Typical "brick" buildings today are mere shadows of what they once were, the brick being reduced to a cladding, a veneer held up by two-by-four walls wrapped in plastic to keep the water out. Openings for doors and windows are supported by steel lintels that rust away rather than a far more resilient structural arch or solid stone lintel. More effort goes into creating the illusion of a good home than actually building one.
The new commodity driven housing market and mantra of "bigger is better" has led to the proliferation of cheap, faux, trendy, "cookie-cutter" houses that require remodeling every decade to fight off irrelevance and decay, and will be lucky to reach a 70 year lifespan. No amount of Prius's or energy efficient lightbulbs can make up for the ecological impact of demolishing and replacing a house every 70 years (the US average).
That's in addition to contributing to the unhealthiest population in US history. Our houses make people sick. Indoor air is up to 5 times worse than outdoor air in urban areas. It wasn't long ago, late into the 70's, that we were putting asbestos into our drywall (and a whole lot of other building materials). While today asbestos is a big no-no, the industry still operates under the same assumptions that allowed asbestos into our homes in the first place: "Assume any chemical is safe until proven otherwise." That's how we still have endocrine disrupting bromides in our mattresses and carpets. Not to mentions the thousands of other chemicals we've never even tested.
The promises of Commodity Housing have betrayed us. That luxurious 'dream' house at the end of the cul-de-sac that we are all entitled to and will help us achieve happiness? Yea, it's a maintenance nightmare. Turns out those 'luxurious' materials were just cheap imitations. And 2008 proved it isn't the retirement plan we'd been told. Also, that one hour commute to work makes us depressed, unhealthy, and is a leading contributor to global warming. And community? Forget it. With a 3500 square foot house, big yard and garage, and suburban sprawl that requires us to get in our cars to go anywhere, we never even see our neighbors except through glass.
Yet even as the promises of Commodity Housing crumble around us, its legacy persists with religious fanaticism in a single idea: cost per square foot. It's an idea so entrenched in the American mindset that it's hard to even fathom another way of valuing our homes. Banks certainly don't. "Well, this 'comparable' home in terms of size and trends across the road went for 250 per sq/ft, so yours should too." It would hardly make a difference if it was the Biltmore. Why are we listening to a movement who's crowning achievement is the amalgamation that is the McMansion? Not every square foot is made equal. The value isn't in the cost of footage, but the quality of footage.
Now compare that to the rich architectural heritage of Charleston or San Francisco. Or just imagine the coolest coffee shop or pub in your town, or that repurposed warehouse with exposed brick walls and rough mortar joints. We love those buildings! They are solid, authentic and real. They are simple but beautiful. And unlike all Commodity Houses where time is the mortal enemy—because time reveals the truth and exposes the illusion—for well built homes, time is actually an essential ingredient in reaching their full potential because it reveals the truth. Each passing year their true qualities, their character, shine through a little more, earning our admiration, respect and love.
The only problem is we don't know how to build those buildings anymore. All the world's oldest buildings are solid masonry, but we only know how to preserve the ones we already have. Preservation is an excellent practice. But if we must build new buildings, and we must, why not build good ones?
At Building Culture, we are reviving one of the oldest and most resilient building practices, structural masonry, and integrating modern innovations to create responsible, authentic, beautiful and enduring homes. We believe that buildings reflect back the values that went into them, so we are constantly asking ourselves, "what values help cultivate a thriving world, and how do we express that in a building?" It's a mission that will never have a singular conclusion, but that just makes it more interesting. We are building the future's old buildings, and there is endless exploration ahead. We hope you join us.