Don't Know Much About Architecture

Don't Know Much About Architecture

Architecture has gotten lost in the U.S.

Once we all moved to the suburbs during the post-WWII housing boom, the majority of Americans no longer participated in the discussion of public space and architecture. If you lived in an apartment in Barcelona, you cared about the design of the local square because that is where you regularly meet family and friends. You would have a sense of ownership of public places if you depended upon them daily. Once the American Baby Boomer generation was quietly sequestered into their picket-fenced lots, however, their view turned inward. The focus was on one's personal space and castle.

Only in the last few decades have we reconnected the suburbs to greenspace and connected walking routes to schools and shops, but we don't talk about architecture like we own it anymore. It's no longer part of our dialogue even though it underlies the decisions made about how wide a street is, the type of trim a developer puts on a new house, and the style in which the bank down the street is being built.

What does this have to do with your problem property? What does this have to do with anything?

An architect can take generations of architectural history and help you determine if that porch rail you picked up in Home Depot is appropriate for the style of your house. Buying cheap redwood on sale at your hardware store may backfire and cheapen your entire property. Not kidding. You have looked at a property and can quickly identify when the windows don't match the rest of the building. At other times, you could feel that something was off about a place but couldn't put your finger on why it felt so awkward. Perhaps the low angle of a garage addition was glaringly different from the home's original roof pitch, but you might only be able to identify a "bad addition." A new sidewalk might be a sleek update, but if it wasn't installed where people want to walk, the money spent on the concrete is wasted. Or worse, it has to be torn out and done right.

Small decisions can add up to a great home with an overall vision, or they become a visual cacophony which significantly lowers the value of the property.

Layers of design decisions have been made for any property, old or recently built. Whether those decisions have been done with the neighborhood in mind is anyone's guess. Many alterations happen under the radar of local code officials, who maybe only care about public safety or utility access. HOA's have usually only cared that you color between the lines they draw.

Again, what does this have to do with you?

Your property will be unattractive to potential buyers if it feels off. Worse, it won't even be considered by buyers or tenants if it feels unsafe. If you can be true to the original design or renovate with a complete vision, you'll be more successful. A property is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Understanding good design decisions make you a better homeowner or investor. Understanding architectural history in your region gives you greater insight into what a property is worth.

In Oregon, a family wanted to raze a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home because they wanted the river lot for a brand-new home. A compromise was made: they bought the lot and the Frank Lloyd Wright society relocated the pioneering architecture to The Oregon Garden. The Gordon House was fully restored on a new site. The family was willing to pay for the lot. The historic society valued the building.

What do you value as a property owner or investor? What will prospective-buyers or tenants value?

awkward space street face and alleys
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