” styled home?

Just as “doesn't fit in” is the over-riding criticisms about modern infill, it is a reasonable argument that building something new that looks like something old can be considered an equally disparaging design criticism. So lets agree that both judgments wash each other out. That leaves a property owner with using his/her own sensibility and willingness to endure either criticism.

There is, of course, no right answer to such a question, but my response is build (or renovate) in the style that you are are comfortable with.

Couldn’t possibly tolerate the notion of being accused of building something safe and conservative? Then embrace the new forms and contemporary materials and build something modern.

Can’t see yourself living in a building that causes people to look twice and might stir controversy among the existing neighbours? Opt for something more traditional.

Keep in mind that choice of scale, setbacks, massing, materials and colours applies equally when constructing any type of building. Get those wrong and and even if neighbours can’t quite explain why the building seems wrong, they will know it doesn’t measure up.

Of, course you could avoid the whole decision and just live in a shoe.

(photo credit, Pinterest)

Happy designing (and building!)