It may seem trivial, but it isn’t. It is a complicated objective to achieve, it is complicated not to give in to easy-to-approach solutions, and it is equally complicated to evaluate from time to time – because no one has an answer in hand and these are subjective evaluations, based on one’s own sensitivity.
First of all, it makes sense to well understand the objective, even before talking about methods: why should we pursue the idea of a timeless home, not anchored to fashion?
Understanding the reasons helps us understand if it is really right for us, and if so, it makes the commitment stronger, more personal, because obviously we adhere to it with greater conviction. Following two different points of view, I found these reasons:
From an architect’s point of view
As professionals, we offer a service to help the clients: for example, we allow them to carry out a project using our technical skills and knowledge, and we guide them so that they do not run into technical or aesthetic errors that they would make without our advice. In this package, already quite demanding and arduous, by vocation and training many of us add a creative mission.
This obviously varies from sensitivity to sensitivity – it can have more hi-tech, philosophical, green or practical aspects, and it would be difficult to get everyone to agree. But I hope I don’t make a huge mistake if I identify these factors common to all of us professionals:
- take every choice seriously: nothing should be left to chance, everything should be carefully thought out and not done just to do it, or because you have no idea. Adopting an already chewed and digested, ready-to-use solution without batting an eye is not like us. If so, it’s because we are convinced of it and it’s really worth it.
- contribute and experiment: it seems like a big shot, but for example it’s like this for me. It’s as if I were part of something bigger than myself, of a common journey, in which we would like to have the honor of taking part – or at least we want to do justice by trying. There is no project in which I don’t force myself to think differently, to change point of view, also because it is from these that micro and macro innovations arise. And I know I’m not the only one.
- adapt based on client and context: just as a tailor adapts a dress to the shapes of the model, so an architect finds it natural to decline a solution based on the client, the place, etc. Ready-made and packaged forms conflict with this need.
- express oneself: to close this circle, where all these motivations basically blend into each other, there could not fail to be the creative need. No one would like to be associated with banality, becoming a mere copy-and-paste performer. How beautiful is it to express your aesthetic sensitivity? It would be like stifling an instinct.
From a client’s point of view
It is clear that already tested solutions can appear reassuring, easily imaginable, “touchable”, because you have already seen them at a friend’s house, in a showroom, or on social media. This advantage, however, leads people to only adopt what is already pre-packaged. A professional (for the reasons above) thinks in more general or absolute terms, evaluates the best for the case in question and gives you these added values:
- customization: perhaps the most important aspect. The solution can adapt to your taste, your ideas and reflect what is best for you, your budget and the context. It’s something of yours, not just any project.
- comfortable and perfectly adapted: it is the project that adapts to the shapes of your home, making it stand out better; to be more comfortable for your habits. However, it is not an aesthetic quirk that becomes uncomfortable to manage, not suitable for your life. Like a tailor-made suit!
- It’s hard to get tired: I’m sure you’ll all agree on this. When you really like something, you don’t get tired of it – or in any case you get tired of it very late! However, if you adopt something just for fashion, it doesn’t last long. A long-lived project will not seem dated after a very short time and you will not want to change it.
Would it still be possible?
Let’s ask ourselves one last question before continuing:
“Is it possible to create something timeless, not strongly tied to fashion?”.
The history of architecture answers this for us. It is obvious that each creation will be strongly linked to its context, and perhaps will also be easy to trace in which years it was built and created (this is also part of its charm). However, if you take a look at those well-thought-out, well-designed houses, their appearance will still seem valid to you. Their spaces will still seem beautiful, livable and you won’t want to change them (obviously if you liked them regardless of fashion!).
It is enough to see some famous houses belonging to different eras and which have become exemplary cases, such as those which have become museums or attractions (the Art Nouveau villas for example), or without bothering with excessively noble solutions, even some famous houses which have remained imprinted thanks to films (such as the Ennis House of Frank Lloyd Wright featured in Blade Runner, or the Portaluppi’s Villa Necchi Campiglio in Gucci and so on). Or the house of that relative-acquaintance, if it has ever happened to you, all furnished and defined in 70s style, but well, welcoming, which really seems like a shame to undo.
Here, these are houses that are children of their time, but not superficial or made only for passing fashion. They are therefore also valid for years to come.
Let’s get to the difficult part: how to create a timeless project, as little subject to aesthetic aging as possible?
Short answer: no one has a sure answer, and it’s a matter of personal sensitivity.
A slightly more complex answer: a lot of work is done by intuition, and it is certainly not easy because it is also right to be influenced by the latest architectural and design research, and it is also wonderful to be a voice of your time. To try to find the right path, I outlined some personal guidelines and questions to ask myself during the project. I therefore keep in mind some cornerstones of the architectural and compositional principles, and at the same time I try to identify “red flags” or signals to pay attention to. For example:
- I analyze the context, the client, the house: is that solution really good for this project? Or would it be a stretch?
- I try not to adopt “fake”solutions (such as faux-wood, faux-marble, copies of famous designs, etc.). There are many reasons, and I have explored them in depth in this article. Reasoning only for the topic in question: the fake really has a very short life!
- I observe whether that object, decoration, aesthetic choice is starting to prevail in too many contexts, different from each other (without being a classic), and becoming debased in quality and aesthetics. Soon it could happen that we associate that choice with something poor, linked to that specific era-year or poor in content.
- I wonder if I really like it, if I would have appreciated it regardless of trends, or if having seen it omnipresent on the latest covers has in fact influenced this opinion. Like those who praise-hate clothing (think of Crocs, flip-flops, you choose): fashion times are fine, but if no one wears them anymore, would you wear them?
- I try to abstract. For example, I wonder how an architect of past years would behave, where architecture had an even more authoritarian, lofty character, and they believed very much in the profession almost as if it were a mission. Or I try to think absolutely, imagining how it might look in the future. This allows you to detach yourself slightly from the current context and try to place yourself in a future perspective.
What if I can’t resist?
If you really like something attractive-new-super popular, and you are convinced of it… absolutely give in! Perhaps focusing directly on the flagship product and not on competitor imitations. In fact, if the sensations are all positive, if it’s right for you, it’s very likely that it’s becoming a classic, and it’s better to have the one that first left a mark (which is often also the most thoughtful one).
After all, the Raybans, the Levi’s, the Castiglioni arc lamp… they didn’t just fall from the sky.
Other cases in which to say yes?
I could give in to the obvious and tested, in the case of temporary premises, shops, offices, apartments which we already know will not last forever. Therefore, if they are renewed within a few years, many of the above disadvantages will disappear.
Of course, there are architects who have created temporary works who have written important pages in the history of architecture, so it is still a wasted opportunity in terms of research, beauty and development of aesthetics.
Consider the house shot in this film. Will it be furnished in 1930s/40s style? Now compare it to the other examples I have put in this article: this house will have been looked after by an owner or any architect/surveyor/engineer. All the other houses, however, were created by architects with an aesthetic culture and with a serious commitment to architecture.
Two last words
The invitation to look beyond the immediate is not an exhortation to close your eyes and avoid any new aesthetic or fashion invention, on the contrary! Research is always very important, and knowing what surrounds us enriches us, adds depth and also allows us to feel more confident about what we like.
Only posterity will know whether our projects will age well or not, but it is right to ask ourselves the question both for the sake of respect for the client and for one’s own work and what one believes in.
We try to do the best, and we hope to reap the best possible rewards! 🙂