Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Contemporary Design vs. Classical Design – Personal Preference or De-facto Evolution of Design?

Contemporary design vs. classical design in architecture, collage

Collage: Contemporary Design vs. Classical Design
Images Credit: MS Office ClipArt: Cube Houses in Rotterdam; Row Houses in Amsterdam

"All the evolution we know of proceeds from the vague to the definite."
Charles Sanders Peirce


"All the ills from which America suffers can be traced to the teaching of evolution."
William Jennings Bryan

Quotes Sourced from: Brainy Quote

The argument for and against evolution is fitting given the question of contemporary versus classical design. It’s a case of the future versus the past. But which belongs in the present?

Contemporary designers
would argue no-doubt theirs is the valid approach. After all, isn’t this the 21st Century? Raised on Star Trek, dreaming of the day our living spaces made us feel we were an advanced, sophisticated, space-faring society, why not envelope ourselves in stainless steel, glass, concrete, etc.? Trouble is we are none of these things (at least not in the way we imagined). Technology has made us more detached from each another, our communities, our food and the environment. Contemporary western society confuses connectivity with connection; complexity with sophistication.

Maybe this explains contemporary design’s obsession with simplicity and “cleanliness.” Simple forms and clean lines counter the chaos of the modern world, but does it create warmth; comfort? There is nothing warm or inviting about stainless steel and concrete. Like industrial food (another “technological wonder” of the last Century), all the “life” has been processed out.

Classical design, on the other hand, seems sorely outdated—quaint for stay at a B&B in the Muskokas or a fancy dress ball at the Royal York. But really, who needs all that clutter in their everyday life? If you live in a farmhouse in rural Ontario, great; but, in East York, Oakville, and elsewhere in the GTA, the trend is to blend contemporary interiors with existing buildings (be they brownstones or loft conversions of old factories). Blending old and new in — dare I say it — a contemporary way.

The reality is that design is always a sign of the times. Like any other art form, it reflects the idiosyncrasies of particular eras or moments. Our society faces advancing technological complexity at a pace never before imagined. Resistance to change is equally potent. Today’s design is truly eclectic. We can see every conceivable permutation and combination of old and new imaginable. Old-style houses made from faux concrete stones with stainless steel kitchens, steel roofs and hardwood floors. Concrete, glass, and stainless steel buildings with animal skin rugs, wood furniture, stone accents.

To say it comes down to personal preference seems like a cop-out. It’s really about livability. Does a space strike a liveable balance between what you find aesthetically pleasing and what you need practically speaking? It’s not just about what a space looks like or how it works, but also how it feels.

The question of contemporary vs. classic has always been there, as each generation struggles to fit the new into the established. What makes a space liveable for you? That’s what matters today.

Attila Lendvai
VP of Strategic Development
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

links: Architecture: Combining New and Old Do Industrial Buildings Have a Future? Design in Motion … in a House!?

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