architecture and "appropriateness"

so this week in seattle’s “the stranger” weekly paper, theres an article about this house. The article talks about how neighbors of this house dispise it’s presence. This is in the Queen Anne neighborhood, filled mostly with large craftsman style homes, the house in question is actually flanked by two craftsmans. It’s not a gated community.

my question to other designers is this:

how do you feel about architcture and contextual appropriateness? would seeing this house in your neighborhood of period homes make your skin crawl? or would you celebrate the difference of an international or modern style home in this context? (I’m trying to stay as objective as possible at this point I’ll let my opinion fly later)

I personally enjoy a wide variety of architectural styles so for me, I don’t see it as an issue. I do however understand where the homeowners are coming from as they most likely purchased their home for the love of that particular style.

I have seen multiple homes similar to the one in question in various Minneapolis neighborhoods and I continually comment on how I appreciate it when someone builds something in a different style. I think it gives the neighborhood something fresh and new.

With that said, it has to be done right and respect the surroundings without over powering them. I’ve seen both good and bad examples of trying to mix different architectural styles in one neighborhood.

I say “variety is the spice of life”

Beautiful craftsman homes next to a beautiful modern home… sounds cool. It’s not a dilapidated boarded up shack.

thats exactly how i felt… why would anyone be up in arms over this?

Educated people like to uphold the ideal that human diversity is a positive thing. However, why is it so difficult to apply this idea to the visual? or human dwelling?

i think what it all boils down to is that most US homeowners think a house "should look like /\ … and they don’t know how to digest

it’s a paradigm that makes anything else uncomfortable, but why?

I think it has less to do with the architectural style and more to do with the physical size and encroachment this house has.

If you look up and down the street the other houses have a fence, but the houses are set back from the street. They have a yard, etc.

This house, while I have no issues with the “style”, I have a issue with its “look at me I have a shit load of money and I can make whatever house I want” type of feel to it. It is a big box, set right on the sidewalk taking up virutally every square inch of the property.

I tend to think that if they had stopped the house where the horizontal wood siding is, it would have been less of an issue.

ok, i dug a little further (i went by the house to see it for myself)

ip: the house is just as tall as the one’s next to it. i don’t know that it’s a statement of wealth, however,

and i think this is interesting: the picture shown is actually the BACK of the house(hence the fence). This is right on Queen Anne Ave, where every other house faces the street. The front of the house is actually on the alley street on the other side.

this makes me wonder what the architect’s intentions were…
is the house intentionally “turning it’s back” to the neighborhood, or is there a human benefit from entering on the alley side? did the clients want it that way? hmm…

It may not be. It has been my experience that houses of this nature tend to be material statements. At least in the context that this one seems to be.

It isn’t the physical size so much as lot usage. It is, effectively, a box that appears to be taking up as much square footage of the lot as possible. Where if that front (rear?) box that juts out past the wood paneling were removed I tend to think a lot of the feelings of angst would be removed. Encroaching right up to the boarders, with imposing walls right up against the neighbors is…well…a bit disrespectful of those around.

I saw this with my in-laws house. And it was most definitely a “i have a shit load of money” situation. So, maybe I have a bad taste in my mouth from that.

i think I see what you’re saying.
Maybe something like this would seem a little less encroaching.(although i still have a problem with queen anne’s general snobbery toward “different” things) (excuse the sloppy rapid photoshop)

That, and get rid of that extremely imposing white brick on the front…cut it off at the red line…maybe change the color…who knows.

I agree in principal with the snobbery issue. I say again, I don’t think its the style as opposed to the consideration (lack of) the environment.

Isn’t a huge part of architecture spacial impact/awareness?

I think if it is zoned properly and meets all the regulations everyone should just F off.

If the neighbors where so concerned with the property, they should have bought it, built a house that matches their vision, and sold it for a profit. Apparently they didn’t care enough to take action and invest money, but they care just enough to try to impose their will on a piece of property someone else paid for and invested in. That just burns me up.

It does work both ways. As I alluded to previously with my In-Laws. They happen to have very nice property in Vancouver that is a target for people with a boat load of money to build their dream McMansion. Which, being the capitalist I am…I have no issue with.

That said, you mention being properly zoned and meeting regulations. People skirt this all the time. My InLaw’s neighbor built their house in much the same manner as the house in the image. Big brick, modern style house. Much better looking than the one in the picture, IMO (but that’s another can of worms). But it didn’t meet code. It encroached on the property line too closely. It blocked the view from my In-Law’s balcony (which is not legal). But the worst that happens is that they get hit with a fine. And a fine, even if it is in the 10s of thousands, is not an issue for the people moving into this house. They build it, pay the fine, and don’t even ask forgiveness later.

So this story can have two sides to the coin.

Your point about the regulations are spot on. If the house in question doesn’t violate anything…more power to them…even though I think it is a poor choice considering the surrounding environgment.

