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How "One-Plus-Five" is Shaping American Cities

Nobody would for one minute mistake a car or an airplane from 1955 for one from today. Everything, from technology to style is just too different.

By contrast, enter a new house or an apartment and clues that give away the newness are harder to find: They may be obvious in kitchen and bath, but even that is not certain, since fashionable retro stoves and claw-foot tubs could be deceiving even in those places where technology would be most likely. The new house would probably be more open and bigger, but from light switches to receptacles, from door hardware to double hung windows, things look essentially the same. On second glance, though, things in the new house feel flimsier, thinner and less substantial. Maybe there is a white plastic porch railing masquerading as solid wood or vinyl siding doing the same, maybe the doors are light, hollow and molded instead of being made from actual wood panels.  This general impression might deepen when one starts looking “under the hood”: copper and cast iron pipes replaced by PVC, true dimension heavy wood joists and posts replaced by engineered trusses, strand board, and quick growth studs light as cigar boxes. Slate has yielded to asphalt shingles, wood floors have become laminate, and porcelain sinks replaced by cultured stone. Brick now comes as a thin cement imitation, cornices are made from Fypon, and flagstone water tables are only paper thin.

One could discuss all that in the context of cultural criticism and bemoan what did change (“nothing is like it used to be”) or, alternatively, decry that not enough has changed (“the construction industry is stuck in the Middle Ages”). Both cases could be made with ease.  Change in the construction industry, indeed, seems to be glacial.  On the other hand, the critique of the loss of a more substantial architecture could be based on more than nostalgia. It could be based in resilience (withstanding forces of nature) or sustainability (flimsy construction and rapid decay as waste). 

What do you think?

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