Here is a link to the article:

“I think people often make the mistake of confusing context with character. The character of a neighborhood is set typically when it is first developed. In Queen Anne’s case, this would be the early 1900s,” he said. “Craftsman homes on [the] hill were originally designed and built based on the tools, skills of craftsman, and as a reflection of the time… Context evolves, Queen Anne has become a very busy (especially Queen Anne Avenue) urban neighborhood, building technologies have changed, family dynamics have changed. The Sterling Residence had to consider what Queen Anne is now, what lifestyle and technologies exist.”

From this point, “what Queen Anne is now,” we need not make more steps. We can stop here. Sterling Residence is ultimately urban. It does not pretend to be in a small town, to be in the middle of the country, to be about the kind of “family dynamics” that the show Little House on the Prairie endorsed. Sterling Residence is about young wealth, the global economy, the technologies of tomorrow. Sterling Residence is about being where it is: in the middle of a big city. Unquote

One person’s sleek and modern is another’s bleek and sterile…So Queen Anne is not a gated community? It might as well be. The hatred by the neighbors is so frustrating. I’ll admit the house appears to turn its back on the rest of the street. but so what. Why has conformity become such high criteria for judging a home’s aesthetic value? To hold on to the past in such a way as to voice such hatred for something new is sad. I’m guessing the young couple who own the house have not been welcomed to the neighborhood-simply based on their house.

To build a new home today in the same style as the rest of the neighborhood would result in a house so ostentatiously built with expensive materials and labor that in the end would mearly be an imitation of the historic.

I used to think(long before design school, as a lad) that modern looking homes were so garish-status symbols for the rich. I guess some still are…and that quaint bungalos were so modest and homey. But to see newly constructed homes in McMansion developments- with stone walkways, manicured lawns, water feartures, way too much square footage, all maintained by immigrant labor- trying to capture and preserve that nostalgia the Queen Anne neighborhood hold so dear is, to me so offensive and unsustainable.

Um, er, got off on a tangent there…

Neighborhoods aren’t just a collection of houses.

I like the design, but clearly the neighbors don’t. So is it successful architecture?

Does everything have to fit in to make a neighborhood? Can’t things challenge us to open our minds? If the neighbors didn’t like a certain kind of people moving in would they have a right to have a say?

There is a neighborhood I like near my house, called “Old Orenco”. It is a collection of rundown bungalows from the 1910’s-30’s, but walking distance to the train as well as to an organic grocery store a starbucks and a couple of restaurants. The neighborhood has smartly put in a restriction that any new houses built have to have a facade that matches a classic bungalow.

The above neighborhood in the article should have done that if they cared so much.

I have been thinking about buying an empty lot in “Old Orenco” and building a new home with a Craftsman facade and then a perfect glass cube behind the facade. Technically it upholds the town ordinance!


I think I would have some issues with this home if it were constructed next to mine. I’m all for innovation, and having grown up in Columbus, Indiana under the influences of architects Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Robert Venturi, Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier and others, I would say that architectural “style” is not the problem. The problem is consideration for one’s neighbors (one pemise of building codes).

Notice the deep shadows between these two homes, and then image yourself reading in your familar old living room … or what was your familiar living room … now darkened and less welcoming.

Please allow me these learned barrowings:

“Ancient lights” is a colloquialism for the “right to light,” guaranteed under English law, whereby windows that have seen twenty years’ worth of “uninterrupted” daylight cannot be blocked by the construction of new buildings.

Or, as Wikipedia explains it:
In effect, the owner of a building with windows that have received natural daylight for 20 years or more is entitled to forbid any construction or other obstruction that would deprive him of that illumination. Neighbors cannot build anything that would block the light without permission. The owner may build more or larger windows but cannot enlarge his new windows before the new period of 20 years has expired.


A Quote from an architect friend of mine

"As for your Queen Anne monstrosity, my two cents:
I think that its probably a cool house, nothing overly special, just your standard minimalist house full of sexy materials… hardwood, stainless steel, double height spaces, etc. As a single object, not bad. As an insertion into a neighborhood of craftsman homes, it is very crude. It turns its back on the neighborhood and prevents any interaction with the neighbors. A big part of a neighborhood is having ‘eyes on the street’. Everyone feels safe because they know that someone might be watching. This house basically tells the rest of the neighborhood to ‘fuck off, I don’t care about you or your safety, I’m to cool for that’. The image posted of it without a fence improves the situation, if only because it no longer interrupts the line of sight up the block. And the image of the house cropped down goes along way in bringing it down to the human scale and knitting it into the neighborhood. Its funny that the designers didn’t actually DO that, because it seems pretty obvious and easy.

So why did they make this house the way it is? Well, it could be that they are unskilled. Or, maybe they just got caught up in designing the interior spaces without regard to the effects that would happen externally. Or, and this may be the most likely thing, they made it for clients who wanted the house to do exactly everything it’s doing. Some snobby couple with money wants to make a statement about how hip they are in a hood full of squares. Fuck it, they can live in their house and be hated, I bet you cant sit on any of their furniture either…I don’t know but don’t much care either, its not on my block.

The scariest thing is that people might look at it as a model for future developments. For the sake of humanity lets hope not.

This house would be much more at home in a dense neighborhood in japan where space and safety are limited and minimalist design a high priority.

ok, more like 6 cents, but thats what i went to school for, might as well use it. "

he’s got some good points.